Shadow & Act big ups the phenomenal work being done by black women documentarians. Out of 151 Academy Award-qualifying documentaries (admittedly a large pool), more than five were directed by black women, including Free Angela and All Political Prisoners by Shola Lynch and Valentine Road by Marta Cunningham. Jai Tigget writes, “…black documentary filmmakers – and black women in particular – are doing groundbreaking work that continues to be overlooked even within the doc and independent film space. The films listed above have been awarded and recognized widely on the film festival circuit, but many are still struggling to get mentioned on the shortlists that will push them towards serious Oscar consideration.”
Also included among the qualifying documentaries by black women, Yoruba Richen’s The New Black, about race, sexuality, and the black church.
By Kendra James and Arturo Garcia
The ups and downs of being a DC Comics fan have never been more apparent than this past week. The WB cast a big screen Wonder Woman (Israeli actress, Fast and the Furious alum Gal Gadot)… but not for her own movie. She’ll be sharing the stage with Henry Cavil’s Superman, Ben Affleck’s supposedly older and wizened Batman, and a potential mutual adversary in Lex Luthor. Luthor who will, according to casting rumours, most likely be African-American, echoing the WB’s already demonstrated willingness to race-bend with Perry White in Man of Steel. Personally, I don’t think this should be much of a stretch of the imagination for anyone who grew up on the Superman cartoon of the 90s.
On the heels of a fantastic Arrow mid-season finale, the CW revealed a casting call for their Flash pilot showing their intentions to making Iris West Allen (The Flash’s –Barry Allen– main love interest and Wally West’s –another Flash– aunt) and her extended family African-American woman rather than white, as she’s been traditionally portrayed in the comics. If the pilot and ensuing show is anywhere near as good as Arrow, a diverse cast of main characters won’t be an issue (even if I am still annoyed about Sin.)
With DC’s television and cinematic universes both expanding quickly, we thought it was time for another quick chromatic casting.
By Guest Contributor Nour Soubani
The recent independent film, The Citizen, raises a number of important questions related to identity, belonging, and representation that are relevant and challenging to many American communities at large today.
Ibrahim, a middle-aged Lebanese man, wakes up one day and actualizes his dream: he wins a ticket from the Green Card Lottery to come to America. He lands in New York on September 10th, 2001, and befriends Diane, an attractive white American woman who is just escaping an abusive relationship. The next fateful morning is the September 11th attack, and the rest of the movie follows Ibrahim’s experience as an Arab Muslim in a post-9/11 New York City, the relationships he builds with Diane and those who both support and villainize him, and his interactions with the law.
Ibrahim, although not a legal citizen, is painted as the ideal American: He helps the homeless, works an honest job, and intervenes at a crime scene to save a man’s life. Although he looks distinctly Arab, and some suspicion is raised that he is related to one of the hijackers, there is a clear assertion throughout the movie that Ibrahim is completely disconnected from the evil terrorists who attacked the United States, and from the Middle East as a whole. In fact, multiple times throughout the film he expresses how grateful he is to leave Lebanon, to come to America and pursue “the American Dream”, and to leave behind his penniless and unsuccessful life. While the protagonist’s morals and values are virtuous—this was enough to make the audience fall in love with him—his character functions with a subtle undertone that reinforces a binaric hierarchy between the U.S. and the rest, one that inevitably places America at the top. Ibrahim comes to the United States to make something of himself; the storyline implies that this was inherently not possible where he came from, nor were any efforts to do so valued and encouraged. He is portrayed as an exception to the rule—a respectable, mannered, responsible and hardworking individual, who, with these admirable, individualist traits, clearly does not belong in the Arab world. The character of Ibrahim—while well-intentioned—in fact plays into Orientalist notions that otherize the Middle East, creating an unknown, inferior entity out of it that inherently does not hold the same purely “American” values that cause Ibrahim to succeed.
Writer Akash Nikolas on the buzz surrounding Oprah Winfrey’s role in The Butler:
A win for her would be deserved—she’s wonderful in the film. But it’d also be the latest example of what seems to be a Hollywood maxim: Black women only get the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress when they play characters who confirm the stereotype of the Sassy Black Lady—bold, sharp-tongued, impertinent.
Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress to win an Oscar for Gone With the Wind, playing house-slave Mammy who was warm and witty with her slave-owners. Half a century later, Whoopi Goldberg won for Ghost by playing Oda Mae Brown, a psychic with no back-story of her own and whose entire purpose was to support a white couple and entertain the audience with sass talk. In recent years, black actresses started winning Best Supporting Actress more frequently. Jennifer Hudson won forDreamgirls by playing Effie White, a diva with too much attitude to remain in a successful pop group and just enough attitude to cover “And I Am Telling You.” Mo’nique won for Precious by playing Mary Lee Johnston, an abusive mother whose sassiness was taken to a monstrous extreme as she terrorized her daughter out of her own fear of being alone and unloved. And Octavia Spencer won for playing The Help’s Minny Jackson, a back-talking maid who fried chicken, cracked jokes, and literally made a racist employer eat shit while her husband beat her.
