That’s What She Said - A queer, Asian-American web series following the lives of 5 friends in Los Angeles. Created out of a desire to see positive Asian representations in the media, as well as to give voice to the often untold stories of queer Asian women, the series chronicles the lives of five fictional characters – Leslie, Rae, Shin, Baby, and Nic – within the queer sphere of the greater Los Angeles area.
Film masterpost highlighting the stories of women of color. Representation of women of color in film is quite scarce, so here are some films I think showcase a wide range of perspectives and experiences that we don't get to see on our movie screens.
Women of Color in Dramas
- American Violet (2008)
- Brick Lane (2008)
- Desert Flower (2009)
- Dreams of Life (2011)
- Heaven on Earth (2008)
- I Will Follow (2011)
- Skin (2008)
- The Patience Stone (2013)
- Things Never Said (2013)
- Yasmin (2004)
Women of Color in Friendship/Family films
- Arranged (2007)
- Chutney Popcorn (1999)
- Eve’s Bayou (1997)
- How the Garcia Girls Spent Their Summer (2005)
- Radiance (1998)
- Real Women Have Curves (2002)
- The Joy Luck Club (1993)
- The Sapphires (2011)
- Tortilla Soup (2001)
- Waiting to Exhale (1995)
- What’s Cooking? (2000)
Women of Color in RomComs
Young Girls of Color
- Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
- Anita and Me (2002)
- Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
- Life, Above All (2010)
- Linda Linda Linda
- Rabbit Proof Fence (2002)
- Wadjda (2012)
- Whale Rider (2002)
- Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl (1998)
- Yelling to the Sky (2011)
Queer Women of Color
I finally processed the information on the leads for the top 250 grossing films (I’m going to do 500 in all), and I have some really, really great facts:
- Of the films, 209 starred a straight white man, or had a straight white male voice actor. This translates to 83.6% of all these films having a straight white male protagonist.
- This left only 41 films with a protagonist who was a person of colour and/or woman (no films had a queer protagonist). This translated to 16.4% of all the films.
- "So what? Straight white men are the majority group in America." a) no, the largest demographic group in America is actually technically straight white women, and b) not by 83.6% they fucking aren’t.
- If we look at American demographics (America is where these films are being made and mostly marketed for, after all) we find that only 31.3% of people in the USA are straight white men, while 68.7% are not.
- This means that 31.3% of the US population is recieving 83.6% of the representation, and the remaining 68.7% majority are squabbling over the remaining 16.4%. That’s unbelievably, amazingly shit.
BUT: The world isn’t split into straight white men and everyone else, so let’s break this down further. Of the 41 films left over for the rest of us:
- 10 starred a straight black man. (8 of these leads were played by Will Smith.), making up 2.5% of all the films.
- 26 starred a straight white woman, making up 10.4% of all the films.
- 2 films starred straight South Asian men, making up 0.8% of the films.
- 1 film starred an East Asian man and 1 starred a Middle Eastern man - 0.4% of the films each.
- A grand total of ONE of the 250 highest grossing films of all time stars a woman of colour. Scraping in at number 242, and made in 1995, it’s Pocahontas; which is racist as fuck and demeans the memory of a real Native American woman. Fantastic. It’ll also probably have fallen out of the top 250 by the next year, while no other films with WoC leads seem likely to replace it.
- This means that huge demographic groups are missing. 16.3% of people in the US identify as Latin@, and not a single film on this list has a Latin@ protagonist.
- Roughly 10% of the US identifies as LGBT+. None of these films has a queer protagonist.
- The reason that these films are so high grossing is because of the marketing they recieve. Studios are putting all of their money into films with straight white men, preventing casting of women and people of colour and just generally fucking people over; but this isn’t any necessary indication of what people are willing to see at all. It’s worth noting that the single most successful actor on that list is Will Smith. People are clearly willing to pay out money to watch Will Smith doing stuff, and studios are backing this and enabling more and more films of Will Smith (and his son) doing more and more stuff. His popularity shows fairly clearly that cinemagoers are definitely willing to watch (and probably actively demanding of, seeing as people of colour and white women are more likely to go to the cinema) men of colour in film, and the success of franchises such as Twilight and The Hunger Games shows audiences backing white women (women of colour have yet to be given a real chance). As such, we can definitively say that this is especially a problem with Hollywood, and withe the people making these films - a problem which obviously needs to change.
Tl; dr: Representation in Hollywood is really, really shit.
- Straight white men are 31.3% of the population, 83.6% of the leads. Lucky bastards.
- People of colour are 28.6% of the population, 6.4% of the leads (2.8% if you remove Will Smith, thanks Will.)
- Women are 51% of the population, 10.8% of the leads.
- There’s no intersection here. If you’re a woman of colour, a queer woman and/or queer person of colour, then you’re getting fuck all.
Just in case you had any doubt of just how little representation most of the population are getting.
"We teach girls to shrink themselves to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.’ Because I am female I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important. A marriage can be a source of joy and love and mutual support, but why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage and we don’t teach boys the same? We raise girls to see each other as competitors, not for jobs or for accomplishments, which I think can be a good thing, but for the attention of men. We teach girls that they can not be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: A person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes."
