Where Are All the Leading Ladies of Color?

10 Apr

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A few years ago, my boyfriend and I sat in a movie theater in Malibu, watching the opening of Couples Retreat. When the first black actress came on the screen, my date smacked his teeth in disgust. The woman was loud, obnoxious, and senseless. Within the first 5 minutes of seeing her on the screen, the only other black couple in the theater walked out.

They were lucky: Had they stayed any longer they would’ve seen the other black woman in the movie, who was louder, violent, and even more irrational, knocking other women out of her way while she searched for her cheating husband.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that black woman on the screen, and definitely wouldn’t be the last. Although not all black characters in film behave as badly, actresses of color are often pigeon-holed into playing the same typecast roles again and again.

In “Typecast,” their brilliant parody of Lorde’s “Royals, actresses Tess Paras, Haneefa Wood, and Ayana Hampton display that for actresses of color, the road to stardom means playing race-based, cookie-cutter characters, with the role of the leading lady often remaining just out of reach.

Actresses who look like the ones in the video are sometimes subjected to typecast roles: Sassy black girl, geeky Asian, fiery Latina. Actresses of other races and ethnicities may not even be considered for a part. This leaves opportunities few and far between for actresses of color.

When placed in a historical context, Typecasting becomes even more problematic. In the parody, as Hampton sings, “Any maid could look like us,” I was taken back to the historical mammy figure. While we’ve come a long way from the Hattie McDaniel’s mammy in Gone with the Wind, the pool has only expanded wide enough to include other stereotypes and subordinate roles, with a few exceptions here and there.

HATTIE

Hatti McDaniel in Gone with the Wind

 

Typecasting women of color into supporting roles such as the main character’s best friend, secretary, or nanny, reinforces the idea that people of color are only supporters or “extras” in America, while white people are the central figures. It displays a dynamic where actresses of color don’t have their own story outside of helping the main character, not unlike the historical mammy, who usually has no life outside of serving her bosses. Such roles are seen in movies like Sex and the City, with Jennifer Hudson playing Sarah Jessica Parker’s personal assistant, and in the upcoming comedy The Other Woman, with Nicki Minaj playing Cameron Dias’ legal assistant.

Then there is the obvious problem with typecasting: the roles play off of stereotypes that project sexist and racist ideas. When consistently casting women of color for the same typecast roles, the industry renders possibilities for these women to exist outside of their stereotypes unlikely. While typecasts like the fiery Latina, nerdy Asian, and sassy black girl, are usually written for comedic affect, they reduce human beings to a one-dimensional devices that garner a few laughs at the woman’s expense and move the plot along.

Moving away from these stereotypes and adding some color to leading lady role can be good for audiences. After backlash from fans of movies Annie (2014), Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Fantastic 4 (2015), where black actresses and actors were cast for traditionally (or what people believed to be traditionally) white roles, maybe audiences could use a little help expanding their imagination. It seems that when actors of color are cast in central, not typecasted roles, racist commenters masking themselves as “fictional purists” storm twitter with remarks about how their favorite character’s skin should be white. Yet, the more we see actresses of color playing central figures, the more we can shed the stereotypes and break down barriers for women in the industry. Maybe then American audiences will become a little more comfortable with diversity on the screen.

While we’re moving in the right direction, with shows like Scandal and The Mindy Project (though they also have their flaws) and movies like the latest remake of Annie, we still have a ways to go before we see more accurate and equal representation.

Falcon and the Human Torch: Why Black Superheroes Matter

3 Apr

THE FALCON

Captain America: The Winter Solider hits theaters this weekend—and I will be seeing it. As the daughter of a Marvel comics fan (an O.G. 1960’s Marvel fan), and a girl who flocks to the midnight showing of nearly every Marvel and DC movie, I cannot wait to see Captain America 2.

But honestly, I could care less about the actual Captain America. He’s cool and all, but it’s the Black Widow (badass Scarlett Johansson) and the Falcon (handsome Anthony Mackie) who I really want to see.

Yes yes, it’s about time Marvel brought some diversity.

If you haven’t heard, this movie introduces the Falcon one of Marvel’s first black Superheroes. In the movie, he’s a military soldier who a wears a high-tech winged suit that allows him to fly. The original Falcon was introduced in 1969, and fought alongside Captain America and the Avengers.

We also saw a bit more color in the casting of Fruitvale Station’s Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch in the upcoming Fantastic 4 movie.

Of course, angry racist fans masking themselves as “comic book purists” had a lot to say about how the Human Torch is supposed to be white, and how producers should stick to the historical (fictional) truth and blah blah blah. People have said that about all the black characters in The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and the remake of Annie. I think we’ve all grown tired of the BS. In 2014, it’s not a sin for the good guys in the movies to be black.

Quite frankly, America needs black superheroes.

