AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN:
IN FILM AND MUSIC
FALL 2013 SEMESTER
OCTOBER 29, 2013
ISSUES REGARDING BLACK
WOMEN IN FILM AND MUSIC
In today’s society, black women do not get the
recognition they deserve or a lot of role choices in
films. They are limited to what the casting director or
writer of the films want.
As for music, black women are often sexualized in
every aspect and their music is not taken seriously.
In this presentation I will go through history of some
films and musicians and how it is today.
Stereotypes run rampant in every culture.
In our society there are many stereotypes of African American
women in film, to name a few:
The strong, independent black woman
The black maid of white children who is wise but no one
The comedic, fat black woman or as made famous by
Tyler Perry, Madea
In the film history of African American women there are a few
types of women: “the mammy” figure in the 1930s who is a
heavy set and very loyal despite her oppression. The next
woman is in the 1960s who shows a confident, assertive, and
sexual woman. The 1980s shows a more developed character
with situations regarding sexuality, creativity, racism, and
friendships. The 1990s has films that show professional black
women dealing with gender inequality and racial uplift. However,
a few films still show black women fighting white women for men
and is not a progression. (Jones 35-38)
The winners of the Academy Awards were unfortunately
playing stereotypical roles of African American women.
McDaniel plays the ultimate role of the mammy, Goldberg
uses comedic performances to be an ‘overexcitable’
character in her film, and Berry’s role “fits a set of
stereotypes about black women as bad mothers and
oversexualized whores.” (Wanzo 136)
They have all filled roles of the fat, black woman, the
funny, black woman, and the beautiful, bad mother.
BLACK ACTRESSES TODAY
Unfortunately not much has changed with African
American actresses today. There are many famous
actresses, but they aren’t as many roles available to
them. Halle Berry, Queen Latifah, Angela Bassett,
Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg, Zoe Saldana, Kerry
Washington etc. All of these actresses have had to
overcome the difficulties of being a black women in
BLACK WOMEN WINNING OSCARS
There have only been 10 African American actresses nominated for the Best Actress in a leading role
category, only Halle Berry has won.
There have been 17 African American actresses nominated a Best Actress in a Supporting role and a few
have won: Hattie McDaniel was the first in 1939, Whoopi Goldberg was the next in 1990, and recently there
have been more with Jennifer Hudson, Mo’Nique, and Octavia Spencer.
In our society there are many stereotypes of African
American women in music:
All black women sing rap or r&b
They dance promiscuously
Cannot break into mainstream music
BLACK FEMALE RAPPERS
There are four categories
of rappers, according to
“Queen Mother” - Queen
“Sista with Attitude”
“Sista with Attitude”- Li’l Kim,
“Lesbian”- Queen Pen
“Fly Girl” - Salt-N-Pepa, TLC
BLACK FEMALE RAPPERS
IN THE 90S
They used their music to defy the sexist repression
that they faced and did most things by themselves.
By utilizing rap music they are creating a safe space
for femininity, feminism, and black female sexuality.
They have to face the dominant culture of white
musicians, white rappers, and black male rappers.
Music videos featuring women and especially black women are
often misogynistic, sexist, and hypersexualized.
African American women are sometimes in music videos
dancing scantily clad and having men objectify their bodies, ie
swiping a credit card in a woman’s buttocks.
These images perpetuate the idea that black women’s bodies
are property and show how the dominant culture has connected
sex, gender, and race to African American women’s sexuality.
BLACK FEMALE ARTISTS TODAY
In my opinion, it seems to me like black female artists
have shifted backwards in some ways. The musicians
want to be successful and sex sells. The artists of the
90s were educating others and weren’t as caught up in
the industry as others today
On the other hand, the artists are reclaiming their
sexuality and behavior into something good and
showing others that it is okay to be this way and that you
shouldn’t be slut shamed.
There are differences when the main artist is female
instead of male
They have challenged an overly male field and have
shown that women can be in the music business as well
However the way the female rappers display themselves
is not a step up from the back up dancers
They are not uniting together to support each other, but
rather fighting against each other. (Littlefield 681)
OTHER BLACK FEMALE ARTISTS
Beyonce: uses her sex appeal
in order to sell her music
created alter ego, Sasha
Fierce, but got rid of her to
become more mature
is very successful but is she
doing it the right way by
controlling the system and
taking charge of her body or
is she just seen as a sex
symbol? (Tuttle 18-20)
Nicki Minaj: female rapper
that challenge patriarchy and
She uses her image to
her advantage as being a
sex symbol to men and
being a black Barbie
Trying to become the first
black female hip hop
mogul (Tuttle 21-23)
FEMALE SEXUALITY AND
VIOLENCE IN MUSIC
One famous artist, Rihanna, has been in the spotlight for
many years regarding an incident with Chris Brown. This has
sparked many scholars to discuss what it means to be a black
woman in today’s culture. One scholar, has argued that “three
dominant frameworks have been employed to analyze
Rihanna's onstage and offstage performances and personae
since the assault: an universalizing narrative of domestic
violence victimization; a familiar narrative of black female
survival; and a coercive agenda that I call black recuperative
heterosexuality. (Fleetwood 442)”
The media does not do a good job showcasing successful
African American actresses and musicians in a good light.
It is difficult for young, aspiring black women to see themselves
in these careers or even have the opportunity to, because of all
the negative stereotypes associated with them
As more feminist scholars become public and people start to
gain common sense, there will be more film roles available to
black women and music will be seen for what it truly is, just
There are more social media outlets than ever before supporting African
American actresses and musicians. They are available to many people, so
they can listen to and watch whoever they want to.
Black feminist scholars have done research regarding the media and how
black women are represented. This research is also being more public as
schools start to implement WGS and AFAM courses/majors.
As in recent years, black women have won more Oscars so perhaps the
industry will keep providing roles to those actresses.
As for music, black women in hip hop and other genres are coming to the
forefront and being taken seriously.
Fleetwood, Nicole R. "The Case Of Rihanna: Erotic Violence And Black Female Desire." African American
Review 45.3 (2012): 419-435. Academic Search Premier. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.
Jones, Sharon L. "From Margin To Centre? Images Of African-American Women In Film." Social Alternatives
17.4 (1998): 35-39. Academic Search Premier. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
Keyes, Cheryl L. "Empowering Self, Making Choices, Creating Spaces: Black Female Identity Via Rap Music
Performance." Journal Of American Folklore 113.449 (2000): 255-269. Art Index (H.W. Wilson). Web. 29 Oct.
Littlefield, Marci Bounds. "The Media As A System Of Racialization: Exploring Images Of African American
Women And The New Racism." American Behavioral Scientist 51.5 (2008): 675-685. Business Source
Premier. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
Tuttle, Kenya J. “THIS MOMENT FOR LIFE”: “POPULAR CULTURE’S IMPACT ON THE MORAL SPHERE OF
YOUNG BLACK WOMEN” Vanderbilt University Thesis (2012) 1-34 Web. 29. Oct. 2013.
Wanzo, Rebecca. "Beyond A 'Just' Syntax: Black Actresses, Hollywood And Complex Personhood." Women &
Performance 16.1 (2006): 135-152. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web. 29 Oct.
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