An Open Letter to Hollywood: Is It Just Me, Or Do Women Of Darker Complexions Always Get Cast In The Stereotypical, Negative Roles?

December 13, 2012  |  

I was excited to see the movie Alex Cross not too long ago.  The idea of one of my favorite celebrities, Tyler Perry, appearing in a role that was quite different from all of his others was enough to make me buy a ticket and go support him.  I was impressed with the movie, but what I was not impressed with was their selection of characters.  I must say, I was disappointment to discover that one of the few women in the movie who was of a darker complexion was once again playing something extremely negative. Another female stereotype for dark-skinned women.  Come on Hollywood, enough is enough!

This movie was not the first time females of a darker complexion have been featured in stereotypical, negative roles.  This unfortunate typecasting that is happening so frequently that the list of ghetto and criminal roles is becoming exhaustive.  The dark-skinned female in Alex Cross was not only a criminal, but she was inarticulate as well. And this depiction made me think back on many other beautiful black women who looked like this woman and played a similar character on-screen. Angela’s character from the Why Did I Get Married movies and series is extremely loud and uncouth.  The sole hood character in the beloved “The Proud Family” series, Dijonay, was a dark-skinned little girl.  The drugged out prostitute, Candy, in Madea goes to Jail was dark-skinned.   The list goes on and on and on.  It’s a good thing I have enough sense to know that criminals and those with no level of tact come in all complexions, or else I may have been inclined to think the only women capable of living sub-standard lives are dark-skinned.

In the ’60s and ’70s there were a number of positive portrayals of women of darker complexions in both movies and television.  The “Black is beautiful” motto afforded all types of black women the opportunity to be cast in a variety of roles. Dark-skinned beauties like Roxie Roker and Isabel Sanford played wealthy, married women in the long-running sitcom The Jeffersons.  Isabel Sanford’s historic Emmy win for her role in The Jeffersons proved that others appreciated her talent and the versatility she brought to her character. And don’t even get me started on the graceful (but broke) Florida Evans on Good Times, or Maxine Shaw in Living Single. So what is going on with the limited positive characters for us now?

It may all boil down to our people and the power we hold in the media.  Before I get electronically blacklisted, please read on.  More and more African Americans have made influential decisions in what occurs in television and movies.  To whites, black people are black people regardless of skin tone.  We are usually the only ones hung up on the different shades we come in.  I’m aware that there are other groups of people that experience colorism, but for the sake of argument, I’m only referencing black people and white people.  Once white people opened up to the idea of allowing us to be in the media, there was usually a wide range of black people they selected for various roles.  Fast forward to today’s world and we can find a large assortment of dark-skinned women playing criminals or hood rats and an even larger variety of light-skinned women playing classy, sought after women.  Who is responsible for these distorted depictions of black women?

I believe we hold the power to promote or eliminate these biased viewpoints.  Considering a dark-skinned woman is the First Lady of the United States, one would assume most of these inaccurate stereotypes would have been removed. But when we hear about people like S. Epatha Merkerson who had no problem vocalizing her displeasure with seeing a dark-skinned child playing a role she felt should have gone to a fair-skinned child, I realized exactly where stereotypes and negative undertones may come from.  When our own people attempt to remove a role, recognition, and compensation from another solely because “she didn’t feel that a white person and a black person can create a dark child,” I can see why a lot of our roles are limited or menial at best.

Ms. Merkerson seems to share similar opinions of some rappers, actors, and other celebrities. They appear to have no qualms about stating their preferences and the scales do not generally tip in favor of women. with a darker complexion  While it’s acceptable to state preferences, it is really starting to be unacceptable to continuously equate dark-skinned women with demoralizing traits more often than not.  If you ask me, if it weren’t for loud, angry, criminal, and “Aunt Jemima” looking mammy roles dark-skinned women would be even hidden in Hollywood than they already are.

Just because I have an adequate understanding of the origin of many stereotypes doesn’t mean it should be tolerated even if many of them come from our own people.  As I anxiously await more and more dark-skinned women to be represented fairly in the media, I will continue to be thankful for the ones who are making strides with more positive roles–however small in number they may be.

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