Honestly, I’m starting to think that to watch television or film as a person of color, particularly a black person, it requires a bit of intentional cognitive dissonance to be able to enjoy most of it. I’m talking about the reality shows, the films and even down to the commercials – everything is extremely problematic. And yet, I like watching television shows and film. Why? Because I like watching stories. And some of them, in spite of all their black people problems, are really good and entertaining. What is a conscious black person to do?
My newest quagmire is American Horror Story: Coven. This is the third anthology of the series, which this season takes place in both antebellum and contemporary New Orleans. While this season has thus far impressed many critics for its boldness in broaching the seemingly taboo subjects of racism and gender oppression, particularly through its story lines on slavery, racial segregation and the Salem witch trials, the show also has by far the most stereotypical and borderline offensive portrayal of a black woman I have ever seen on television. And yes, I’m talking about “Queenie.”
The role, which is played by Oscar-nominated actress Gabourey Sidibe, could have been a transformative role. Her character’s wiki describes her an obese girl who shows “no signs of a defeated attitude and carries herself confidently.” But instead, the writers and creators of the series felt it necessary to make her into a caricature of what we always tend to associate with being a heavy-set, dark-skinned woman. I’m not talking about the fact that she is often seen as angry and yes, even sassy. I am a firm believer that black women should be allowed to encompass all the range of emotions granted upon all other human beings – screw whoever has a problem with that! But I’m talking about the fact that her name is “Queenie” and she is from Detroit. And she used to work in a fried chicken shack. And that unlike her other white witch counterparts, her witchery is rooted in voodoo (which on the show is portrayed as “dark magic” as opposed to birthright witchcraft like the rest of the Coven). And her magic power is being a cot-damn human pin cushion doll. That’s right, week after week of this series we got to watch Queenie graphically mutilate herself as a way to defend against those, who sought to do her personal harm.
Besides her shady biography, questionable powers of self-mutilation and the overall distortion of the Vodun tradition (Seriously? Voodoo dolls?), it’s the things that Queenie does that are most troublesome. This includes threatening to eat one of the witches during an argument (it’s supposed to be funny because she’s fat); attempting to educate a decapitated Delphine LaLaurie, a slave-murdering mistress played by Kathy Bates, by making her watch Roots and B.A.P.S; and in the latest episode, putting a bullet through her own head as a way of killing an enemy. However, all of that seems pretty innocuous when compared to what went down in episode three, entitled, The Replacements.
Delphine LaLaurie, who through a long sorted fantastical story has been appointed to work as Queenie’s personal maid, has just finished concern-trolling Queenie about her weight, more specifically, telling her to lay off the sandwiches if she hopes to get a man, when a black minotaur appears at the door. It’s there to kill Delphine LaLaurie for her past crimes against the enslaved, including changing a slave into a half-black man/half-beast. Okay. Cool, I’m feeling this. But then the story goes awry when Queenie not only pulls a magical Negro moment and saves the white slave-torturing mistress from her rightful fate but then tries to seduce the minotaur into sex. Yes, you read that right. In the midst of this bull-headed man with huge horns chasing her around, she stops, lifts up her skirt and begins to masturbate while saying the following:
“You just wanted love, and that makes you a beast. They called me that too. But that’s not who we are. We both deserve love like everybody else. Don’t you want to love me?”
Here is a short list of all the WTF questions and thoughts that came to my head at the time of watching that scene:
- Why is she comparing herself to a beast?
- Big girls – even a big as Queenie – have sex all the time without even having to go through any of that desperate luring. There is no reason for her to have to beg a man for sex, let alone sex from a minotaur.
- Matter of fact, why is he a minotaur? No, I get how he became minotaur, but seriously, we can’t portray black love and love making on screen without reducing us down to animals and bestiality?
Even worse than the visual imprint of Queenie attempting to lose her virginity to an animal during that scene, it was hard to say for sure if it was even consensual. As Queenie is touching herselfwith one hand and luring the minotaur towards her with the other hand, it grabs her by the neck, turns her around and then we go to commercial. When we return, the minotaur is gone and Queenie is laying on the ground bleeding from her abdomen, or maybe her vag*na, but honestly, it was hard to tell in that scene. However, what was certain was the minotaur’s total disregard for Queenie, and quite frankly, maybe the writers of that scene were disregarding her as well.
I know, it’s only mid-season. And why am I expecting realism in a story about witches, immortal slave mistresses and big black minotaurs with vag-ripping man-parts? I don’t. Like the rest of the characters in the story, I expect her to be a multi-faceted and fluid character, just like the rest of her witchy white counterparts. But can we achieve that without being a clusterf**k of tired cliches and racial tropes? Is that too much to expect from white folks in Hollywood?