Stealthy Freedoms and the Colonial Gaze

by Zishad Lak.

Zishad is a PhD student in Canadian Literature in University of Ottawa. Her thesis examines the relation between names and migration in contemporary Canadian novels.

A few months ago a Facebook page created by a London-based Iranian journalist caught a lot of attentions and was shared mainly by my non-Iranian friends on Facebook: Stealthy Freedoms. Stealthy Freedoms is a Facebook page where Iranian women post their pictures with headscarves removed in public to protest the compulsory head cover. Their hair is often romantically disheveled by the wind; smiles are in order for the camera: pictures worthy of Facebook profiles. In fact, if one did go through the Facebook profile pictures of Iranian residents I suspect they will find a large number of women among them are not wearing a scarf in these pictures and a number of these unveiled clichés are taken outdoors in public spaces. This is not in any way to justify the compulsion of certain attire on women, that is absolutely not defendable, but rather to maintain that the mere uncovering of hair in public is no longer shocking in Iran, if it ever were, nor does it break a taboo. It is in no way comparable to Amina Tyler’s denudation that risked her life. The difference between the method used by FEMEN and the pictures posted on Stealthy Freedoms Facebook page is worth pondering.

In the past decade or so we have been seeing an emergence of queer and feminist movements of colour criticising the white supremacy inscribed in what they call white feminism. This has been a place of contention and has often created a gap between feminists of colour that found themselves silent victims in the discourse of white feminism and white feminists who refuse to see and accept their privileges. The latest Twitter hashtag, #solidarityisforwhitewomen, attests to this divide; one that I believe invokes much needed debates and is an essential part of a dynamic feminism, or any decolonising movement for that matter. Those feminists who deny such divides choose to close their eyes on the omnipresence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy and reduce the movement to mere legal equalities in a justice system that is inherently sexist and racist.

Whoever claims to be a feminist is then a feminist, no question about it, far from me to police that. Feminism after all, is a political imperative, an affirmation that such a movement is required here and now. But this does not mean that every unthoughtful action in the name of resistance must be praised. Feminism comes with a commitment and a responsibility. It is costly; if it isn’t you are not doing it right. It is lonely; if you are praised by right and left you are not disturbing much. So sometimes lighthearted, non-radical actions don’t translate into small contributions or do not simply die in obscurity but impose set backs on the movement.

We saw that following her release from detention, Amina Tyler bared her body again, this time, inscribed on it were words that denounced FEMEN’s Islamophobia and in doing so she set an example of how a dynamic decolonisation must constantly interrogate itself and the repercussions of its actions. So it is not necessarily the group, FEMEN, whose leader in turn denounced Amina, that I evoke but rather the method of protest that is used by this group or similar manners of protest (such as this) The subject in these protests is not still, she interrupts a formed body and unsettles the naturalised norm before those most loyal to it.

In the opening picture of this article, for example, FEMEN protesters appear topless before the eyes of anti-abortion protesters and their children. The parents cover the eyes of their children to protect them from being exposed to desexualised breasts, breasts that unlike those of their mothers, are not maternal and do not serve any purpose in reproduction. What is more, the rage of heterosexual men in online forums and comment boards against these demonstrators illustrates the unsettling effect and affect of these bodies. I have read men use the most abominable terms to describe these women’s bodies, expressing their utter disgust over the exposed cellulites, criticising the women for being too thin, too fat, but most importantly and most often as sexually undesirable. These de-monstrating bodies are monstrous in that they deny these men the object of their desire. They move, are moving; for these women often march into an event to disrupt it. When captured in picture, the text inscribed on these bodies compels the eyes of the spectator to move, these bodies are not still, not even in the picture. I cannot however help but see in the picture of a woman, with wind in her hair and smile on her face the reproduction of the immobilised object before the gaze of the other. It is then not surprising that reaction to these pictures were often times positive. Many on social media hailed these women for exposing ‘the beauty of a woman’s hair’, the reason for which, expressed these users, it should not be covered. If breasts of topless FEMEN protesters are desexualised, hair in the case of these Facebook freedoms becomes the object of fetish, much like it originally was for those who imposed the compulsion in the first place.

