On How “The Secret Life of Bee’s” Used 4 Black Women to tell a White Girl’s Story

I saw The Secret Life of Bee’s (TSLB) yesterday and I couldn’t helped but be struck by two things. First, the tone of TSLB was extremely similar to the tone of The Help. From the color palate of the sets, to the language and how folks moved and the music.

TSLB was directed by a Black woman, and The Help was directed by a White man.

This morning when I got up I KNEW that I had to write about TSLB. I am good for watching a movie and telling the screen “I don’t believe you Gina”. Meaning I don’t believe the characters, the story is underdeveloped, the character is underdeveloped, that the editor was being lazy, the director was being lazy or the actor was being lazy. That someone didn’t push it to a space to take it there.

The moment that I didn’t believe in the film was in Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Hudson showed up at Queen Latifah’s door, and Fanning had done all the talking. Now Hudson had just gotten beat publicly beat a White man for pouring sun flower seed hulls on his feet in public and threw her to the ground and demanded that said apologized. She refused and was taken to jail. This scene is a direct nod to the scene in The Color Purple where Oprah’s character hits the White woman who asks her if SHE will be her maid…let’s just say that it was traumatic to watch.

So when they show up to Latifah’s door, and Hudson just kinda stands there letting Fanning talk, I was like what the fuck is this Gina. This woman has just gotten her ass beat, and head cracked open by White men, and given the time period she was probably raped, consequently she is lucky to be alive, and she can’t speak for herself. I was not interested in what Fanning had to say to Latifah, I wanted to hear what Hudson had to say for herself and to Latifah. It rendered Hudson a child in that moment.

This morning, I knew what fucked me up about The Secret Life of Bee’s. In this movie four Black women serve as a midwife for the spiritual transformation of a young White girl who has been abandoned by her mother and verbally and physically abused by her father.

Why in the hell is an all star cast of four awesome and talented Black women serving as fodder for the spiritual transformation of a little White girl. When was the last time we saw four Black women serve as fodder for their own spiritual transformation? Cough, Waiting to Exhale? Cough.

Movies matter because they tell us what is important. Movies also matter because they tell us how some people see history.

Honestly, those women were reduced to four mid-wive mammies, to the extent that the White Hollywood imagination see’s Black women’s bodies in film. You all KNOW I Love watching Queen Latifah. I sat in a hotel room in North Carolina on Christmas and had the time of my life watching Latifah. THAT FILM WAS ABOUT A BLACK WOMAN’S PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION. HER JOURNEY, not someone else’s.

This is not to say that Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okendo (check out Skin if you haven’t) did make it twerk, because they did. In fact Latifah is able to work in some #blackgirlfromthefuture juju with the story behind her honey business and Okendo story was probably the most developed and most emotionally textured.

In someways The Secret Life of Bee’s objectified Black women in some of the similar ways that rap music video’s do, because it treats them as objects that are merely there to move the story along and not as subjects with their OWN STORY TO TELL.

You see the movie?

Why do we move other people’s story along but not our own?

Don’t we do the same shit in real life too? Putting our children, our husbands, our girlfriends, our wives, our boyfriends, our work, our mommas ahead of us, and never us first? When will this stop?

On Walking Out of Columbiana (I Walked Back in Too).

Young Cataleya in Columbiana.

The Wackness is the last movie that I walked out of.

The scene that triggered it was when the main character’s dad gave the going off to college advice of, “Try and fuck a Black girl.” Yeah. I was all set on those.

Last night Goldy and I went to see Columbiana. I don’t read movie descriptions. I like to just go and peep the narrative, get lost in it if I can. I knew Zoe was the star and that was enough.

So the film opens and there is a little Black girl subjectivity, her perspective. Now I knew that this character was awesome because Joan Morgan mentioned it on twitter earlier this week.

I had no idea.

For the first time in God knows how long, there was a little Black girl on screen who was bad assed. She wasn’t a victim. She was a fighter and she wanted to survive.

And she wasn’t bound up in 5011 pathologies. Well. Sorta.

There were tight close up shots of her that centered her big old almond eyes.

She moved like a ninja.

Shit, you rarely see women of ANY race on the silver screen move like that, let alone a little Black girl.

Nearly ten minutes into the film the child has made up her mind, and these are her words. She states, “I want to be a killer.”

I get it. The irony that a little Black girl wants to be a killer.

But No.

And you know why? Two reasons.

Violence is real for Black girls. My homie was just walking on U on Friday with her lady friend, and had bugged out homophobic shit said to her.  Violence and the threat of violence is real everyday for Black girls. Now she is talking about packing mace. I don’t blame her.

The second reason is that we die inside if our stories don’t come out. For instance G-Dep, Bad Boy “Special Delivery G-Dep” walked into a police station last December and confessed that he murdered someone 17 years ago. 17 years? You can’t walk around with shit like that on your heart B. Nope.

You know how many stories killers have? #Ummmph.

Would I have been just as disturbed it were a White little boy in the film as well. No. Why? Because there are ranges of films that are released that tell stories about White boy children.

A story where one wants to grow up to be a killer would be out of pocket, but because there are a range of White boy children stories, it is just a part of a broader mix of options.

Black girls. No.

So I thought, this is what we have to do to get on the screen. Say that we are going to kill? #ummp. I walked out.

While trying to decide my next move, I got roped into helping this young Haitian man do his Neilsen survey for the new Sarah Jessica Parker film “How Does She Do It?” It was so funny because halfway through I say to him, “This data is really irreverent if you don’t collect my race.” He responded, “Oh, I have your race.”

O.0

I was like, in that case tell the Neilsen people that there are “No Black people in that movie, so no I do not believe a New York with no Black folks. AND tell them the film looks like Sex in the City Part 12. And NO to that too.”

He chuckled.

Then Goldy texted me saying “Woman, this is $22, I didn’t come to the movies alone.”

I took my ass back to the theater.

I rooted for Zoe.

The film was well done.

The story telling kept the narrative going.

It was just seeing a little Black girl say “I want to be a killer” that blew me.

For writers, every sentence moves a story along. For fillm makers every scene, every bit of dialogue moves the story/narrative along.

All I could think was, why couldn’t they move that story along without having her say THAT?

Did you see it?

What do you think?

Is it problematic that Black girls have to want to be killers to get on the silver screen?

What It Means to Be A Working Artist

Tonight I watched Chop Shop, a film by Ramin
Bahrani, about a 12 year old young man in Queens, who makes
his way in the world, with at least twelve different hustles.

I was moved by Bahrani’s analysis of his own work. In
an interview he writes,

I see every film as its own entity. It begins and ends with itself. we must accept that i am making films about how the majority of people in this world live, and we must also accept that this majority is utterly ignored by Hollywood and independent film (or belittled and exploited by using famous rich actors to play the roles of the economically poor in order for said actors to try and win awards). Thus, you may say that the connection between the two films is there, but as relevant as saying I am making films about people and the human condition in the “modern” globalized world.

Chop Shop is available on the Netflix instant play jawn.