Black Hollywood Has a Black Patriarchy Problem
There’s no point to Black Hollywood if it’s gonna replicate the same structural oppressions that already exist in the entertainment industry at-large.
The nominations for the 77th Golden Globes awards ceremony came out in December. And even more recently, nominations for the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony came out, roughly a week ago.
And predictably, they were both very white.
There were some of us who [rightfully, I might add] thought that the NAACP Image Award nominations would come through, honor us like we deserve to be honored, and deliver us from the forces of the Eggshell and Ecru awards… and then they yelled “SIKE!” and snubbed Pose for the second year in a row—all except for Billy Porter, who was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series.
Which brings me to a certain question I’ve been asking about for the last couple of months:
What’s the point of Black Hollywood if we’re gonna rehash the same structural bullshit?
It’s a question I’ve always asked myself, particularly when it involves the mistreatment of Black people who are subject to misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, and colorism, but the frequency of me asking myself this question has intensified in the last couple of months. Like, why even posture as if you’ve built this alternate media utopia that loves and cherishes all Black people when that is obviously not the case? I mean, sure, the Image Awards snub is probably the freshest example of this, but there’s definitely more from where that came from.
Recently, this question was inspired by the shenanigans of one Tyler E. Perry. He interests me mostly because, with all the power he has amassed from the good ol’ chitlin circuit (even to the extent of building his OWN studio) with his Madea movies, he still makes the same old movies and shows about downtrodden Black women or ambitious Black women who need to be knocked down a peg. Oh, and unrepentantly villainous dark-skinned Black men who are occasionally bald (sometimes they are not dark, but often they are still bald or have some type of low cut). On top of that, the man is clearly anti-union and tries to obscure that fact by lamenting about how a writer’s room (and the benefits that would need to be provided to sustain it) hampers his individual creativity… even though his shows and movies clearly need that kind of collaborative help.
And even before that, there was also one Kenya C. Barris (The “C” stands for Colorist). Like Perry, he interests me because he has managed to amass a colossal amount of power, creative control, and of course wealth in a matter of six years (which is quick in Hollywood time) with the creation of Black-ish (created in 2014), his historic Netflix deal, and the expansion of his “Ish” universe. And he could wield this kind of power any way he wants to, which would include, let’s say, elevating the type of Black people and faces that white Hollywood purposely omits. But it’s telling that he uses it to uphold the colorist hierarchy set into motion by the very industry he works in for so many years. And it’s additionally telling that he essentially called the people calling him out on it (i.e other Black people who don’t fit neatly into The Beige Agenda) the real colorists.
Much of this is to say that Black Hollywood has a Black Patriarchy problem, that doesn’t even spare some of our Black legends.
Spike Lee, once my favorite filmmaker who inspired my deep dive into Black Cinema in college, has long had issues with colorism (though he confronts this in School Daze) in his films, had that awful sexual assault scene in the original She’s Gotta Have It and couldn’t even be bothered to engage diasporic tension thoughtfully in the updated TV series. And then there’s Dave Chappelle, once my favorite comedian, who has bold-faced refused to evolve his once acerbic (but true) social commentary and is disturbingly obsessed with punching down on trans people. Even though he, in the past, had the dignity and know-how to walk away from Comedy Central and 50 million dollars when it became clear that people were no longer interested in his commentary and more interested in him making a perverse spectacle of Black people.
Why does this matter? Well, I am part of the school of thought which believes that patriarchy is much, much older than the construct that is race. But even if I didn’t believe that, that particular oppressive structure is presently something that is so closely intertwined with whiteness and white supremacy and who it thrives on oppressing (that is Black women, queer Black people, trans Black people, Black people who exist outside of the gender binary, etc), that I can’t help but wonder why our community is so preoccupied with replicating it—or, if you are not a Black man, interested in mimicking it.
Is the thirst for power that is equivalent to that of white people’s so alluring that it compels these Black men to continually throw their own people to the wolves of Hollywood and mass media? Or are the likes of Tyler Perry just selfish dickheads who are not at all concerned about whose body or head they need to climb on to attain their endless wealth and acclaim?
I’d ask you, the reader, or any of these men I named above to answer the question, but I’m pretty sure I already know the answer.
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