“Gabourey, how are you so confident?” It’s not easy. It’s hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know I will be made fun of because of my weight. There’s always a big chance if I wear purple, I will be compared to Barney. If I wear white, a frozen turkey. And if I wear red, that pitcher of Kool-Aid that says, “Oh, yeah!” Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how the recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart or something. And “Diet or Die?” [She gives the finger to that] This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. This is what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I’m being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can see it in her eyes, “How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? How does she deal with that body? Oh my God, I’m going to catch fat!”
What I would say, is my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt’s house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes, she is a feminist, an activist, and a lifelong friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me, and I had to go home to where everyone made fun of me. Every day was hard to get going, no matter which direction I went. And on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on the way out to the world, I passed by a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together. Side by side they stood, one with long beautiful hair and one with the most beautiful, round, Afro hair I had ever seen, both with their fists held high in the air. Powerful. Confident. And every day as I would leave the house… I would give that photo a fist right back. And I’d march off into battle. [She starts crying] I didn’t know that I was being inspired then. On my way home, I’d walk back up those stairs, I’d give that photo the fist again, and continue my march back in for more battle. [She pulls a tissue from her cleavage and dabs her eyes] That’s what boobs are for! I didn’t know I was being inspired then, but I was. If they could feel like that, maybe I could! I just wanted to look that cool. But it made me feel that strong.
— Full transcript available at Vulture
Rachel Jeantel is a teenager, a 19-year-old girl who told the world what she heard that fateful February night on the phone with her longtime friend Trayvon. From the news reports produced by the mainstream media, you got the impression that Jeantel was genuine and believable. Of course reporters from outlets like the New York Times, Miami Herald and the AP are not going to feel the need to describe Rachel’s attitude or overuse of black English vernacular, but they will feel compelled to describe the effectiveness of her testimony. And I saw them use words like “transfixed” to describe the all-female, nearly all-white jury’s reaction to what Jeantel was saying. Perhaps if the prosecutors had done too much coaching of their star witness, her genuineness would not have shone through.
I also saw incredibly mean things said about her looks on social media, even seeing her described as “Precious”—referring to the movie character brought to life by Gabby Sidibe, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of the troubled overweight teen. Disturbingly, this has become the go-to moniker for overweight, dark-skinned girls—aided by rapper Kanye West, who leveled that scarily ignorant line in his song “Mercy.”
“Plus my b*tch / make your b*tch look like Precious”
Jeantel had to live through a close friend being murdered, watching his killer walk free for far too long, then sitting in front of the world and recounting the painful night with an intimidating older white man directing questions at her while she’s clearly scared out of her mind.
Now, on top of all that, she has to endure some assholes critiquing her looks?
Really, people? Grow the hell up.
–Nick Chiles, “In Attacking Trayvon Martin’s Friend Rachel Jeantel, Black Folks Are Taking It Too Far,” My Brown Baby 6/27/13
Is “overweight underachiever with an endless arsenal of clever one-liners” a euphemism for sassy fat black girl? Why yes it is. Enter Sidibe, or Andrea, a student who cuts class, uses foul language, and proudly does not exercise. She is all attitude and doesn’t give a flying expletive what you think of it. When she was first introduced, I audibly expelled air – seriously? This again? Don’t we already have series’ with a largely white-cast flanked by sassy black tropes? Hiya, Mercedes from Glee, Donna from Parks & Recreation, Ava on Up All Night, Raineesha on the now defunct Reno 911!, Miranda on Grey’s Anatomy!
And please don’t say “quit hating”, I am a loyal fan of all of these shows, The Big C included. It is beautiful in its poignant portrayal of a woman living with cancer, yet deeply flawed in its characterization of a young black woman. To critique is to love, it comes from setting a higher standard of expectation, from a desire to push boundaries or at the very least, allow flexibility within tightly constrained norms. Alas, the overweight black, testy, unhealthy, irritated black woman archetype is far too normalized to even be given a second thought. Of course, the fact that actresses like Sidibe are given supporting roles in shows about confident, capable women is vital, but it too often comes at a cost: The show’s writers bestow upon Andrea qualities that have potential to give her depth, but ultimately she is more trope than fully realized.