 My second point, going back to my introduction about the feminist divide, is the gaze. Feminism has traditionally bemoaned, and continues to do so, rightfully might I add, the male gaze and its dictating dominance. Yes, that is still there. But – and this is why the uphill battle for racialised women is steep – what is often neglected in mainstream feminist discourse is the colonial gaze, including that of ‘white’ feminists. This gaze, much like the male gaze, objectifies the subject. The body becomes the picture, the picture represents the ‘affectable other’ aspiring to be human. As Andrea Smith justly points out, in her article, “Queer Theory and Native Studies”, ‘the very request for full subjecthood, implicit in the ethnographic project to tell our ‘truth’ is already premised on a logic that requires us to be objects to be discovered.’

There is of course a danger to criticisms like the one I presented in this post and it is a valid one at that: local resistance risks being thrust into obscurity to be protected from colonial interpretations. What we should be wary of is the audience or the interlocutor that is implicit in the message around which the actor organises her actions. I find it hard to believe that the Stealthy Freedoms’ page was set up merely as a local resistance, the fact that the organiser herself does not reside in Iran confirms to a great extent my suspicion. Iranian feminists inside of Iran, much like other feminists all around the world, are faced with and fight against the heteropatriarchal powers in micro and macro levels. As Western feminists we have a responsibility too: to be critical about the kind of struggle that is brought to our attention and reflect upon the reasons behind the publicity they receive. As coloured feminists, we should be alert about the colonial relations that appropriate our movements and not hesitate to denounce them, as Amina Taylor did so bravely and in doing so exposed the racism engraved in certain Occidental feminist movements. I strongly believe that despite all the good intentions behind it, Stealthy Freedom is deeply invested in a naïve heteropatriarchy that makes of immobilised women objects to be saved by the humanity of the universal subject. The struggle faced by women of colour cannot be assimilated into a universal and international feminism. For as long as the universal is defined by the Western subject, women of colour are, to use Andrea Smith’s words, a particular aspiring to humanity, to the universal humanity of the ‘self-determined’ Western subject.

(Image from a Toronto Sun report of the event (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency))

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We Weren’t Born This Way

Pragya Sharma is a contributing member of the F Word Media Collective. 

Kim Kardashian isn’t a woman who’s known for her politics.  Instead, she’s known for a well-timed sex tape that catapulted her into fame; a reality television show with her family; extravagant weddings followed by failed marriages; and a relationship with Kanye West.  So, it surprised me when I heard that she posted an essay on her website yesterday, detailing how having a half black child has changed her perception on racial politics in America.  What also surprised me was that instead of accepting that people’s political positions change, prominent websites and commentators have been ridiculing and shaming Kim for not “seeing” race earlier than she did.  Even feminist websites like Jezebel which admittedly aren’t known for their kindness, are mocking Kim for finally realizing that, in her words, “racism and discrimination are still alive.”  

For everyone that’s shaming Kim for making a public post on racism: when did you learn that racism exists?  Were you born with an intricate understanding of white supremacy?  I know I wasn’t.  Despite being raised in an Indian family in the Canadian prairies, I was taught that racism does not exist.  I, like most people in the Global North, had been fed the myth of meritocracy from the moment I was born.  I held on to this myth so strongly that even when my mom was sure she didn’t get a job because of her accent, I rolled my eyes and told her that she probably just messed up the interview.  I couldn’t believe my own mother’s experience because I needed to believe that I could be successful in this world if only I tried hard enough.  And that’s me, a brown woman, who doesn’t really benefit from ignoring the impact of white supremacy in my life.