Red-White-Falcon

Seeing someone other than the typical strong white male saving the day is bigger than just “diversity on the screen.” Media representation has always been an uphill battle for people of color. It’s a historical struggle: from the white actors in blackface in the 1800s, to the mammies and sambos of antebellum films, to the bitchy and irrational black women of Tyler Perry’s films. We’re still struggling for representations that don’t exemplify nasty stereotypes. So when I see a black superhero in a movie, I jump for joy. Because when Anthony Mackie and Michael B. Jordan appear on the big screen, they won’t be playing thugs, drug dealers, criminals, the characters who die first, or anything Tyler Perry and his white imagination can drum up; instead, they will be the ones fighting crime and saving the world.

When it comes to media representation, skin color does matter. It matters in a similar way that having black president matters. Why do you think all the elders that lived through the Civil Rights movement were crying after Barack Obama’s victory in 2008? Why do you think people celebrated the first Indian-America Miss America? These moments show historical turning points, when someone goes up against centuries-old racial tensions, and comes out victorious.

It’s extremely important that children (and adults for that matter) see reflections of themselves in all aspects of society, especially in the heroes of American culture. So that we can tell our young black daughters that not only can they stop a mutant vs. human war with their superhuman abilities, like Storm, but also, they can that they can run for president or win a seat in congress with their strong determination and intellect, like Shirley Chisolm.

Of course, Marvel’s got a long way to go. Sure they get a few points for casting Jordan, Mackie, Halle Berry (X-Men’s Storm), and Samuel L. Jackson (Avenger’s Nick Fury). But they need to do more. I can’t wait until Marvel decides to feature another black woman superhero. Right now Halle Berry’s holding it down as Storm, but that’s pretty much it. While they’re at it, they must cast other people of color as well. The world’s more colorful than just black and white.

How to Survive Long-Term Unemployment

26 Mar

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To be honest y’all, I don’t know if I’m completely qualified to write this article. My 5-month job hunt has got me holding on to my sanity by my last pinkie finger. And it’s slipping off quickly.

So this won’t be one of those corny, “Hold on a little longer. You can do it” type articles. Cuz right now I’m going through it.

After sending in tons of applications only to find an empty inbox the next day, and repeating that routine day after day, I find myself constantly frustrated, often frowning, and sometimes on the brink of tears. Unemployment, under-employment, and seemingly never-ending job hunts can really fuck with your self-esteem. So if you’re like me, struggling to keep it together mentally–try a few of these tips:

1. Find comfort in a few good friends. When I’m in the thick of my job hunting for the day, and I’m pissed off because insert-company’s-name-here’s application takes an hour to complete, good conversation is exactly what I need. Talking to them about totally unrelated subjects is quite healing. And friends are always helpful when you need to vent.

2. Vent when you need too. If you’re angry, yell at the wall. Curse as much as you need to. Call a friend and tell them your frustrations. No need to hold it in. But don’t vent too much. If you’re harping on negative things, you’ll be stuck in that feeling the whole day. So when you do need to vent or complain, give yourself a time limit and don’t go over it.

3. Exercise regularly. Trust me–if you’re not doing this, you should. I’ve gotten so bored from filling out applications that I body has has become sluggish 24-7. I feel overslept from just sitting at my desk. It’s quite awful, and I haven’t figured out how to get rid of the feeling (I’m beyond the point of no return…running doesn’t help me). But exercise might save the rest of you from the sluggish doom.

4. If you pray, pray often. (If not, skip over this section. I’m not here to convert you to anything). God and I have had some serious chats about my future. And though I haven’t figured it all out yet, reminding myself that God is supporting me and has big plans is very comforting. And as my preacher always says, “You don’t need to tell God about your big problems, you need to tell your problems about your Big God.” (Oh, and while you’re at it, add me to your prayer list…k, thanks).

5. Find something that’ll make you laugh hard. Modern Family has been my saving grace. Watch some comedians on Youtube. Have a “Best Vines” marathon. Laughing might be exactly what you need.

6. Don’t take it personally. If you’re putting your best foot forward and applying for jobs whenever you can, then it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself. Lots of people are in the same position.

7. Take the Naomi Campbell approach. If you ever watch an interview with Naomi Campbell, you can tell that she is very aware that she is Naomi Campbell, supermodel diva with an impressive and long-lasting career. She’s a boss and she knows it.

Sometimes, we have to be confident like Naomi and remind ourselves of how talented we are.

Here’s my reminder for myself when I’m not feeling that great: I’m Ritashae Collins. I’m a talented writer. I’ve been published in 9 different places, print and online. My writing makes people think and change. People tweet at me with quotes from my writing that inspire them. I’m fucking quoteable! I’m highly-qualified for the positions I’ve applied for and any company that passes over my resume (can suck it) has lost out on an awesome candidate.

I suggest you create your own mini speech to remind yourself just how awesome you are.

I even created a pick-me-up meme: UE SHAE @

8. Don’t give up hope. I know I said I wouldn’t be cheezy but this is real: having hope means that you still believe in yourself. Once you give that up, you may never get a job.

Good Luck

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