Tuesday, April 30, 2019

What Dreams May Come

After dropping the Kid off at school yesterday, I came home and opened my computer to the headline that would ruin the rest of my day. It was premature, so after posting a retraction on my both the Busy Black Woman and my personal Facebook page, the day unfolded like we were all on death watch. Which we were until the sad confirmation came by the evening that director John Singleton had died.

I was in college when Singleton's debut film Boyz 'n the Hood was released. I didn't see it in the theaters, but on tape that someone had rented or bootlegged (look, don't judge the college student hustle). I didn't love the movie at first and was annoyed that at the end when we learn that Trey and Brandi were headed to college, the name of my alma mater was misspelled. Additionally, I was annoyed at the marginal depictions of the women in the film as either dysfunctional single mothers or hoodrats. (Mind you, I was a young college feminist, so complaining about sexism and misogyny was how I rolled back then, fueled by that Images of Women in the Media class that I keep referencing.)

I didn't see the genius that everyone else saw in his work back then. It would take me years to recognize it, and then more time to fully appreciate what Singleton's career and body of work meant. Thankfully, that recognition and appreciation occurred well before yesterday; thus with respect, I won't attempt to write a retrospective of his life and work. The obituary writers and film critics will handle that. Instead, I wish to acknowledge the totality of his accomplishments in what I hope will be the ultimate tribute--to urge you to live your dreams!

John Singleton was a few years older than me, so his youth was the primary thing that I remember the most about the buzz of his early career. He was the youngest and the first Black director to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Director, and in hindsight, I can only imagine the pressure he should have felt from the weight of such expectations. Yet, it didn't appear that he allowed that to phase him. After his auspicious debut, he went back to work and kept working. Along the way, whether his films were successful or not, he paved an important path that one can only hope will become well worn by many others one day.

He brought Hollywood to the hood. He brought under-the-radar young Black talent to the silver screen. He told stories that challenged the politics of respectability without apology or sentimentality. He gave us strong Black heroes. His early success probably inspired peers like George Tillman, Jr. and Reggie Rock Bythewood, and later young brothers like Ryan Coogler and Barry Jenkins.

Yesterday, the initial news of his impending death shook me in the most unexpected way. I didn't know John Singleton personally. But similar to my reaction at the news of Luke Perry's untimely death from a massive stroke just weeks ago, I suddenly became aware of my own mortality.

Lately, I have been muscling my way through a fog of depression that has me questioning everything. Am I a good person? Am I contributing anything significant to the world? Are my dreams too lofty? What am I afraid of? In small but significant ways, I have been receiving reassurances...not that I am guaranteed of anything substantial, but that it is the journey that makes the struggle worth the effort. So in spite of my doubts, I keep pressing.

If it is the epitome of self-involvement to reduce the sad fact of someone else's death to an anecdote for personal reassurance, stay with me here--John Singleton's death offers all of us a lesson in living. How many of us remember the hype about him back in 1991? Are you on a path towards living your dreams? Did you write that screenplay? Did you start that business? Have you traveled the world? Are you working a job that pays the bills but kills your soul? Do you wake up everyday with the desire to conquer the world? Or do you drag yourself out of bed to face the monotony of the same old shit day in and day out? Are you too comfortable with just existing? What are you afraid of?

This morning I heard that John Singleton told Spike Lee to look out for him in a couple of years. Marinate on that for a minute, because Singleton was just a year out of film school when Boyz was released. Have you ever dared to be so bold as to tell a mentor that you are planning to be a threat? For that and more, I have so much respect for what this brother accomplished in that 25+ year span of a career (a lifetime by Hollywood standards). The fact that I would not call myself a great fan just speaks to how impressive and inspiring he was. He had a dream and lived it.

Singleton never garnered the same level of acclaim that he received at the start of his career. His big screen output was uneven, and I'm guessing that his recent work on the small screen was an effort to remain relevant in an industry where he was no longer a wunderkind. So what. Nobody ever said that living your dreams would be a walk in the park on a perennially sunny day.

