by KAMMs Moore-Mitchell
Last week I saw the crazy rumor about Nicole Beharie making its way around the internet (and of course they were using a photo of her from a scene of Apartment 4E where she plays a bi-polar suicidal shut-in – because, y’know, they couldn’t find any others). It sounded completely ludicrous and not even close to believable. What it did was paint Beharie as crazy – not figuratively – they all but claimed she is mentally unstable. Hmm the “Crazy Black woman,” never heard that one before. It pissed me off. Of course. Not because it was a negative rumor about Beharie, because of it’s intent. I’m not stupid, and (sometimes unfortunately) I am keenly aware of what it means to be a Black Woman, in America, and especially the American entertainment industry.
Nicole Beharie is in a mighty dangerous position. A talented Black Woman in a lead role on a network (non race-based) television show that is defying tropes, slashing stereotypes, and painting Blacks, women, & Black women in a positive light. Wait–what?! Fox & Sleepy Hollow are letting Nicole Beharie, a Black women, be great—-in front of the whole world! It’s almost too much to handle. Well, clearly for some, it is too much.
Educated Black people and People of Color are far more dangerous than anyone else in America – including the most violent of criminals of any race or class. Educated POC are quite possibly the most dangerous group of people here in the states – except maybe the Educated and Creatively Talented (artists & entertainers) Black people and POC. Arguably, entertainers (& those in the entertainment industry) are the most socially influential people in America. The people in charge know this, it’s why Entertainers of Color are kept in check in any number of ways, especially athletes (please don’t get me started on that).
If the puppet masters can limit the roles and opportunities, limit visibility, funding, pull the strings in every way – the essence of American media, they can control the message. They can continue to have America believe there are more Black men in prison than in college; keep us believing Blacks and other minorities are the poorest and most dependant on government assistance. As long as the defaulters control the narrative, the George Zimmermans of the world get bolder, the Trayvon Martins die younger, and the Rob Browns & Trayon Christians continue to be reminded in very up close & personal ways just how America really feels about POC and in particular Blacks.
It’s when Uppity Negroes (any Black person doing better than they “should” be – educated, financially stable, vocal, etc.) step out of line that it gets dangerous for the defaulters. When the Educated, Talented, Blacks cut the strings, use their voice, take their own steps outside of the invisible line drawn by the defaulters, they must be put in check. Let me make it clear this invisible line is only invisible to those who refuse to acknowledge privilege, especially race & gender privilege. For some odd reason, most people of color can see this line very clearly at a very early age. Hmm.
Nicole Beharie is talented, gorgeous, educated, Black, well-spoken, and unafraid. Any of these characteristics can be attributed to any number of people in the entertainment industry. It’s the combination of these traits that caused me to fall in love with her presented self. The subtle sexism and racism that runs rampant through interviews of entertainment celebrities of color and who are women isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Not for as long as the folks on the receiving end keep receiving it. Yet, the way Beharie handles this makes me clap my hands & shout, “Yehs!” every time (yes, I actually do this – out loud. Don’t judge me).
For the folks without privilege it’s difficult. You have to be careful about speaking the truth. Because then you get the “angry Black woman/man” label, or the “Crazy,” or “sensitive” tag, or perhaps even the “obsessed with racism” sticker. [“Telling me that I’m obsessed with talking about racism in America is like telling me I’m obsessed with swimming when I’m drowning.” –Hari Kondabolu] And as an actor you don’t want to be thought of as difficult to work with, or picky, & goodness you definitely don’t want to sound like a Black feminist!
So it’s easy to just answer questions & go through interviews with the political correctness you’re supposed to – remember the talking points your agent/publicist provides, smile sweetly, charm, & be done.
However, more and more, we’re starting to see men and women reject sexism and racism in these interviews and speak out about things that matter and the things they believe. More and more we’re starting to see folks – with and without privilege – be aptly truthful and honest and real about real life things.
Every time a Jennifer Lawrence or Anne Hathaway challenges an interviewer’s question on the basis of sexism/feminism – asking why their male counterpart got the “good” question about his work and she got the question about her outfit and workout routine we come a little bit closer. We do a tiny bit better.
Moments like these are praised, especially on Tumblr. Gifset after gifset of JLaw or Anne Hathaway makes its way across my dash with thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of notes, praising the actresses for rejecting the systematic sexism thrown their way in interviews or speaking out or being vocal for (white) feminism.
Yet when Nicole Beharie does it, we get a soundbite turned gifset stripped of its context, spun around, and flipped on its head to paint Beharie, Fox’s breakout star, and Black America’s latest hero, as some fronting, demeaning, sexist – spewing divisive, anti-feminist logic with a misogynistic undercurrent.
HUH! Well will you look at that! It’s the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle all over again. As I scroll through the “Nicole Beharie” tag I’ve tracked on tumblr I find myself taking a deep cleansing breath to rid myself of the frustration that’s come over me, and realize the smell of sexism and feel of racism permeating my lungs is all too familiar. And expected.
Beharie’s comment about preferring Marvel over DC because they have better women, wasn’t “reducing a whole group of women to one broad gesture, and using it to degrade another group of women.” On the contrary, she was praising Marvel for it’s better treatment, visibility, and writing of their women/female characters – thereby declaring her preference for Marvel’s story telling. The darnest thing is that somehow when I watched this interview I squealed, in a total fangirl moment that consisted of a gasp & “me toooo.” Y’know…because I got it!
I’m not as vocal as I probably should be. I don’t always feel like being the “angry Black feminist, obsessed with racism.” So sometimes I just sigh, shake my head, and carry on. Actually most times I’m able to avoid foolishness by staying in my bubble with people I trust won’t bring buffoonery to my virtual doorstep.
But see, Nicole Beharie & her success means more to me than most truly realize (I’ll talk about this at another time) and I’m really not here for the foolishness. I have no problem picking and choosing my battles, that’s healthy, I’m just saying these battles are part of a larger war that defaulters are consciously and sub-consciously trying to wage on Beharie, who (whether she (or I) likes it or not) represents something a lot larger than herself. And until we get a hold of enough market share, Nicole Beharie & every other Black actress will continue to represent all of Black America and every Black actress in America, instead of just herself.
Either way, I’m totally stanning over Beharie right now so there’s no way you’re just going to come for her while I sit here at watch.
Dear white feminists who don’t know the true meaning of intersectionality, take your puppet strings and weak attempts elsewhere.