2.17.2012

The Compromise: Light-Skinned/Biracial Women in Mainstream Media

Jennifer Beals
A/N ~ I need to clarify a few things, because when this post was cross-posted from the bar and onto Abagond, it summoned a troll infestation.

This post was had to do with three things: BW/WM in media, the so-called war between BW & WW, and colorist attacks on light-skinned Black/biracial women who are believed to have an "easier" time in Hollywhite, when their characterizations clearly show us something different.

This post has to do with "the compromise".  Many commenters - myself included - often ask, "Why did they even bother?"  If you don't want Black women in your project and you're just going to go out of your way to treat them like dirt...why bother?

Thandie Newton
Here's why: the rise of BW/WM in Western media is by the will of white men.  They want those Black women there.  However, since most of these shows have a predominately white female fanbase, a compromise has to be reached, otherwise the show will get canceled* (see the original inductees of the Black Girls Club).

So what's the compromise?  You get a light-skinned, often biracial woman to play "the Black girl/woman" of the project to kindly remind the audience that white, or close-to-white is the way to go.  The lighter her skin, the straighter her nose, the thinner her lips, the skinnier her body - you get the picture - the better.

Jurnee Smollet
Now, once that poor soul's been cast into the role, odds are she will 1) not be the central female figure on the show, 2) she will not be well-written, have a serious love interest, or get fleshed out at all, and 3) she will die or randomly disappear from the show for no reason (but most likely, she'll die).

Notice how absolutely none of this is about us.  We are not consulted.  We do not have say.  None of these women, contrary to the hype, are cast for our benefit.

Make no mistake: our light-skinned/biracial sisters also have a rough time in Hollywhite, and they are most assuredly members of the Black Girls Club.  They are our sisters - end of story.  We love them, support them, and we are aware of their struggle.

That was The Whole Fucking Point of the following post.

***
Angel Coulby
Issa [Rae] and I sat down with a television executive from a prominent network. In short, his response confirmed our worst fears. He felt that in order for "ABG" to become more mainstream, the entire cast would need to be replaced. His suggestion for the lead character, J, was a long haired, fair-skinned actress....
So I deleted a comment on one of my Merlin posts in which an Anonymous commenter was saying that Angel Coulby's casting was "to appease a certain race of people" and that it was "rubbish."

Awwwww...come on now.  Talk about pissing on someone's leg and then saying it's raining.

Katerina Graham
I've often criticized Western media's brazen BW/WM push for various reasons; each post is an exploration of what bugs me about the casting choices we're seeing more and more in Western film and television.  I guess this is just another one of those exploratory posts.

First off, it's not about us

Let's be clear: these Black women we constantly see cropping up opposite white men are not being written for Black people's benefit.  It's not even really written to draw in the Black audience; if it was, we'd have more say in casting, writing, and ignoring bitchy white female fans who try to get shows canceled.

Antonia Thomas
No, no...this is white fantasy at play or, more specifically, white mantasy. These characters aren't written to empower Black women.  Many of them don't even sound or seem like the Black women you would know personally.  They're not written with a Black female audience firmly entrenched in mind.  They don't even look like most of us.  Almost all of them come off as white women dipped in watered-down chocolate.

They are the white female interpretation of Black women, with no care for reality at all.  I say female because when you refer to any of these women as "Black", both their white female fans and haters rush to "correct" you.

Lenora Crichlow
In their minds, a Black woman is "allowed" to be desirable so long as she's as white-washed as possibled.

No, this isn't new

White men desire Black women, and it's nothing new.  To say that it's been going on for centuries would actually be an understatement.  It is what is, and the Black women who are on these shows and in these films are there...because white guys want them there.

White guys own Western media.  If they don't like it, it's not broadcast.  White women may be writing some of these storylines, but it's white guys who are making damn sure the stories come to life, are put on the big networks, have the big screen budgets, and oh yeah...they're making sure Black women are put opposite other white guys.

Ruth Negga
And it's not going to go away.  White guys aren't going to stop; men just don't operate that way.

Dilution don't mean dick

This is precisely why we need to lose the colorist rants in communities of color.

Dark-skinned sistahs; I feel you.  I feel your pain.  I understand what you mean about your beautiful complexions being devalued and dismissed.  I get your frustration when the Black women being cast in popular, mainstream material all seem to conveniently fit the same mold.

Zoe Saldana
But these are our sistahs too, and their struggle is just as real.  And despite their light skin and straight hair, the moment they lock lips with a white dude, they become public enemy #1.  It doesn't matter if one of their parents is white - they're that demonic, full-blooded darkie who's corrupting/molesting/attacking/imposing themselves on some helpless, innocent white male actor who's actually living out the mantasy of some white male writer.

