Black Women in Film, Where Art Thou?

octavia spencer vocalady photo

With the recent release of the nominations for the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards, it is safe to say that 2015 has been a good year for black actresses in television. Viola Davis of How To Get Away With Murder and Taraji P. Henson of Empire both received nominations for “Best Actress in a TV Drama”, while Uzo Aduba of Orange is the New Black and Regina King of American Crime received nominations for “Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Limited-Series, or TV Movie”. It is safe to say that the blueprint for television has received a vast improvement, with more and more black women being granted leading roles in television series. However, this has yet to occur in film.

Where Art Thou?

In addressing the presence of black women in film, T.I. said it best: “Where they at though?” The lack of black women in film during the 2015 year is made clear by the Golden Globe nominations. None of the films nominated for best motion picture, whether drama, comedy, or musical, cast black actresses in leading or supporting roles. In fact, the only nomination for a black actress in film is Queen Latifah’s nomination for “Best Actress in a TV Movie” for her role in the HBO biopic, Bessie, in which she played renowned American blues singer Bessie Smith. Addressing the lack of black actresses in the film industry is not meant to downplay those who, like Queen Latifah, killed it in on-screen roles this year. Nevertheless, it is important to view the presence of black women in film comparatively. Why, out of an award show with over twenty nominations for actresses in film, should it be okay for there to be only one black actress nominated?

This is especially an issue of subject matter. The Hollywood film industry has become less about giving black actresses the opportunity to earn roles and more about constructing parts that seem suitable for black actresses. For example, many black actresses who have won Oscars obtained these Oscars through roles revolving around either racism or so-called “black” struggles, such as single parenthood and abuse. Octavia Spencer won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role in 2011 for her performance in The Help as Aibileen Clark, a housekeeper for a prominent white family. Mo’Nique won the same award in 2009 for her performance in Precious as Precious’s abusive mother, as did Lupita Nyong’o in 2013 for her performance as slave Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Thus, essentially, if films on the idea of “blackness” or race don’t exist, then ultimately, black actresses do not exist.

This is definitely not to devalue the racial issues that are brought up in film. Racism is a part of our society that deserves to be discussed and film has served as an adequate stimulant for conversation on the subject. Nevertheless, there needs to be a balance. While there are movies starring white actresses that serve historical purpose or send a societal message, such as the true story The Walk starring Charlotte Le Bon as Annie Allix, the girlfriend of main character Philippe Petit, who desires to achieve a high-wire walk between the Twin Towers, there are also movies like Trainwreck (starring Amy Schumer) and Sisters (starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) which serve a more humorous, light-hearted purpose. Black actresses should have this same kind of leeway, in that it also services the black community. As much as I want to see black actresses shining while recreating our history, I would also love to see them simply living in the present, thriving in films representative of modern culture rather than only in films on our repressed past.

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One thought on “Black Women in Film, Where Art Thou?

  1. Pingback: Our 2016 Top Feminist Moments | Vocalady

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