Yet, as tributes pour in and folks take the time to assess his career, I am looking to everyone who is still in Hollywood to take what Singleton did to the next level. The aforementioned peers and young brothers whom I am sure he inspired have either won or are on the path to win Academy Awards and now there are Black women in that pipeline to do the same. I saw this tweet thread last night about how Singleton celebrated Regina King and Peter Ramsey at the 2019 Academy Awards, then this article about his impact on the careers of so many others.

Hence, the next level is where you refuse to confine your dreams to the outline that has been drafted by someone else. Use it, expand on it, make it your own, and then watch what happens. One of my criticisms of John Singleton's work had been its marginalization of women. Even now, I feel that is a fair critique; yet, I also recognize that writing fully realized women might not have been on his level. Instead, his work introduced us to the actors whose interpretations of his narrow female characters allowed them to grow into better roles. Regina King was a former child sitcom actress whose career might have followed a different trajectory had it not been for her memorable performance as one of the hoodrats I found so grating in Boyz. And somewhere, there is a woman who can write and/or direct those fully fleshed out Black women whose stories also deserve to be told on screen.

We mourn the end of this life and what could have been which is what we do when someone dies too young. We also celebrate all that he accomplished and the foundation upon which others can build from the work he left undone. And of course, there are those dreams that we still have time to chase...

Saturday, April 20, 2019

What Happened to Be Best?

As a society, I don't believe we have a clear understanding of what is considered bullying these days. My traditional definition of the verb form would say that a weaker person or entity who is targeted for ridicule and humiliation by a stronger person or entity is being bullied. The act of bullying might consist of something of value or significance being taken by force--one's dignity, peace of mind, sense of security, or perhaps even a life.  For example, we all seem to agree that this is a classic representation of a bully:

(And the fact that he resembles someone we know is purely coincidental, right?  More on that later.)

However, we don't always seem willing to use that term in every applicable situation. For example, were the people who gathered in the angry mobs to protest the integration of public transportation and schools a bunch of bullies? Were the people who heckled former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen at a public restaurant to the point where she left bullying her? How should we refer to police officers that use excessive force to subdue unarmed suspects?

When a powerful first-world nation dangles the threat of withdrawing or withholding monetary aid from a third world country, we call it diplomacy. When a person submits to participating in certain ritualistic behaviors to join a group, we call it being initiated. When some rich guy uses his platform to disparage refugees, asylum seekers, dead Senators, and various women who have stood up to him, we call it free speech. When a public official, who happens to be the first Black Muslim refugee elected to Congress, speaks out against anything and that draws harsh condemnation from political "friends" and foes alike, it is called piling on.

So while I am very clear that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is being bullied, I recognize that she is a polarizing public figure and to the extent that public scrutiny comes with the territory, she's going to need thicker skin. But she should not need body guards, and the fact that she does because of the deliberate mischaracterization of her statements by certain media outlets and the exploitation of that backlash by the DESPOTUS, it looks a lot like bullying to me.

But let me offer a more down-to-earth example: earlier this week a random tweet on my TL caught my attention. Someone's child somewhere thought it would be cute to post a picture with a racist caption, so one of his classmates thought the proper response was to activate Black Twitter. And in due form, the Twitter-lashing forced an apology, but something about that made me uncomfortable. When does adult social media intervention in a dispute among high school kids become bullying?

Then I remembered the campaign championed by our elusive FLOTUS called Be Best, so I decided to seek her wisdom and guidance on the matter. Surely the website dedicated to her signature initiative would have some tools and resources to provide an answer to that question...

What was I thinking? There's no reason to access that page unless I want pictures of Melania Antoinette feigning concern as a screen saver. Why should she care that there have been children younger than 16 committing suicide because of peer bullying, like the young man in Houston, another in Kentucky, and a young girl in Alabama? Why should she ruin her couture by allowing those mothers to cry on her shoulder? Why would she speak out against the type of cyber bullying Rep. Omar has been subjected to when the main culprit has been her husband? Why should she speak up for anyone other than herself?

