Just some thoughts and ideas going around in my head while trying to figure out where I am and where everyone else is going.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My how times have changed

Hattie McDaniel
You know I'm probably one of the few black men not born before 1939 who actually like's Hattie McDaniel's performance as Mammy in the movie Gone With The Wind. Ms. McDaniel showed a strength, integrity and loyalty in a role that was probably very unreal for people who had lived that role in real life. But her truth shines through and maybe that was the reason why she received the award for best supporting actress in a movie, I don't know. What I do know is that I'm always very happy to remember her and see her act even if it is once every 10 or 12 years.

Octavia Spencer
I suppose that I will have the same feeling when watching Octaivia Spencer in her Academy Award performance in The Help. I don't really know because I haven't seen it yet. I mean there's only so many times that I can accept excellence being recognized in black women when they play maids.

Sure someone will bring up Whoopi or Halle or God forbid Mo'Nique, but somehow that just gives me the feeling of everything being circular and that black women are back where they started and it makes me feel a little disturbed.

But it's Black History Month and you get what you can get when you can get it and this is what they they will be writing about in the years to come, so my hat's off to Octavia Spencer and all the others that will follow her. Congratulations!


  1. Methinks the difference in the two performances are manifested within the attitudes of the maids they portrayed.

    Blame it on the times, but these 'colored' women were clearly (at least IMO) polar opposites.

    Miss McDaniels' maid/nanny was a good ole soul, far wiser than the rest w/in her sphere. She LOVED her keepers, & woud most probably lie down & DIE for them. When she would roll her big world-weary eyes, it was with a gentle exasperation... as if to say:

    "Dang! These crazy southern white folks! Lawd what I's g'on do w/ dem?"

    Miss Spencer's maid is NOT your typically exasperated yet still merry negro. No. She is an angry, rebellious soul w/ a bellyful of broken dreams & whose eye rolls, while sometimes comical, are more much more deadly in their intent. They seem to translate:

    "Don't mess w/ me, bitches... because I might just mess back!"

    Won't spoil it by giving anything away since you haven't yet seen the film. lol.

    Congrats to her.


  2. I haven't seen "The Help" yet, but I will make more of an effort to in light of the good and bad things I've heard about it. On her show this past Saturday, Melissa Harris-Perry and her panel discussed the movie and one of the problems they had was with the "Disneyification" of the black experience during that era.

    As for Hattie McDaniel's performance in GWTW, it didn't bother me too much (from what I saw of it). I tried sitting through GWTW back in the early 2000s and gave up about half way through. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood, but it didn't do anything for me. One of my favorite quotes is one by Ms. McDaniel:

    “I can be a maid for $7 a week or I can play a maid for
    $700 a week.”

    Given the lack of roles blacks had back in Ms. McDaniel's time, it's hard to argue with her logic.

  3. I haven't seen either one of the films, but I have read both books. I do agree with your observation that there are enough talented Black women actors performing superbly in a variety of roles that they deserve recognition for portraying characters besides household domestics.

  4. One - I'm sure the characters are vastly different. One a soon to freed slave with no where to go but to work for the same masters she'd been working for before the war. The other an independent woman working on the eve or edge of the Civil Rights Movement and recognizing that her rights are and were no less than the rights held by others. My objection is not the performances but that they are both servants.

    Where is the performance of an actress playing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, or the ever controversial Winnie Mandela, or the woman who married the skinny black guy with funny name who had the temerity to think that he could become the President of The United States. Where is the story of the woman who works 2 jobs to feed her family or wakes early in morning to run the business that she's building or travels the world to find herself? Where are these women because I'm damn tired of seeing another Florida Evans to someone else's Maud.

    Malcolm - I don't blame you for not being able to sit through GWTW in one sitting. It took me about 3 attempts to actually see what happen in the middle. I had always caught the end of the movie or saw the beginning and figured by the time Atlanta was burning it was time for me to do something else. Let's face it, it's a woman's picture and it's a bit dated, but I figure that long as don't start to feel your tits sag you won't be hurt by it.

    And yes I've heard that quote from Hattie before or something like it. Nothing beats the pride you have when you're secure in what your doing.

    Roger - That's it in a nutshell. It's no dig against their performances but come on, black women are more than just maids so lets start seeing those characters who aren't being portrayed as maids start to get some recognition too.

  5. To paraphrase the great Langston Hughes, when he posed the rhetorical question... WHY was there not more diversity in the arts or in stories that reflected the True Black Experience? He then answered his own question with: 'I reckon we'll have to write 'em ourselves'.

    That man ain't never lied.

    I agree w/ all you've stated, but when dealing w/ a place & a mindset as limited and predatory as Hollywood, M*O*N*E*Y & the chances of seeing a mega profit is always gonna speak the loudest. Since "The Help" had already proven to be a sure-fire moneymaker in literary form, it was a no-brainer that a film would be made. And that film would remain faithful to the book... a book that was written by a talented white female author.

    When & IF our African & African-American writers & creative forces can produce something of merit that ALSO makes a shitload of CASH, trust that Hollywood will come a-running. They did so w/ Alex Haley's "Roots"... w/ much success. They did so w/ "Precious." They did so w/ Terri MacMillan's work & much of that is weak & uninspired.

    But to harken back to Langston: he had the foresight to KNOW that we wouldn't be seen or portrayed as anything other than stereotypes as long as someone else gets to tell & twist & limit OUR stories.

    Though this was uttered way more than half a century ago, the reality of what he said remains essentially true.



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