The anomaly, then, is when we have a major celebrity acknowledging racism.  Combine that with our culture’s obsession with perfectionism and complete utter lack of accountability, I can’t help but wonder if Kim’s post is kind of amazing.  I mean, she not only talks about racism, but she admits that she was wrong when she didn’t see it as a problem in the world and admits she was wrong in not recognizing it as something she’s responsible for combating.  Let’s put it this way: A celebrity who’s constantly criticized for what she wears, what she says, what she doesn’t say, who she marries, how she marries them, how she lives and how she breathes, not only acknowledges that she made a mistake, but publicly declares that racism is a big deal and that she’s responsible for doing something about it.  And what do we do?  Mercilessly mock her.

Seriously?  How can we possibly expect those that benefit from white supremacy to ever change anything when all we do is mercilessly shame them when they start to shift their consciousness?

(And don’t even get me started on the misogyny in all the commentators who brush her off as incapable of thinking of anything other than fashion.  Someone who’s built a multi-million dollar empire around a sex tape ain’t no fool.)

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Representations of Chief Theresa Spence in News Media

by Caity Goerke 

Since Chief Theresa Spence of Attawapiskat began hunger striking on December 11th, Canadian journalists have shared their many opinions on Chief Spence, her actions, and Indigenous activism in Canada. Well insightful and empowering accounts of Chief Spence’s activism certainly exist, dominant Canadian news media has discovered a plethora of ways to discredit, trivialize, and silence her. Taking note of the general way that media has failed to adequately represent Chief Spence and her actions (or the ways that Canadians have failed to demand fairer media), I began to recognize that the representations of Chief Spence reflects a larger picture of inadequate and harmful representations of Indigenous people.

In her essay, “Sacajawea and Her Sisters: Images and Native Women,” Gail Guthrie Valaskakis* discusses contradictory constructions used to represent Indigenous women and explains that

these contradictory images of Indian women continue to objectify and degrade… and neither the romanticized Indian princess nor the primitive squaw allows newcomers to identify Indians as equals, as owners of this land, as Native North Americans with homes, families, jobs, and indigenous governments.” (pg. 149)

While arguments could certainly be made to show how representations of Chief Spence oscillate between “princess” and “squaw” constructions (such as the ways in which she’s represented as a revolutionary leader in contrast with suggestions that she’s selfish, unreasonable, and badly behaved), what stood out in my investigation of news coverage about her strike was the ways in which she has become a part of a larger narrative that refuses to “identify Indians as equals, as owners of this land, as Native North Americans with homes, families, jobs, and indigenous governments.” Instead of recognizing these things, mainstream news coverage regarding Chief Spence ignores her cultural context and the deep history of colonial oppression that informs her actions, it silences her voice, and it makes use of racist, sexist and classist stereotypes.

Before I jump into my analysis, it’s worth while to make two important disclaimers:

1)   Transparency regarding parameters is always helpful: All articles used for this blog were discovered through Google searching and consultations with Canadian Newsstand. As there actually happens to be a fair amount of stuff out there, I went for common themes that seemed to pop up over several articles as opposed to more specific details. Also, for the sake of a manageable scope, I generally focussed on “mainstream” web-based print media.

2)   More importantly, I’m a settler Canadian and I am aware that my presence on this land plays a role in the very systems that Chief Spence is taking a stand against. However, thanks to Canada’s long standing colonial occupation of this land, I nonetheless find myself here. For what it’s worth, writing this is an act of solidarity with Chief Spence and comes from my own acknowledgment of the continued legacy of colonization that threatens Indigenous rights to land, water, and sovereignty. In addition, as I’m not an Indigenous woman, I sincerely hope that my analysis doesn’t contribute to the extensive body of harmful representations of Indigenous women and am open to feedback if it does.

What stood out perhaps most problematically in my investigation of news coverage regarding Chief Spence was the complete lack of acknowledgment for the cultural context in which her actions are located. (And, no, references to her “teepee,” to drum circles and to smudge ceremonies don’t count as cultural context … that’s just lazy journalism’s reliance on stereotyping.) In addition, the ability of journalists to gloss over colonialism never ceases to amaze me and the bull-headed insistence on ignoring the role that settler-Canadians play in the colonial process is, as always, outstanding. What we need more of is analyses like the one given by Devon Meekis in their article “Idle No More: On the meaning of Chief Theresa Spence’s hunger strike.” Meekis explains the importance of acknowledging that Spence’s hunger strike has to be considered different from those that have occurred in other contexts because, without this understanding, there is a failure to recognize the “cultural importance and philosophy behind such practice” in a specifically Indigenous sense. As a result, her actions will be forever lost amongst imposed interpretations of what does and doesn’t constitute “proper” activism.