Well then, I guess it is up to me to call it all out in the open: Fat-shaming is bullying. Mommy-shaming is bullying. Gay-bashing is bullying. Street harassment of women is bullying. Ridiculing people who are differently-abled is bullying. Religious intolerance is bullying. Encouraging mob retaliation on social media is bullying. Death threats are a form of bullying.

And while I know that social media mob retaliation or call-out culture is a thing (e.g., the glee we all got from the public roasting of Permit Patty and her ilk), there needs to be a line. There is something fundamentally wrong when a bunch of adults think it is acceptable to gang up on a kid. Even a stupid kid who provoked understandable outrage with a racist post, because he won't learn anything from this experience except to retreat to the dark edges of the internet where his ignorance can devolve into resentment, bitterness, or worse. Bullying is a cycle just like other forms of abuse.

Our failure to understand that is exactly how Biff Tannen got to be President instead of Tracy Flick (different movie, but she didn't win either). And since we can't go back to 2015 to fix the present, let's put up a good fight for the future.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Deconstructing Superman

I grew up with Christopher Reeve as Superman, so as far as I am concerned, he is was and forever shall be the iconic superhero. I know that meant he was typecast in my eyes, and that I probably never saw him in any other memorable role until his later years as a advocate for people with spinal cord injuries. Until Billy Dee Williams appeared onscreen as Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back, I would say that Reeve was my first blockbuster movie boyfriend.

So when Sundance TV aired a marathon of the four original Superman movies, I got excited. I loved the first two movies! And I had tuned in just in time to see the ending of the first movie, so that meant I would get to see the second film (which had been my favorite) in its entirety. Yay, happy Sunday for me!

But, I fell asleep midway through the second movie; woke up in the middle of the really bad third film; and slept fitfully through the gawd-awful fourth movie. Before I pulled the covers over my head during a particularly ridiculous scene in the second film, I tweeted how terribly sexist and dated it was. Honestly, I'm unsure if I could ever sit through this again...

Mind you, I get how movies that were made in certain eras are cultural reflections of that era. The 70s were a gritty time, so a lot of those films had a gritty edge to them. I wouldn't describe Superman in that way, but its marginal treatment of women was typical, such as the catcalling, depictions of maidens (and their cats) in need of rescue, and other subtle forms of sexism that would be more noticeable to modern sensibilities. That Superman was a product of its time is how we can suspend belief that a self-aware career woman like Lois Lane was too love struck to notice that her bumbling colleague was the man of her dreams.

By the time we get to the second movie there was progress, some recognition that women could be more than damsels in distress; in fact, the women were pivotal to the narrative. From the wisdom provided from beyond the celestial grave by his mother Lara, the conflict stirred up by the evil Ursa, the comic relief supplied by Miss Tessmacher, to the undying love of Lois Lane, women were integral to Superman II. The fact that each left some manner of chaos and confusion in her wake...well, that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

So my complaint is not to whine that the women were used to illustrate the need for a super-man to fix things (but hmm, that's a theory worth exploring). My gripe is that the women were used poorly to illustrate that point. Specifically how one woman in particular, Lois Lane, is set up as Superman's one true weakness. Delilah to his Samson, otherwise known as the old sexist trope that a man would forfeit his nobler, higher calling for sex.

A quick refresh of the biblical reference (Judges 16): Samson is the Israelite champion who falls in love with a Philistine woman named Delilah. She seduces him to learn the source of his strength, and after a few false leads he tells her, she neuters him, and then delivers him to his enemies. He repents, receives enough strength for one final showdown with the Philistines, and then kills them. I will give you a minute to think about the parallels to Superman II (as I try to figure out why I am still working on papers for my Images of Women in the Media class).

I started to formulate this theory when the kid fell over the rail during the Niagara Falls scene. Of course because Clark Kent was in the vicinity, so was Superman; meanwhile on the moon at the same time, the Zod Trio started with their mayhem. And Superman was clueless. He remained clueless and preoccupied until that humiliating beatdown at the diner...at least a week later.