***Flawless - Beyoncé ft Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
After last night’s episode of Scandal, I wonder what exactly the show thinks it is - soap opera? political drama? or, perhaps most disturbingly, is it just another television show exploiting violence against women?
(TWs for violence against women and sexual assault below the cut, as well as spoilers for “YOLO”)
This past weekend, Kerry Washington became only the eighth Black woman to host “Saturday Night Live.” The paltry representation of black women on “SNL” is obviously shameful: In the 38-year history of the show, there have only been four black women cast members, averaging about one per decade.
The show attempted to poke fun at its own sexualized racism (and racialized sexism) without of course ever calling it that, by putting up a statement apologizing for its lack of black female cast members — after a particularly funny sketch in which Kerry Washington was asked to play Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Beyoncé in a span of about five minutes.
Unfortunately, the show undercut its own attempt at self-deprecation, by ending its public service announcement by saying: “we agree this is not an ideal situation and look forward to rectifying it in the near future … unless of course we fall in love with another white guy first.”
I get the attempt at irony. But who ain’t laughing is me. How can I, when the joke seems to be on black women?
Why is it that Americans are infinitely more comfortable with black men playing sassy, matronly black female characters in drag, as Kenan Thompson frequently does on the show, than with black women playing black female roles? Drag can be generative and subversive, but in this case, it just seems oppressive.
When Thompson came under fire a few weeks back for insinuating that “SNL” casting directors struggled to find black women who were “ready” to do comedic roles, he attempted to justify the systematic ignoring and excluding of black women from “SNL” by arguing that they’re simply unqualified to do comedy. Racists deploy this kind of argument to justify why they don’t have people of color employees and men make these kinds of arguments to justify not hiring women for top leadership positions.
But I’d venture to say that Americans in general are the ones who aren’t ready for black women to step outside of the most narrow and stereotypical racial boxes that have been cast for us. Thompson himself failed to recognize the ways in which his success on the show has been predicated on the exclusion of black women, while also being indebted to black women’s cultural traditions.
Thompson is not unique in his appropriation of black female labor and culture for his own success. Tyler Perry’s most successful character is Madea. Martin Lawrence’s most recognizable character is Big Momma. While black women are often told that these characters are an homage to black women, not allowing black women to play themselves is nothing to celebrate.
The ways in which black men collude with white power structures to deny black women access to spaces of cultural production is not a problem unique to hip-hop. In fact, much as Thompson argues, many male rappers would have us believe that the only reason Nicki Minaj is the most recognizable female emcee in the game is because women simply aren’t as talented as men. Many of these men fail to use their considerable pull with white corporate record executives to advocate for open doors for women. This is why the Grammys have not had a category for best female rapper since 2005. In the world of “SNL” Kenan Thompson plays a similar role: He seems to relate far more to the executives at “SNL” who couldn’t resist reminding us of their perennial love of white guys than to the black women who provide the comedic fodder for his sketches.
Lucky for black women, the tide does seem to be turning. Shonda Rhimes, creator of “Grey’s Anatomy,” has achieved mega success with her casting of Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in “Scandal.” It is the best performing prime-time drama on network television. Unfortunately, however, it is also the only drama on network television with a black female lead.
Cable and Web-based shows have stepped in to do some of the cultural heavy lifting, offering amazing acting from black women in shows like “Orange Is the New Black,” “Awkward Black Girl” and “American Horror Story.” I also eagerly await BET’s new scripted drama “Being Mary Jane.”
But these shows only mildly offset the cultural train wrecks of reality television that continue to perpetuate the worst stereotypes of black female anger, back-biting, hypersexualization and more. I’m not saying that I don’t like reality television. I do, and I usually choose one show per season to follow.
But there is a reason that black women have gained such heightened visibility as the denizens of ratchet ghettoized glamour on shows like “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” “Love & Hip Hop” New York and Atlanta, “Basketball Wives” and more. Structurally, these shows require the most intrusion on people’s personal lives while also providing little job security or stability.
And by perpetuating the lie of the real, or the idea that these shows offer us a window into “reality,” it becomes all the more difficult to get an accurate picture of black women’s humanity.
Not that fans of these shows are especially interested in that in the first place.
Black women watch because in a desert of black female representation, even the most poisonous well of water can look like an oasis. Others watch for pure “entertainment.” But popular entertainment in the U.S. has never been a pure category. Peering and jeering at black women who tell fantastical tales, sing songs and recount bawdy stories has been an American cultural fascination since the 1830s when P.T. Barnum employed a black woman named Joyce Heth as a cultural performer. Joyce Heth claimed to have been George Washington’s 160-year-old former nursemaid.
She sat in a cage for hours each day while circus goers came by and peered at her body, listened to her unbelievable tales and tried to examine her physical body. Joyce Heth, according to Benjamin Reiss, was one of the earliest images – if not the earliest—of a black woman to appear in newsprint.
Black women’s long historical status as a kind of grotesque amusement for the American public informs the way we understand and interact with black women performers today.
The successful and complicated portraits of black women that emerge from the work of women like Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Issa Rae, Oprah Winfrey and some of the shows at OWN, and Sundance Award-winning filmmaker Ava Duvernay suggest that the tide may ever so slowly be turning.
But this cultural turn will not be complete until America falls out of love with white men.
"Well, when I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, 'Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there's a black lady on television and she ain't no maid!' I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
— Whoopi Goldberg