In addition to the absence of cultural context, there is also, by and large, an absence of Chief Spence’s voice. Where many articles are void of any statements made by her or her support team all together, those that do directly quote Chief Spence often push her statements to the end of the article or fail to use them as a focal points. I hesitate to impose too many of my own conclusions on this matter because I recognize that it actually could be Chief Spence’s intention to reduce the amount her voice is heard in order to emphasize the collectivity of her struggle and avoid the hyper-individualization that mainstream North American celebrity culture is so apt to perpetrate. However, that doesn’t excuse anyone from ignoring her voice entirely – if Chief Spence has refused to comment this refusal could certainly be thoughtfully acknowledged and engaged with. In addition, I felt that this point had to be mentioned because it’s hard to imagine that Canadian media’s tendency to silence Indigenous women isn’t at least partly to blame. With the help of Valaskakis, we can locate the lack of Chief Spence’s voice within a continuum of Indigenous people being silenced. Valaskakis explains that the “construction and appropriation of images of Indians” helps to construct histories of the “ageless Western frontier.” (pg. 150) What is key in Valaskakis’ statement is that it is images, not stories, of Indigenous people that play a role in Canadian and American “history” and what’s particularly troubling about images is that they tend to be seen without being heard.

The last point I want to make about the news coverage regarding Chief Spence is the (unfortunately unsurprising) amount of racism, classism and sexism being used to represent her and her actions. The preoccupation with how much she gets paid along with discussions regarding the supposed “mismanagement” of funds on Attiwapiskat is no doubt connected to deeply entrenched ideas of Indigenous people as “free-riders” and “well-fare cheats” that the rest of Canadians “have to pay for.” In considering how this stereotype informs representations of Chief Spence, the reality of her (and Atawapiskat’s) finances don’t actually matter. What matters is that her finances are a constant point of media fixation and that this preoccupation is, of course, part of a larger racist narrative. (For more on this and other negative stereotypes used to represent Indigenous folks, check out what Wab Kinew has to say.) In addition, journalists like Barbara Kay apparently couldn’t help but subject Chief Spence to the kinds of scrutiny so often projected on women in the spot light – specifically those pertaining to appearance and body size. To spare you to experience of actually having to read Kay’s article, I’ll sum it up for you. Essentially, Kay notes that the silver-lining to Chief Spence’s hunger strike is that she’ll lose weight. Now… at this point I could subject you to paragraphs upon paragraphs about why this makes me want to throw my computer at the wall, but as you’re all smart people I’ll assume you’ll manage to be horrified enough without my assistance.

With any luck, I’ve managed to shed a little light on the ways that mainstream Canadian news media manages to represent Indigenous activism in problematic, offensive and entirely inadequate ways. Critical engagement with news media is imperative. Without critical engagement, it’s too easy to lose sight of the ways that Canadian media is steeped in colonial, white-supremacist, patriarchal and classist assumptions that provide Canadians with a distorted perception of Canadian-Indigenous relations. So the next time you read about Chief Spence in the news, consider what’s going on behind the scenes. And, whatever you do, avoid the Sun News Network…  (that is, unless you enjoy flagrant displays of unapologetically obtuse racism).


*Valaskakis, Gail Guthrie. “Sacajawea and Her Sisters: Images and Native Women.” Indian Country: Essays on Contemporary Native Culture. pg 125-150. 2005

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How a female athlete’s body became a battleground for gender assumptions (again).

For those of you who follow women’s basketball you will have already heard of Brittney Griner. Though only 21 she has been making waves the past few years most recently having received Associate Press’ Player of the Year and the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. Like many elite level athletes Griner possesses some unusual physical traits (think swimmer Micheal Phelps with his wingspan as long as 26 monarch butterflies lined up in a row…or more simply, 6’7”). Standing 6’8″ tall, Griner wears a men’s US size 17 shoes.