How did he miss the hostile takeover of the planet by three super aliens before he gave up his powers? When the kid fell over the railing, was there no other way to save him without suddenly appearing in Niagara Falls and blowing his cover? On the trip back from the Fortress of Solitude, was there no news on the car radio? Did everyone forget that this entire chain of events was set in motion because Superman decided to fly to Paris to save Lois Lane (again)? Instead of seeing Superman as some kind of romantic hero with gallant tendencies, perhaps we should see him as a super stalker?

Are you hearing that Sting song in your head yet?

Of all the bad things that could happen anywhere in the world, Superman would only be available if it impacted Lois. His obsession began in the first movie when he spun the world backwards, not to stop the nuclear bomb Lex Luthor had released, not to save California from the big earthquake, but to save Lois. He ignored the advice of his mother to give up his superpowers in order to be with Lois. While the leaders of the world were surrendering to the Zod Trio, Superman was tangled up in bed at the Fortress of Solitude with Lois. He got his ass kicked at a diner by some hick townie in defense of Lois. His enemies all correctly determined that his Achilles heel was Lois.

And in a classic gas-lighting maneuver, we're supposed to accept that all of this chaos was her fault. His choice to always save her from danger. His choice to reveal his secret identity. His choice to become mortal without consulting her. He got what he wanted from her...but she's selfish and jealous of the whole world (her words). For all of the crazy he brought to her life, he decided that the cure for her heartbreak was a hypnotic kiss--to help her forget about him. No way would the Man of Steel ever admit that he had caught feelings.

I know, feminism ruins everything! Or maybe it is the fact that I have grown up, and after nearly 40 years of watching this movie, it is finally time to see the truth that has been right in front of me. This was not a great superhero movie, nor was it a timeless love story. Could it be that after all these years, the object of my love was really Christopher Reeve, and not Superman, his alter ego?

Ugh, just call me Lois. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Nobody's Fool

Candace Owens has made quite a name for herself, especially in the past few months. She is the face of a movement of young Black conservatives called Blexit. She hosted a Roseanne apologia on her eponymous show. She defended Hitler. She recently appeared before a congressional committee to testify that white nationalism isn't a problem. And I'm pretty sure she's the person who nominated the despotus (my new name for the wannabe despot in the White House) for the Nobel Peace Prize.

After I saw this article about Owens' testimony in which she denied the historical record on the Southern Strategy, I tweeted this. I got a few retweets and engaged in a little more ribbing at her expense by chastising one of her followers, which also got me a few more retweets and a new follower. I also tweeted an article to her about a woman in Oklahoma who spray painted racist and anti-Semitic graffiti to scare people, just to demonstrate the absurdity of her sworn delusion.

But I've reconsidered whether Candace Owens should be dismissed as just another self-hating mouthpiece for right-wing propaganda. To diminish her intellect--a young college-educated Black woman is just as insulting as it is when the effort is aimed at another young college-educated Latinx woman who happens to be a Member of Congress. As a woman of color who is an advocate for other women of color to have the right to speak their truth in public spaces, I need to be more tolerant of opinions that differ from mine (and reality).

Therefore, Ms. Owens, you are not stupid. You are correct that you have the right to think for yourself and to declare your independence from a political ideology that you believe has kept Black people systematically enslaved. You have the absolute right to repeat whatever alternative facts you want under oath in front of a congressional committee. As the rightful leader of Blexit, if that should ever become a real thing (and not just a clever rebranding campaign for millennial Blacks who support this Regime), then you deserve to be taken seriously.

Candace Owens, I apologize.

Maybe I am jealous because when given the opportunity years ago to consider the advantages of being a young conservative, I followed my heart to become a crusader for civil rights and social justice. I pursued the well-worn path of other young idealist Black women by getting an advanced degree, choosing altruism as a career path, and then having to deal with the inevitable realities of disillusionment and burnout. The struggle for equality is relentless and taxing; thus for the time being, I have reinvented myself as another obscure blogger of strongly held opinions. You, on the other hand, are clearly a rising star.