It's just easier for white female fans to get mad at them rather than at the white guys who blatantly want these women.

Jessica Szohr
A house slave is still a slave

Over on the Black Girls Club post, we discussed how a lot of these characters are treated like dirt on their shows.  They're the poorly written punching bag, misfit, "best friend" (*shudder*), and overall handmaiden - having light skin doesn't save them from this fate.  Yes, the white guys may find them attractive (alas, an unfortunate side effect), but their sole purpose is still to serve the white chick, make her feel better, and even been willing to lay down their own lives if necessary to protect the fragile pale princess of the show.

Tamara Taylor
They're racial insurance; they're supposed to be concrete proof that the characters and writing and casting staff are not racist.

So they're not there for us.  Our "appeasement" was the last thing on the minds of their characters' creators.

All these bitter, simmering haters who watch these films and shows need realize that you can hate the player all you want...but it won't change the game.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
*I think of Merlin as an exception to the will-get-canceled rule.

The creators of Merlin are an all-white male crew.  Angel Coulby (above) was cast as Guinevere, and they didn't do a goddamn thing to stop it.  They have shown her preferential treatment over all other women on the show, and King Arthur is shown rejecting one WW after the other in favor of her.  The inevitable backlash came, and the creators decided to change audiences instead of actresses.  The show got darker, the male cast expanded, more WW were killed off or banished or simply written out, and they increased the action and violence.  Message: this show was primarily for the guys.  This is their fantasy, and they're not letting go.

Merlin has been renewed for a fifth season.

38 comments:

  1. Jessica Parker Kennedy. CW is not for colored people.

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    1. Haha I know. Who doesn't know this already? I always have to question POC when they say they're a fan of TVD. We must not be watching the same damn show.

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    2. Word is bond. My first few days of that show were of pure disbelief, hence the series. I simply refused to believe what I was seeing and that there were actual POC fans of the show.

      I have that shit 1 star on Netflix.

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  2. What kind of trolling happened on Abagond's site when you cross-posted this piece? I can't understand what people could possibly have to say negative about what's so clearly the truth. But then again, I'm sure there a whole bunch of folks in some serious denial because they always need to feel good about themselves no matter what.

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    1. A lot of people claimed not to understand the point of the post or that there was no compromise.

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  3. You can add Ashley Madekwe, who plays Ashley on ABC's Revenge, to that list. She plays the white female protagonist's (Emily) best friend and personal assistant/lackey to the white female antagonist, Victoria. So far, her role on the show has been peripheral. At first she was used to introduce Emily into high society for Emily's revenge plot, but Ashley's role is severely underutilized. The only romantic interest they gave her is a psycho gay hustler who ends up getting killed in the last episode. Meanwhile, Emily scores the main eye candy and well-developed character. There are hints that she might end up as Conrad's (Victoria's soon-to-be ex husband) mistress, but that's not a good look considering what happened to Conrad's other mistress, who ended up almost dying.

    Ashley fits the bill as the pretty, light-skinned, long-haired black woman, but again, she is relegated to such a small role as to be inconsequential. They've given her virtually no background or history. I just hope they don't kill her off.

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    1. Thanks for the info. My roommate told me about the show and I've been meaning to check it out.

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    2. *facepalm* I can't manage any other reaction right now.

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  4. *SMH*

    It may not hurt at some point to actually do a list of shows that actually treat black women with respect. As short a list as it'll probably be.

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    1. That sounds like a diamond mining expedition, dear Neo.

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  5. As you noticed a good chunk of the women there are from the UK on UK based shows. And in the UK interracial couples on TV are so common they are so common that is is rare to ever see two POC of the same race together and happy. (I still love the Curtis/Alisha pairing in Misfits)

    Oh did I mention that most of these interracial couples in the UK tv shows always involve white people. It's really rare again to see Asian/Black couple on tv.

    Yes it is really not about us. There are many shows here that rarely have Black dark skinned main character. Always light skinned/mixed so the writers an say "hey look we have mixed people here we are so progressive" and when there is a dark skinned woman on screen next to a light skinned\mixed woman oh they lay the colourism on hard even when darker girl is mixed herself but slightly darker

    There was this short film called Fallout that was about guncrime part of the "disarming britain" season on Channel 4 and it starred Gugu Mbath-Raw and her best friend was some dark skinned girl that they made look ugly and sad and pathetic and everyone called her troll. And everyone was gassed over Gugu the girl had Aml Ameen crying saying all he wanted to do was kiss her. If I find a link I will tell.

    Well. that is my rant on British TV.

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    1. So Blasian hasn't gone UK yet, huh? That's sad.

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  6. Let me just start off by saying I really like your blog(s).