If Oprah nabs the Oscar, she will have also won by playing sassy, but look closer and you’ll see her role rises above and complicates the stereotype. In her introductory scenes, Gloria is sweet and maternal, and it’s only as the movie progresses that we see her sassiness growing out of resentment—over her husband’s career, over the discord between her son and his father, and over her station in life. In this way, the film actually provides historical context for the sassy black woman, suggesting that she became that way because of decades of inequality. At the same time, the film also offers a modern revision of that role. Gloria feels fleshed-out; she’s not over-the-top, her story is fully explored (and fully her own) and, with the film covering several decades, we get the scope of a complete life lived well into old age.
By Guest Contributor Karishma; originally published at Persephone Magazine
This isn’t a definitive list of women of color in film. This isn’t a “best of” list, or a list of the most complicated or progressive characters in science-fiction or fantasy. This is simply a list of women of color in science-fiction and fantasy films. I tried to make it as full as possible, but ultimately had to decide on some parameters. These are women who are either secondary leads (because there are almost no women of color leads) or supporting characters. To better see how small the visual representation is, we have to be willing to look at all of the characters, in spite of their flaws, or limited screentime, or problematic nature. It helps paint a more accurate picture of the women we do see, and helps us understand why characters like the girls of Attack the Block never seem to break out into fan favorites, or why perceptions of Mako Mori becomes such a hot button topic in the weeks after the release of Pacific Rim.
Looking my previous post on the topic, after asking for suggestions, the answers didn’t really surprise me. Doctor Who’s Martha Jones, and Star Trek’s Uhura were repeat suggestions, but again, they were primarily TV-based suggestions. (I should clarify that even the Uhura suggestion pointed more at the TV-iteration of the character over the current Hollywood portrayal). In searching for a more complete list, what I found, unsurprisingly, is that most of the women of color on film are mostly background players, filling highly stereotyped and exoticized roles. I reached out to sci-fi and fantasy fans on tumblr, and pored through cast lists of the “100 Best Science Fiction Movies,” “Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Movies,” and “50 Greatest Fantasy Films.” Again, many people were stumped by the question, or reluctant to pick favorites, as women of color served to fulfill stereotypical roles, i.e. meek Asian woman or Magical Negro mystic, that furthered the white, male heterosexual narrative.
Fans often have to isolate the parts of the narrative they find compelling within these problematic portrayals, or be willing to look past the negative aspects of the narrow characterization to find something to relate to. Even in worlds where crime can be predicted before it happens, and lightning can be bottled and sold, women of color still cannot be protagonists, or have complicated and compelling backstories. It’s frustrating when I look at the casts of some of my favorite films and wonder what about the role seems to require a white actress (or actor). As much as I love Stardust, I’m not quite sure why Yvaine had to be played by Claire Danes, or why there weren’t any people of color in the fantastical candy-colored world of Edward Scissorhands, besides Officer Allen. We are slowly moving towards more visibility for women of color, as crowd-sourced films and more venues for the fan conversation call for better characters and more visibility. Just look at the conversation around this summer’s Pacific Rim, led to the creation of an alternative Bechdel test, the Mako Mori test.
Mako Mori being great.
Without further ado, here are 45* women of color in science-fiction and fantasy films. Again, this role isn’t exhaustive or anywhere near complete, but serve to illustrate the types of roles that women of color get in these genre films. All of these women and characters should have greater visibility as we continue this conversation about women of color in Hollywood. (*Two women on the list, Mary Alice and Gloria Foster, share a character, so they have been grouped together, only because I think 45 sounds better than 46.) It should also be noted that superhero/comic-book movies have also been grouped in with the overall sci-fi and fantasy category, if anyone wants to get nitpicky about it.
By Andrea Plaid
I’ve always given side-eye to Fashion Fair Cosmetics ever since I started wearing make-up. To be a part of the Johnson Publication empire–the people who bring us Ebony (and its online equivalent) and Jet–their make-up was not only too rich for my wallet but never quite fit my skin tone. (You’d think, of allllll the companies, Fashion Fair would have a shade that fit the full spectrum of Black folks and well, right?) And, to be honest, the brand itself made me think of its relevance to my mom’s generation–the fresh-off-the Movement, up-the-corporate-ladder Baby Boomers–not mine.
Of course, it would be award-winning director Ava DuVernay who would make Fashion Fair relevent to my mom, me, and younger generations.