YOU took the more difficult road less traveled. YOU declared an affinity for a political ideology that puts you at odds with most of the mainstream Black voices of influence. You've aligned yourself with an upstart organization that seeks to engage with young conservatives and that has become a rather lucrative and high-profile gig. I mean, I've been on C-SPAN too, but in the background as staff. YOU had a seat at the table.

You, Diamond and Silk, that random sister who was summoned appear at a congressional hearing to prove that Michael Cohen was a liar, Stacey Dash, and others have demonstrated the folly of seeking validation on the basis of talent and hard work. At any given hour of the day there is a progressive/liberal/Democrat person of color offering analysis on cable news, so instead of being just another voice in that choir, you can count on a regular spotlight and platform for your viewpoint. So no, you are definitely not stupid, nor willfully ignorant. It's a job, a role you play to get ahead.

So I won't stoop to calling you names or questioning your intelligence because I know that you know what you're doing. And for what it is worth, we do need Black faces on the other side of the political debate for the same reason why we need more of us engaged in the debate on the side that has alleged to have championed our interests all this time. Representation matters.

And I know how difficult it has been for you as one of the very few women of color to be allowed access to those other corridors of power. From the inside looking out, the rejection and ridicule you've faced has come mostly from people who look like you. I'm guessing that your political awakening started when one of your blond best friends told you how lucky you were to be a Black woman who would benefit from affirmative action to get ahead...and in solidarity with the unfairness she would have to endure, you chose a side.

Just be forewarned, so did plenty of others before you and their reward was the same thirty pieces of silver that seemed like so much more in theory than in reality. What good is the money, the infamy, the followers on social media, and the access if it costs you real friends, your integrity, and possibly your very soul?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Red Beans and Rice Monday: No Offense, But...

I feel sorry for former Vice President Joe Biden. I feel sorry for the guy at church who offers kisses to every woman he encounters. I feel sorry for the women who feel uncomfortable in these scenarios--not because these interactions are harmless, but because enduring these encounters without complaint is what is expected of us.

When I say us, I mean women in general. We are expected to allow this.

'He's just being friendly.' 'He kisses everybody like that.' 'He doesn't mean any harm.'

Just like the Bishop didn't mean any harm when he felt Ariana Grande up in front of millions during Aretha Franklin's homegoing. And I believe he believed what he said, even if his hands were operating on their own accord.

So let me offer this quick word of political advice to Mr. Biden in case he does decide to move forward with this bid to become President (for the fourth time...): Ask.

Not because we are in an ultra-sensitive era where seemingly innocuous expressions of affection are now regarded with suspicion. Not because the person whose hair you are about to sniff might be a vocal supporter of a rival campaign. Not because it wouldn't be cool to say that #Itoo got to rub noses with Uncle Joe. Not because Barack Obama has warned us that the perfect is the enemy of the good. Not because current the Groper in Chief (currently being sued for getting too close and personal with a former staffer) is poking fun at you in order to deflect attention from the fact that he is a horrible excuse for a human being.

Ask, so that there is no ambiguity that you aren't invading someone's personal space.
Ask, to demonstrate that you respect that not everyone is comfortable in every situation.
Ask, to prove that you understand the concerns that have been raised by those who felt uneasy about your displays of affection in the past.
Ask, because it would be a shame if this drama overshadows your political legacy.

And one more thing...really apologize to Anita Hill.

Friday, April 5, 2019

Don't Be a Tool

Insomnia will have you wide awake at 2am eating Thai spring rolls while scrolling through your Twitter timeline. Then, because you are annoyed by some of what you've read, you post a few of the offending articles to your Facebook page. And because it is your custom to add commentary, you prepare to go in on a particularly odious statement made by the guy from high school whose only claim to fame was that he wore clip-on bow-ties and argyle sweater vests.