    On this particular subject I agree with your points and might I add that many of the roles these women get are hyper-sexual. They are no longer a character, just a bit of eye candy. I will not even start on Halle Berry winning the Oscar for Monsters Ball.

    That said, I agree with you in that WOC need to stick together, but if I'm supporting you, then that needs to be reciprocated and that's why Zoe Salanda gets no love from me. When I read articles with said woman telling the world that black women do not have in hard in Hollywood and that colour is not an issue, I'm sorry, but I can't get down with that. She should of stayed silent instead of perpetuating a blatant fallacy. I'll also apply this to Mrs Newton.

    Apologies for any grammar/spelling issues. Ranting on a smart phone is a no no.

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    1. Zoe said what???

      I find that too amusing to be mad. Zoe is light-skinned, with naturally straight hair, and a very skinny body. Even so, no one really cared that much about her until Star Trek & Avatar. Everyone kept forgetting about her no matter what she did, hence her modeling career.

      It's so easy for her to say that now that she's rolling in dough for the rest of her life.

      But hey....at least she's a proud black woman. She doesn't like to let people obscure/forget that.

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    2. Y'all consider Zoe Saldana light-skinned. She's brown-skinned to me. Actually, Zoe is probably my complexion (maybe even a smidge browner) and I've never considered myself light-skinned. Okay, now I'm confused.

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    3. Zoe could use a couple slices of pizza and some sandwiches. Just sayin.

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  7. I don't think Zoe Saldana's hair is naturally straight. She is Dominican, and I can say from personal experience that those ladies can lay pretty much any texture of hair and kind of place a premium on maintaining it, plus they perm VERY (too hard, if I still got relaxers, I'd never let them put one in). My hair looks just like hers when blown out.

    But at any rate, her hair does not have the look of naturally straight hair or nearly straight hair (e.g. Tatyana Ali for example), although I think people have an easier time thinking that it is b/c she is "Latina." It just looks like relaxed hair, or hair that is regularly blown out.

    But back to the post, I'm really surprised that she said that b/c does she not wonder why she's not working as much as Kate Hudson, who has gotten top billing and starring roles for years despite her movies doing very little? Or pretty much any other white actress her age who can get panned over and over again, have movies that don't make much money, but continue to get paid $10-20M a pic as stars in their own vehicles? I mean, I hate rom coms but it seems like every little white girl in Hollywood has been in 10 of them.

    And it's a good example of the kind of light, harmless fare that should be open to any attractive young actress. So there was some stupid movie with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, about absolutely nothing but them hooking up without dating based on the trailers. So tell me why the girl in that couldn't be Zoe, or Gabrielle Union for that matter? She doesn't question why a role for someone girlfriend or wife couldn't just be her? Or why her paycheck has one less zero than theirs? She doesn't question why the only woman of African descent who gets to be in movies without her background being relevant is Rashida Jones, who most white people think is white and who gets cast as white (or maybe Maya Rudolph, since white people think the same thing, although she seems to have black relatives in her movies)?

    I mean, plenty of the black women in Hollywood are Hollywood skinny and don't have thick legs, big butts, or big breasts. They physically should be coveted based upon that right? So why aren't they able to get cast as someone's pretty girlfriend or wife?

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    1. *bows to the mistress*

      Bingo. All.the.right.questions. So why isn't she asking them out loud for all the world to hear?

      Honestly, I think Zoe is just saying all the right things to keep her professional momentum going, because if Colombiana's reception was any indication, I have the feeling that after the Star Trek films are done, Zoe will return to the obscure void from whence she came. She's already in her thirties, and Hollywhite is always on the look out for the younger and paler. And while I'd hate for that to happen to Zoe, here at the Club, we have to brace for these things because they have tendency to happen with unflinching consistency.

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  8. You know, one person who I can really did make a silly comment about her race not mattering in Hollywood was the black girl in that Charlie's Angels remake that lasted about 2 episodes.

    I don't know her name, had never seen her before, and I'm sure we won't see her again, so I wonder if she still stands by that statement.

    Can you provide a link that she said that b/c you know a lot of things have been attributed to a lot of people that wound up being untrue but were spread on the web.

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    1. It might be the Sept. '11 issue of Ebony mag (she was on the cover) if you can get your hands on it. She said something to the effect of she's wasn't going to complain about racism in Hollywood because there was a black man in the White House. Yeah...I know...

      I agree with you on the hair. It's gorgeous, but it looks relaxed to me (if it's not though, that's fine too). Also, I've seen some unofficial stills of the next Star Trek movie and I'm disappointed to see that Uhura's ponytail is back. I thought they were going to give her a different hairstyle this time around. *sigh*

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    2. Yep, that's the article!