The use of the word “unusual” over “unnatural” is an important distinction and kind of the crux of what this blog post will be about. I recently read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It’s a young adult historical fiction novel about a upper class white girl who finds herself as the only female passenger on a voyage across the Atlantic in the 1800s. As she transitions into a competent member of the crew the antagonist Captain Jaggery attempts to squander any solidarity she builds with the other crew members. In a particularly memorable scene Jaggery accuses Charlotte of a crime using an argument about her “unnaturalness”:

“Doing her part like we all was,” the captain echoed in a mocking tone. “Mr. Barlow, you are not young. In all your years have you ever seen, ever heard of a girl who took up crew’s work?”
“No sir, I never did.”
“So, then, is it not unusual?”
“I suppose.”
“You suppose. Might you say, unnatural?”
“That’s not fair!” I cried out. “Unusual and unnatural are not the same!”

The captain goes on to say that due to Charlotte’s obvious “unnaturalness” it was the duty of the crew, of the men, to “protect the natural order of the world” by getting rid of her.

Bringing this back to Brittney Griner (…and Caster Semenya and all the other female athletes that have been scrutinized for their “unnaturalness”) her most recent splash in the news was about her decision to remove herself from consideration for inclusion in the London 2012 Olympics. She cited school obligations and family health issues as her main reasons. What caught my eye in this Women Talk Sports article was the author stating, “I saw pokes and jokes about the fact that she’s afraid of genetic testing and that’s why she doesn’t want to play for the USA, because she’s actually a man.” I thought, oh shit, here we go again. So I searched “Brittney Griner+gender” to see what the media and sports pundits had been saying.

At the beginning of April after Griner’s team won the Women’s NCAA Championship game the opposing coach (a woman) said of her after the game, “I think she’s one of a kind. I think she’s like a guy playing with women.” Apparently referring to Griner’s gender was not a new thing at this point but this coach’s comment is important because it led to many articles devoted to Griner’s gender appearance. The articles ‘defending’ Griner are what prompted me to write this blog. Save for this excellent piece at Fit and Feminist I was sorely disappointed and surprised given the excellent progressive articles written about Caster Semenya and the shit show around her “gender testing.” The author of the CBS article titled Questioning Griner’s gender? Please, just shut up and go away is rightly very angered by the scrutiny of Griner’s gender but his conclusion is, “If you think Brittney Griner is a freak, or not a woman, or something other than what she purports to be, either bring proof or shut up. And since you don’t have proof, you’re really left with Option B.” Similar is the attitude behind this Washington Post article titled Brittney Griner’s gender? Shame on those who even ask the question which starts her defense by remarking that Griner didn’t “ask for” a deep voice and size 17 feet. I’m happy that these mainstream journalists are condemning offensive comments about Griner but the conversation is severely lacking in an analysis of gender policing in sport and why this keeps happening to female athletes (especially non-white female athletes). This has nothing to do with the exceptionality of Griner and everything to do with patriarchy and racism as played out through the institution of sport.

The “institution of sport”― this is something that Dr. Ian Richie from Brock University emphasised while I was interviewing him about the history of sex testing in international sport. He started off the interview with saying, “The reason I think sex testing is so interesting is because it really provides a lens into the institution of sport. And, we have to remember that sport is an institution, a social institution created by human beings, it’s not grown out of the natural earth so to speak. There’s no any one way that sport has to be done…sport as an institution was created around gender lines and assumptions about gender.”

Richie went on to remind us that this resulted in sport being raised out of the celebration of masculinity. Masculinity being socially understood as synonymous with strength, speed and all other manner of athletic prowess. This is why it’s foundation shattering to have elite female athletes existing and why, Ritchie and others argue, sex testing―something so fundamentally at odds with human rights―is acceptable in the institution of sport and nowhere else.