But it's late, so you decide on a simpler insult--you call him a tool. Then you get inspired to find just the right GIF or image to post to illustrate your point, and that leads you to an old TV sitcom that you only watched in syndication. A show that you used to think of as harmless until recently...

This will not be a scholarly deconstruction of Home Improvement. But to the extent that this show has become my pop culture avatar for the backlash certain men are championing against political correctness, women in positions of power, and #metoo, let's analyze.

Since I didn't watch this show while it aired, my best guess is that the pilot offered a character backstory on Tim Taylor that more or less informed us that he was a local high school/college all-American from a small Michigan town who hosted a show about tools on cable access. I know that the basis for the show was Tim Allen's stand up routine at the time, and that he currently stars in another sitcom, Last Man Standing, that I don't watch. However, I have seen snippets and know that from the title, some of the jokes, and based on the drama about it getting cancelled and then moving to a new network, LMS ain't my cup of Busy Black Woman tea.

It isn't an accident that certain shows tend to find audiences during certain cultural moments. The fancy word for that is zeitgeist, and while I wouldn't bestow that honor on Tim Taylor, he certainly deserves an honorable mention. That title belongs to Archie Bunker, whose spirit Allen has managed to channel into a slightly less disgruntled everyman. His sitcom and movie alter egos (including Buzz Lightyear) have been those of suburban Dads trying to navigate changing times. He's a bit sexist in an endearing don't-drop-the-bikinis-from-the-Miss-America-pageant kind of way; not intentionally racist or homophobic (just not PC); and is definitely a season ticket holder for one of the hometown sports teams. He is not entirely a caveman relic of a bygone era, but his subliminal nods and winks reassure his tribe that he feels their pain.

Enter Tucker Carlson. Alex P. Keaton all grown up and still angry that his parents were hippies.

Whereas Tim Allen is an actor reciting lines once a week, Carlson is reading lines from a teleprompter every night. You probably couldn't have a beer with either one of them in real life, but from that old Barcalounger in your suburban man cave or from that neighborhood bar you frequent to avoid going home to your nagging wife, drinks are on the house. Tucker Carlson Tonight is political Tool Time.

What is his problem? You would think that a guy who is barely 50 and born in San Francisco wouldn't seem so aggrieved, but then you read his Wikipedia bio and it becomes clear that he really is Alex P. Keaton...but with issues. Instead of getting therapy, he uses his TV show to bash his younger sister Jennifer's politics and to beat up on his old friend Skippy (in the form of Chris Hayes). He's not a lovable curmudgeon like Fred Sanford (Sanford and Son), Al Bundy (Married with Children), Martin Crane (Frasier), Dr. John Becker (Becker), or Pops (Blackish). He's just a smug asshole...

Who is so afraid of a new world order that he cannot control or stop, so his best weapon is to whine about the good ole days. Even Archie Bunker had to accept change...those were the days.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Come to Mama

I often wished for sisters, but once my rambunctious youngest brother was born, my mother made it clear that my younger cousins were the best life was going to give me. And that was cool because I have been blessed with an abundance of girl cousins and nieces. I attended an all-girls' high school and a women's college and I belong to a sorority, so I literally have close to a million sisters. Then there is also a special cadre of famous women that in today's abbreviated hashtag lingo are my BFFs or WCWs (which might be the same as having imaginary friends): Queen Latifah, Tyra Banks, Tracee Ellis Ross, Loni Love, Danai Guira, Bethenney Frankel, Heidi Klum (although we're frenemies now that she's no longer married to Seal), and a few others depending on my mood. I'm weird like that.

I used to imagine that we would all hang out in the Vineyard at one of their summer homes, or maybe hit the South of France or the Caribbean in a Girl Trip-esqe fantasy (although my version was nothing like the movie, so I can't claim the idea was stolen from my subconscious). Since I don't do anything like that with my real life friends, I eventually let go of those fantasies and am content to just stalk them all on social media (kidding). However, if I were a real friend, I would have to admit to being concerned every now and then about the direction of their careers. After revisiting this old piece about Steel Magnolias recently, I gave some serious consideration to that issue.

