AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN:
IN FILM AND MUSIC
RAC HEL KAMMEN
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 “white” Hollywood.
There have only been 10 African American
actresses nominated for the Best Actress in a
leading role category, only Halle Berry has
There have been 17 African American
actresses nominated for 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, Foxy Brown
“Lesbian”- Queen Pen
“Fly Girl” - Salt-N-Pepa, TLC
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
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. (Littleﬁeld 680)
BLACK FEMALE ARTISTS
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
Beyonce: uses her sex
appeal in order to sell her
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
Nicki Minaj: female rapper
that challenge patriarchy
and women’s submission
She uses her image to
her advantage as being
a sex symbol to men
and being a black
Trying to become the
ﬁrst black female hip
hop mogul (Tuttle
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,
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.
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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