HBO’s [White] Girls, White Feminism and How It’s Connected to Think Like a Man

I know you are thinking #allcity, how in the hell is the connected? It is, trust.

So yesterday, Andrea on Racialicious posted on tumblr about a writer, Aymer, who feels that while Girls is White, it isn’t the Lena Dunham’s problem. Dunham created the show.

Here is part of Aymer’s post,

I think the show is smart, and (c) I agree with Seitz: race is the industry’s problem, not Lena Dunham’s. She is privileged, yes, but–let’s be honest–also got lucky with a sweetheart Louie-like deal: cheap production and relative freedom in lieu of high ratings (Girls‘s paltry 0.4 rating in the demo would get it canceled everywhere but HBO, and maybe FX**).

Here is what Andrea says,

I disagree with Aymer that Lena Dunham isn’t to blame. Her show—which is fueled by her imagination—is another vehicle for Hollywood to continue maintaining the idea of whiteness at the expense of people of color. She is part of the problem, so she has a part in the blame. What I do agree with is that people have done incredible analyses on this racial problem with Dunham’s creation.

Here is my response,

Given my intense focus over the last 4 months on the ways in which Black men and White corporations earn millions of dollars on the stories featuring Black women’s dating and relationship narratives (Think Like a Man, Precious, Jump the Broom, For Colored Girls) I am inclined to think that the darker the US gets the Whiter television will get.

My rational? Symbolic domination is tied up in economic, spiritual and other forms of domination. So the thinking is, so what Ya’ll brown folks might be swoll in numbers, but ENTERTAINMENT- the number 1 US export will not reflect you with nuance; full stop.

They need to just call the show “White Girls”. #Done.

And now I will add this. Think about it. We have a Black man in the White House and a brown skinned, Harvard Law educated, elegant Black first lady.

Conversely though, George Lucas can’t get a film about African American fighter pilots distributed in Hollywood. the film version of the book Think Like a Man, a heterosexual, patriarchal dating advice book for Black women, earned 33 million dollars in it’s opening weekend and it has been the number one film in the US two weeks after it opened.

Dig it, you can have The President and Flotus all over tumblr, buzzing around each other like two SPIRITS who like and Love each other; but, seeing a hetero OR queer Black couple be intimate on the silver screen in a way that is NOT patriarchal and rooted in stereotypes. Good Luck with that shit Gina.

What is the connection to White feminism? Well when I say White feminism in this instance I mean third wave White feminism that pivots on the idea of “women” being “equal” to men or what I like to call equalism. A few weeks ago my students were throwing around this “women being equal” to men mess and I turned to them and said “I am going off my lesson plan here, but I need to ask you all a question; What is the difference between being equal and being free. Please do not answer immediately as I want you to take your time and think about it.”

Someone eventually responded saying that a woman can be equal to a man by possibly earning to same wages in a certain career, but she wouldn’t be free if everytime she walked out of the house she was bombarded with messages about how ugly she was, or how she needed to lose weight, lighten or darken her skin,  get married, have a baby or (I thought to myself ) if she suffered street harassment on every hot summer day.

So. With that being said Dunham has appeared apologetic saying that while she writes based on her experiences, she didn’t realize that because the characters came from a personal place, that they would be all White. This points to a very interesting moment in popular culture where the impact of racial segregation on the pop culture is crystalized. Dunham doesn’t want to write about folks of color, because they are not apart of her life and she doesn’t want to tokenize them. Is that legitimate? Wouldn’t it be interesting to create a story arch of a young White girl dealing with her Whiteness on an HBO show? Making friends with folks of color? Examining racial privilege?

I thought Dunham’s response was interesting because often times folks have three defenses when they are called on their racism, sexism, transphobia or homophobia which is a.) I was just being funny b.) I didn’t mean any harm c.) I don’t have to be PC, I am an artist. However, I don’t know the last time someone said “Well, this IS based on my experience and I don’t want to tokenize.”

Historically, feminists of ALL races have said that experience is useful for theory and creative work, in fact it makes for some of THE most interesting work that we have created. But they have also said that experience does not mean that you are ABOVE criticism; Peace to Joan Scott.