Let's start with Queen Latifah, who has been my imaginary friend longer than the rest. We go all the way back to my college days when she was singing about U.N.I.T.Y. I was a young college feminist who just wanted to jam to a message of empowerment, which was almost impossible in an era of hip hop that was eventually overtaken by Luke Campbell and West Coast gangsta rap. (I was also late...a young man tried to introduce me to Latifah in high school, but I was young and dumb). Anyway, it was during that time that she began to branch out from music into acting, and there was a distinct moment when she could have pursued a sitcom career thanks to her star turn on Living Single. But then she appeared in Set it Off which made us recognize that she had big screen ambitions and serious dramatic chops. For a stretch of time, her star hovered between those two film genres.

Then came the Mom-vies: Beauty Shop (2005), Hairspray (2007), The Secret Lives of Bees (2008), Joyful Noise (2012), and of course Steel Magnolias (2012). There are other roles in that mix of years, but each time I saw one of these films I got nervous. Was Latifah about to be typecast as the Mama because that was the most obvious place for her, or because that was really where her star shined the brightest?

I asked myself the same questions with respect to Taraji P. Henson, whom I have known since we were kids in the sandbox. (Which is kinda true except we were more like imaginary friends because it was my mother who actually knew her.) Anyway, I worried that Henson was going to get stuck in the young Black Mama roles because of Baby Boy (2001) and The Karate Kid (2010), and then because of Benjamin Button (2008) she would get stuck as the Black-Mama-figure-in-an-otherwise-all-white-movie. Then she got Think Like a Man (2012) and I breathed a temporary sigh of relief; however, she's doing the historical-Black-Mother/Sister-savior movies like Hidden Figures (2016) and The Best of Enemies (2019) now so the jury might still be out. And I almost forgot that she is Cookie Lyons, also known as Lee Daniels' fantastical next chapter for the young Black Mama from Hustle & Flow (2005), so it's a wrap.

There are other character archetypes that Black women have inhabited, including the historical ones that we hope have been discarded such as the Tragic Mulatto, Sapphire, and of course Mammy. If this were a college paper for my Images of Women in the Media class, I would argue that we haven't abandoned these stereotypes at all, but that we have simply reimagined them with 21st Century sensibilities. But I already got an A in that class, so I proffer this alternative thesis:

All roles lead us to Mama.

For the record, Jenifer Lewis is already the self-declared Black Mama of Hollywood, and to her credit, being typecast in that way and embracing it has kept her going. There are very limited options for Black actresses, especially those of a certain age, so staying in that lane typically means that whenever a Black Mama is needed, Lewis, Phylicia Rashad, and Lynne Whitfield are reliable go tos, as are Alfre Woodard and Angela Bassett. Previous Black Mamas such as Patti LaBelle, Telma Hopkins, Diahann Carroll, and the Exalted Grande Dame of Black Mamahood, Cicely Tyson, they have been elevated to Black Grandmama status. If not a Black Mama, then there are the Aunties--those undefined sassy Black friends (Sapphires) that pop up randomly in sitcoms as guest stars such as Wanda Sykes, Niecey Nash, and Yvette Nicole Brown (whose face you'll recognize as soon as you Google her name). Just remember that Aunties are Mamas whose children we have yet to meet.

There is a magical threshold, and once an actress crosses into Momville, she's driving a minivan. Patricia Heaton comes to mind as an actress who has been wearing mom-jeans and some version of a bob haircut her entire career. Once Jackee Harry was no longer regarded as a sexy siren, she too donned the mom jeans and wore a bob. Regina King, who had a really good run as a Sapphire just won an Oscar for being a Mama. Even Halle Berry, a classic Tragic Mulatto who has yet to convince us that she can do otherwise won her Oscar for portraying a Mama!