This ideology of “natural” gender roles was furthered propped up by the institution of science during the 19th century . A most hilariously ridiculous example being the ‘research’ that found that bicycling would cause a woman’s uterus to implode – it being such an unnatural act. Science was not only interested in proving the naturalness of social gender roles but also white supremacy. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Hilter’s Germany he shook up racial assumptions. The response of science and society as neatly summed by PBS’ excellent documentary Race: The Power of An Illusion, “How could a society steeped in the science of racial inferiority reconcile itself to Owen’s four gold medals? By conceding innate athletic superiority to African Americans while denying them so-called civilized capacities.” i.e. black athletes were bigger and stronger since it wasn’t that long ago that they were living in a jungle running from animals.

“Experts” may not say such things out loud anymore but these are the assumptions that sport and our society were built on and it will certainly take more than a few decades to be rid of these deep seeded prejudices. Gender and race are not genetic and there’s nothing “natural” about society’s expectations of either. These systems of injustice are what need to be scrutinized and the institutions that keep these ideologies the norm through such behaviour as the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to completely abolish sex testing. Brittney Griner need not enter the conversation unless we’re remarking on her amazing slam dunks.

Follow Ellie Gordon-Moershel: @EllieGordonMoe

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Why Hollywood needs Help

Guest post by Aphrodite Kocieda

Aphrodite is a radical feminist majoring in Women’s and Gender Studies with a minor in Communication at the University of West Florida. Aphrodite is also a reporter and contributor for the newspaper, The Pensacola Voice.

Plato once stated, “The mask which the actor wears is apt to become his face.”( America has a soiled history of racism and oppression, and this has been continuously reflected through the evolution of entertainment. Beginning in the 19th century, a new form of entertainment became dominant throughout the nation. It was referred to as a “minstrel show.”

According to the website Blackface!, Minstrel show entertainment included imitating black music and dance and speaking in a ‘plantation’ dialect. The shows featured a variety of jokes, songs, dances and skits that were based on the ugliest stereotypes of African American slaves. From 1840 to 1890, minstrel shows were the most popular form of entertainment in America. White audiences in the 19th Century wouldn’t accept real black entertainers on stage unless they performed in blackface makeup.

These shows and films depicted African Americans as uneducated primitive-like species who had a strong inclination for fried chicken and watermelon. Black actors had to perform offensive roles that provided racist stereotypical imagery and narratives. Many of their actions and facial expressions were exaggerated to make them appear “buffoon-like.” White actors would apply burnt cork to their own faces to look like dark skinned African Americans, and they too, would use racism as fuel to bring their character to life. Although minstrel shows have officially ended, many argue that this form of entertainment has not ceased to exist- it has merely reemerged in a slightly different form: mainstream film.

After examining several top rated films recently released and awarded in the sphere of Hollywood, it is evident that Hollywood still suffers from a problematic understanding of the African American experience and range of African American stories. From the recent film Precious, to the newest film, The Help, it appears to be true that African American faces are only seen in mainstream films when they conform to racist plots and characters that either induce sympathy from the white audience, or confirm some racist notion that black people are criminals or drug addicts. According to Anthony Kaufman’s blog article, “How Racist is ‘The Help?’” he states, “Despite Hollywood’s best intentions and well-meaning saccharine storytelling, it gets race wrong, repeatedly. From ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ to ‘Crash’ to ‘The Blind Side’ to ‘Avatar,’ whiteness remains Hollywood’s dominant force, and its stories of racial redemption continually fail to grapple with the realities of America’s horrible racism, past and present.”

After attempting to watch mainstream films’ manifestation of America’s racial history, I am deeply concerned that African American voices and stories are still framed by white voices that dominate Hollywood. Additionally, it is unsurprising to learn that these films that contain trite depictions of African Americans are constantly praised and awarded, further brainwashing audiences to hail these films as testaments of true American talent and truth. According to Bob Tourtellotte’s article, The Help’ Tops List of SAG Nominees, “The actors of civil rights drama ‘The Help’ topped Screen Actors Guild Award nominations on Wednesday with four nods including best film cast, leading a list of nominees that saw many surprises in Hollywood’s current awards season.”  The films that are awarded by Hollywood contain tired depictions of black people nibbling on fried chicken, and characters that are zealously religious, overly attitudinal, and highly uneducated. Additionally, most mainstream films that cast African American leads perpetuate stereotypes by focusing only on plots that deal with racial barriers and struggles, blatantly leaving out creative plots that truly depict the range of the African American experience today.