I like this particular moment in the feminist blogosphere because it speaks to how feminists on social media are co constructing old media, and holding them accountable for how they represent their worlds. That shit is fresh.

So, as the US Browns, will TV and Film become more White?’

Why is it so hard for folks to recognize the connection between racial perceptions, electoral politics and representations in film?

I also think that it is interesting, in terms of power (relationships of power) that the director of  Girls has a small budget and creative license and little pressure to attract audiences, at least according to the blog post. Is that freedom?

What would a woman of color director do with those kinds of working conditions? What would Kasi Lemons, or Julie Dash, Nzinga Stewart or an Asian, Latina, Indian woman do with those kinds of working conditions? What would she create?

Thinking about Black Women in Fim ….”Think Like A Man” and Others

Think Like a Man made $33M in revenue this weekend.

Friday I saw Think Like a Man (blog post forthcoming). On Saturday I had a realllllllly long conversation with @starfishandcoffee on Twitter about the narrow representation of Black women in films, about the pervasiveness of patriarchal narratives featuring Black women in mainstream media (Think Like a Man, Woman Thou Art Loosed, Good Hair etc…) and about the need for more nuance in the representations of Black women.

@Starfishandcoffee was upset, and rightfully so about both the pervasiveness and the ubiquity of Think Like a Man. However, from my perspective these images are not only powerful because they represent Black women in mainstream media, but they are also powerful because I believe that being able to dominate someone culturally through representations of themselves, is connected to being able to dominate them both economically and spiritually.

There is something bigger here than just going to the movies.

A few years ago I wrote “culture is hegemony’s goon” when talking about the pervasiveness of patriarchal messages in a collection of  Beyonce’s songs.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think that the audience has agency, that Black audiences can reclaim a text and see it in ways that helps them to see their own humanity. But I will tell you this, in a cultural context where George Lucas has to pony up his own money in order to produce and distribute a film about African American fighter pilot heroes because the films were not perceived as having in financial viability, globally, then we are dealing with a very particular economic context in which Black films are being made.

Filmmaking is capital intensive, meaning that it involves tons up up front money, and people with capital tend to be incredibly risk averse. So, if “the Black mammy”, or the maid “The Black lady” and “The Hoochie mama” entail a guaranteed return on investments, why would an investor support a story containing more nuanced images?

When I asked @starfishandcoffee why she appeared to be so invested in in mainstream films offering nuanced versions visions of Black women she responded saying that if we want to reach the masses of people, then engaging with pop culture will bring them in. She also stated that it is important to engage with pop culture because teaching visual literacy and criticism to young people is important. Lastly she stated that she doesn’t expect Hollywood to do the right thing (no pun inteneded) but that folks who want more nuanced images, need to push back against what is being served.

All of which I agree with.

But would be lying if I didn’t leave our conversation thinking about Ed Guerrero’s statements in the book The African American Image in Film about the economics of film, and the intersection of race and filmmaking. He writes,

Whatever its orientation, black cinematic expression, as much of black culture has nearly always been proscribed, marginalized, exploited, and often ignored. Thus black filmmakers of both persuasions are constatnly called on to create out of an uncomprimised, forthright perspective that recovers the long-suppressed sensibilities, apsirations, and narratives of the Black world and struggles to bring them to the cinema screen. At the same time, because movie making is such a captial intensive business and is so largely depended on mass markets, consumer trends and fiasions, these same filmmakers must appeal to a broad enough  commercial audience to earn sufficient revenues at the box office to ensure their candid atvisions of the black world to be successful. And what is equally important, that there work will be sustained in a  succession of feature films. In order words, the black filmmaker must struggle to depict the truth about black life in America while being inextricabily tied to the commercial sensibilities of a mass audience that is for the most part struggling to deny or avoid the full meaning of that truth.

The last bolded section helps to explain is why I believe that there is something bigger here than simply going to the movies. When people go to the movies they are learning how to relate and how to be. I think it also speaks to the constraints that filmmakers,who want to depict Black woman outside of the controlling images, the very restrictive constraints that they must face.


Moving beyond The Mammie and The Hoochie Mama in mainstream film before 2020?