      Surprised me when she said that because as Nicthommi pointed out, there are too many questions she should be asking herself about her seemingly non progressive career. I agree with Ankhesen, that she's probably saying this to keep herself safe in Hollywood. Nothing worse in Hollywood than a vocal, opinionated black woman! While she is doing better than other WOC, with her body of work she should be way further.

      Kind of off topic, but did anyone see XXL's freshman list?
      I'm not really a hip-hop fan but this caught my eye as the first female they have ever had on their freshman list is this white Austrian rapper called Iggy Azalea.
      This is the same white girl who said "When the relay starts, I'm a runaway slave master" and has been billed as the next Tupac by Jimmy Ivine SMH.
      Another female rapper called Azelia Banks (a black girl), who is doing pretty well at the moment called both XXL and Iggy out on that, and the amount of other black folks calling Miss Banks bitter and hateful is mind boggling.

      I gave up on mainstream hip-hop a long time ago, but this really got on my nerves.

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    3. Tupac? TUPAC? As in Tupac Shakur, Bishop from "Juice?" Ain't gonna EVER be another 'Pac. I wish that trick would...

      Um....who the fuck is Jimmy Ivine???

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    4. He's a producer and chairman of Interscope Records. He is most known for signing Eminem.

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  9. I can't believe I am just now finding this blog! Can I say AMEN to this post??!? Now I am a light-skinned sista myself and I loathe the fact that high-yellow European featured actresses are always cast of the love interests on White men. It disgusts me. I LOVE the fact that a beautiful chocolate sista like Rutina Wesley (Tara from True Blood) gets in some action with more than a few White male characters on that show.

    But its not enough. Only having a few women here and there to pick from is just plain long ridiculous! I love seeing dark-skinned women with white men. Its the most attractive thing for me to see, and the fact that the media has a contrary view on the subject leads me to think that black female writers, producers, and bloggers like us need to make noise! If we keep doing it---someone will listen! Eventually everyone else will simply follow suit!

    Thanks for posting this. I feel you on this argument, and its an argument that will unfortunately go on for a long time. I still can't believe we're still having the "brown paper bag" conversation---eek

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    1. Hey Jamie!

      Welcome to another place where the Sistah Nerds play...

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  10. Thank you so much for posting this. As a biracial woman, it very much bothers me that you only see light skinned women playing the roles written for black women for more than one reason. First, the reason you stated... it just doesn't represent the actual population! Second, it's as if bi-racial people don't exist at all... they're just unexplained white looking black women set to represent all black women. It's great to see people talking about this topic, and hopefully soon TV will start to reflect reality.

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  11. Black is beautiful , i dont need to be mixed to be beautiful. I think people need to stand up against the media because know its about change.

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    1. Thank you! I will say that the struggle is real for all sistas, but we have to start loving ourselves whether we have ambiguous features or not!

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  12. I don't think these white male show creators are going for the white looking black woman, but the black looking white woman. I think like all men, although they can't say it because the have to uphold white women to uphold white supremacy, that white men are bored of their women. I feel the women above are just testing the water, slowly moving away from the blonde haired, blue eyed, stick thin and pale to the dark haired, dark eyed, curvy and darker skinned. Because as you can see now with Scandal and Sleepy Hallow, the black women playing leads and love interests are getting darker and darker and eventually the straight hair and weaves will disappear. I think if these men really had their way they would be staring beside the most beautiful dark skin, kinky haired, blessed by the Motherland goddesses.

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    1. These are all great points.

      I think like all men, although they can't say it because the have to uphold white women to uphold white supremacy, that white men are bored of their women.

      This is a very important point.

      Because as you can see now with Scandal and Sleepy Hallow, the black women playing leads and love interests are getting darker and darker and eventually the straight hair and weaves will disappear.

      Gods willing.

      I think if these men really had their way they would be staring beside the most beautiful dark skin, kinky haired, blessed by the Motherland goddesses.

      I believe this as well. It happens all the time in personal life, so eventually, we'll see it on the big screen. Have you clicked our "Darker Sisters" tag?

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    2. By the way, the compromise I'm referring to is between white men and white women.

      White men want to themselves opposite more women of color - regardless of color. White women are willing to go along with that so long as the WOC in question is as whitened as possible.

      Either way, they're not creating these shows for us.

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    3. I've skim through the darker sisters tag, I'll have check it out some more though. As for compromising for white women, I guess more and more shows need to be created without them in mind. There are other women in the world that watch tv and have money to spend that can be catered to besides them.

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    4. Amen. This is true for all media; more and more media needs to be made with two shits given towards white people. There are other people with money and time and an appetite for media, and it would make sense to cater to them.

      It's Law of Supply & Demand 101.

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