Films like The Help perpetuate the incorrect myth that racism comes in one blatant form, ignoring subtle systemic features of racism that permeate almost all institutions of America. Films that demonstrate blatant racism are oftentimes strategically cast in an era of the 60’s civil rights struggle, blocking discourse and dialogue about contemporary racism.

Additionally, The Help fulfills the stereotype that African American liberation comes in the form of white characters who are privileged and sympathetic enough to provide help and relief, demonstrating that the white character is the help. The lack of African American faces and unique voices in mainstream Hollywood demonstrates the continuing struggle that black actors/actresses, writers, and directors face in an era that inaccurately claims to be “equal.”

African American movie-goers are thirsty for a film that accurately demonstrates their experiences, and furthermore, reflects some form of their reality.

Rarely do mainstream Hollywood films cast African American leads as romantic characters, educated individuals, or leads that have different ethnic friends and partners. Too often African Americans are cast as supporting roles, like the best friend that helps the white lead character through a difficult period or through a conflict with their partner.  Our faces are literally on the margins of almost every mainstream film. If we do acquire a lead role, the film tends to focus on racial struggles, and is marketed towards African Americans only.

African Americans overwhelmingly accept almost any film that contains a black lead due to the lack of their faces on the screen.  This becomes problematic when many of the films we accept embed racist ideologies and themes that develop into skewed personal internalizations of truths. As an audience, African Americans have become accustomed to seeing films that only cast them as maids, nannies, slaves, drug addicts, or criminals. Although these roles are available and employ African Americans, they perpetuate negative stereotypes that our culture accepts as reality.

There are mainstream films that cast African American leads in important positions; however, this trend rarely catches on in Hollywood.  It appears as if the only mainstream filmmaker that consistently employs African Americans for a range of roles is Tyler Perry, who is overwhelmingly applauded by African American communities. However, these communities are not given much of a choice. Though Tyler Perry casts the most African American characters, his plots are still saturated with racist stereotypes and negative depictions of black people.  Former CNN correspondent, Tourē states, “He’s celebrating a certain victimhood and telling Black women that it’s okay to feel like a victim and to wallow in the pain of your life…It’s like cinematic malt liquor for the masses.”He continues to state that just because Perry’s films are popular does not make them good. He parallels this ideology to McDonalds when he states that hamburgers are popular for the masses, but essentially, they are not good for you.

Though Perry serves an audience that is underrepresented on the screen, his depictions are damaging. He allows an audience to internalize his skewed representation of black people. From Madea, who embodies a desexualized “mammy-like” figure, to a plethora of drug jokes and references, Tyler Perry constructs a reality for African Americans that is steeped in racial stereotypes, similar to minstrel shows. Even American film director and writer, Spike Lee, takes issue with Perry’s film work stating, “Each artist should be allowed to pursue their artistic endeavors, but I still think there is a lot of stuff out today that is coonery and buffoonery.”

According to the website Blackface! which delves into the history of minstrel shows, “Movies have always been a powerful medium for the propagation of racial stereotypes.” From minstrel shows of the past, to movies like The Help, African Americans are accustomed to an incorrect representation of their history and their culture. These inaccurate depictions on the screen demonstrates an even larger racial problem that Hollywood and our culture seems to communicate. This predicament illustrates the discomfort our culture appears to have when African Americans are in positions of importance, and are the central focus of any artistic or intellectual endeavor. This discomfort translates an unfortunate social message on behalf of our culture reflected through Hollywood: race is still an issue. Although times have changed, and technology has advanced, one thing remains the same: Hollywood needs help.

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