Andrea’s tepid story arc in season 1 is almost unbearable to watch at times: she has to attend Cathy’s summer school class because she’s failed it already, she’s hopelessly overweight, and she’s openly defiant to the one person who shows her kindness. Andrea is a supporting role, but there are three major tenets of the Sassy Fat Black woman trope that she personifies: her issues with weight, her hyper-awareness of race and “playing the race card”, and her rather antagonistic attitude toward everyone.
Andrea is fat: The underscoring of Andrea’s obesity is a central theme of her personhood in season 1. From the viewer’s perspective, her unhappiness with her body leaves her wrought with melancholy. In the pilot it’s established that Andrea is overweight, hates it, and Cathy wants to help her slim down; Cathy even offers to pay her $100 for each pound that she loses when she catches Andrea smoking to curb her appetite. “I’d rather be skinny and die young than be fat forever,” she declares. I wonder what it was like for Sidibe to recite this line even though she has openly declared her body-positive self image.
– From “‘The Big C’s’ Big Black Problem,” in Clutch Magazine
By Arturo R. García
It was almost enough to make you say, F-ck The Muppets.
No sooner did Eddie Murphy give up his shot at hosting the Academy Awards in a heart-warming display of solidarity with Bro – I mean, Brett – Ratner than an online campaign recommending Kermit The Frog and friends get the job pick up some steam.
The Muppets hosting The Oscars? The most interesting part of that pairing would be figuring out which half should feel more insulted.
But at least Muppets fans are coming at this from a place of honest – if at times overbearing (wokka wokka!) – enthusiasm. It’s been more disappointing to scan around other sites and see the same basic wishlist of prospective replacements:
- Stephen Colbert/Tina Fey
- Neil Patrick Harris
- Somebody associated with Glee
- Nobody at all
- Not to be outdone, the Huffington Post also nominated a muppet, albeit one with his own talk show.
- And one black person
With such a lack of creativity from normally creative people (Tracy Morgan? Oprah? Chris Rock?) you’d think Ratner was still doing the show! O-HOHOHOHO!
by Guest Contributor Tracy M. Adams, originally published at Monday’s Baby
On Thursday, June 9, I attended a Gen-Art sponsored screening of Victoria Mahoney’s independent feature Yelling to the Sky in Manhattan. Starring Zöe Kravitz and co-starring Gabourey Sidibe, this film has had significant buzz. It made its debut at the Berlin Film Festival and was workshopped via Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Lab. Based on synopses I read prior to the screening, I was curious to see if the portrayal of black women(hood) would be complex and fresh (as it was in Ava Duvernay’s wonderful I Will Follow) or if it would stick to the usual, shopworn portrayals that sometimes plague even independent feature films. I was especially interested to see whether Sidibe’s character would be similar to the one she played in Precious or if that image would be turned inside out (Sidibe was actually cast as Latonya Williams in Yelling before being slated to play Precious Jones).
In Yelling, Kravitz plays Sweetness O’Hara, a biracial high school student coming of age in New York City while managing a difficult home life. Quiet (at least for the first part of the film), sensitive, introspective, and intelligent, Sweetness has to contend with an alcoholic father, a mother with emotional (and possibly mental) issues, an older sister coping with young motherhood, bullies at school, and urban poverty. Zöe Kravitz did a great job with the script she was given; her performance was nuanced and quite believable. Actually, most of the actors in the movie were strong (including Tariq Trotter, better known as Black Thought of The Roots). However, despite the actors’ efforts, they could not overcome the disjointed storytelling nor the director’s inability to avoid well-worn tropes of the “coming of age in the ‘hood” drama. And whether intentionally or not, the director played into common cinematic (and real-life) racial memes. There were four that stood out.
Dark(er)-skinned black people are mean and like to victimize light(er)-skinned black people. The opening scene of Yelling involves Sweetness, accompanied by a friend of similar complexion, riding her bicycle right into a group of kids from her high school who in short order take her bike and beat her down in the street. Gabourey Sidibe’s character Latonya is the ringleader of this group, initiating the bullying and fighting, and ultimately ordering her boyfriend to viciously finish the job. The assault only stops when Sweetness’ sister Ola, who like Sweetness is very fair, brutally assaults her sister’s male attacker. While the director may not have intended for this scene to evoke intraracial stereotypes and conflict about skin color, it certainly looked that way on screen. Also, while Sidibe’s character was well put together (her hair was laid and her makeup was popping), she was still an (physically) intimidating bully. Continue reading