My imaginary twin Tyra Banks? Model Mama. Loni Love? Auntie Mama with a closet full of wigs. Danai Gurai? Kick ass Mama. Bethenny Frankel? Yenta Mom (yeah, I said it). Heidi Klum? Stage Mom engaged in eternal mean mommy conflict with her BFF Tyra. While I'm still trying to figure out how Tracee Ellis Ross managed to kill off Tempestt Bledsoe to have five kids with Anthony Anderson...doggone Raven Symone is a mother to teenaged twins. Which makes Clair Huxtable a great-grandmama!

Yep. Everybody gets there eventually.

She Got Next

While listening to the radio in the car on the way to get the Kid from school, I heard a snippet of a news story about the controversial decision made by Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx regarding the Jussie Smollett mess. I didn't stick around to hear the details, but generally I know that she has been accused of bungling the case. Maybe she did, and if so, I suspect it wouldn't be the first time that a prosecutor had to back down after some big talk...

However, for some reason that snippet made me think about the static that Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby faced when she stood up to the police union in the Freddie Gray case. And how State Attorney Aramis Ayala had her prosecutorial decision-making challenged by then-Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) because of her opposition to the death penalty. And how everyone seems to think that they are entitled to an opinion on the intellect of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, even the Petty POTUS, who dissed her New Green Deal proposal because of her previous job as a bartender.

Today, now that Lori Lightfoot, a Black woman has been elected to the Mayor's Office in Chicago, I am wondering how long it will take for someone to be as openly disrespectful to her as the President has been to the Mayor of San Juan, PR. Because it is only a matter of time before the powers that be in the Illinois General Assembly decide that they will intercede by hostile takeover of certain local functions (similar to what is currently being proposed in Georgia with respect to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport)? Because disrespect for women of color in power isn't just the prerogative of the President...

Everyone feels entitled to question the competency and qualifications of women, especially women of color. EVERYONE. I remember years ago how in my third year of law school, the only Black woman on the faculty was criticized by several of the students in our criminal procedure class. While it has been too long for me to recall the exact complaints, the grumbling about her got to the point that she opened class one day with the declaration that she was the only person in the room with not one, but multiple law degrees. Years later, and everywhere I turn, there is some version of that same scenario replayed at every level of society.

Like the time that little boy on the playground proceeded to tell me what I needed to tell my daughter. Or how a certain person thought that his suggestion that Sriracha was a suitable substitution for red pepper flakes was appropriate. Or how men who have never given birth to children feel compelled to decide whether women can make child-bearing decisions for themselves. Or how the women who are currently running for President with stronger credentials than most of the men are held to a higher standard than the current White House occupant--the same joker who has barely enough foreign policy expertise to fit into a thimble, yet he feels compelled to give advice to women who are running countries (not country estates).

So yeah, I am offended by this high profile criticism of Kimberly Foxx, even if she did screw up with Jussie Smollett. How dare she allow some celebrity to get away with telling a lie???

But let's focus on the real issue here, which is how we expect women to toe the line. We expect women to stand by their philandering men. We expect women to defend their boys when they behave like boys. We expect that a great idea expressed by a woman is better once it has been re-stated by the guy sitting next to her. We expect that whenever a woman ascends to a position of power, it is because there was no man available, so her job isn't to clean house...

Unless she was hired to clean House.

And even then, someone is going to feel that it is his job to question how she does hers. Someone who didn't want the job in the first place, but now that he sees her doing it, he knows better than she does.

Like the men who sold the UK on Brexit but couldn't be bothered to stick around to make it happen. Like Rahm Emanuel, who claimed he didn't seek reelection in order to spend more time with his family, but we know better. Like the POTUS who talks tough, but who would rather send the women from his Regime to Capitol Hill as messengers: Betsy DeVos to explain why his budget cuts out federal funding for the Special Olympics and Kirstjen Nielsen to explain why children are detained in cages.

Just like every other man who decides that instead of picking up his own dirty socks, he'll leave them for someone else.