Wednesday, July 6, 2011

African American Romantic Comedies: Colorism

I love a good romantic comedy, but I must admit I am especially partial to those that star Blacks.  It is a rare thing to see a dominant Black presence in media, and romantic comedies happen to be the only genre that this consistently happens in.  Unfortunately, these movies still fall into specific tropes that are a direct result of being produced in a White supremacist culture. 

Many of the male stars like, Morris Chestnut and Taye Diggs are dark skinned Black men.  In fact, you could reasonably argue that Morris Chestnut is the king of the African Romantic comedy.  These dark skinned men are always described as fiiiine, hot, and a real catch.  When it comes to colourism and Black men, it would be fair to say that it is not an issue in African American comedies, because the actors range from Morris Chestnut to the ever so lovely LL Cool J (and yes, I love him).

The same is not necessarily true when it comes to women.  From Stacey Dash in VHI's new series Single ladies, to Paula Patton in 2011's Jump the Broom, to Sanaa Lathan in The Best Man, to Zoe Sandana in Guess Who, to Vivica Fox in Two Can Play That Game, and Queen Latifah in Just Wright, light skinned women have a tendency to dominate the genre. The darkest skinned woman that you will find in the genre are Monique, who played the ghetto woman Two Can Play that Game, Kimberly Elise, who played Helen in Diary of a Mad Black woman (the title says it all doesn't it), and Gabrielle Union, who starred in Deliver Us From Eva.  

What is perhaps most interesting, is that in Deliver Us From Eva, Union played the stereotypical angry Black woman who had been burned countless times.  She was absolutely vicious to anyone that approached her, and her brother in laws absolutely detested her, that is until they paid LL. Cool J to date her, and suddenly she became soft, and loving.  Here we go again with another Black woman being saved from her angry ways by the love of a good Black man. (Tyler Perry is somewhere dancing a little jig.) All the things that allowed her to support her sisters up to and including putting them through school, and saving money for the benefit of their family, were seen as negative character traits.  When Union played opposite Vivica Fox in Two Can Play That Game, she played the role of Jezebel. That's right, a dark Black woman out to steal away Morris Chestnut from the light skinned, smart, and in control Vivica Fox.  Union was slut shamed throughout the movie, and yet when Vivica Fox chose to sleep with Chestnut in his office it was simply being freaky and keeping your man happy.  Particularly telling, is that no reference was made to the differentiate between the two women, except for the visually obvious difference in hue. Why one was necessarily deserving of being slut shamed, when she was essentially no different than the other, was left for the viewer to determine. Even in movies, the strong dark skinned Black woman can never get a break. 
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