As a Black woman at the movies, intersectionality matters
I wish I could properly articulate what it sometimes feels like to simply exist within the entertainment that I love. Trust me, it’s tough. I’ve been trying for the better half of an hour to find the cleverest, most succinct analogy that neatly and effectively packages my experience. Is it more like balancing fine china on my head or walking a tightrope?
How do I describe what it’s like to comfortably experience film, TV, comics, everything as me – a plus size, neuroatypical Black woman? How do I seek entertainment that recognizes all of me, all at once?
Since I continue to come up short, I’ll just keep it simple: Sometimes, it feels impossible.
I’m far from alone in this. The conversation surrounding inclusion in Hollywood continues to grow to a thunderous volume as we, the marginalized, demand better representation. Since many of us desire to see a decent reflection of ourselves – and since no group of people exists as a monolith – that conversation can get very (wonderfully) complex. And when you carry any number of identities at once, that conversation should be as complex as we are.
The idea becomes increasingly more difficult when you’re faced with a finished product that is pitched as the cure-all to entertainment’s shortcomings.
My experience often includes something that has been heralded as a tremendous breakthrough for women.
Look, a female director! Hey, an atypical leading lady! Check out this estrogen-fueled historical piece! What a fantastic time for all women!
These instances can absolutely be rewarding, even if I’m unable to identify with them fully.
Then, before much time passes, I’m inundated with suggestions – dare I say, demands – via essays and Twitter storms to unabashedly champion these endeavors.
I’m reminded that as a woman and a feminist, it is my duty to offer nothing but my unyielding support. Don’t I want to see us succeed and, by extension, prove that women deserve more opportunities? Yes? Then it’s simple! Be a Good Feminist, spend the time and small fortune, and support, support, support!
The thing is, it is rarely ever that simple.
I don’t choose to arrive to the cinema as simply a woman. I spend my money as a Black woman.
As such, my burdens don’t rest solely with misogyny and patriarchy. I also contend with erasure, misogynoir, white supremacy, anti-blackness, fatphobia, and years of added baggage that come with constantly being devalued, ignored, and underestimated by anyone who isn’t a fellow Black woman. Yes, I arrive to the theater with it all — even when I’m simply there to have a good time — because it never leaves me.
Living in the intersection of womanhood and Blackness will forever inform my experiences — and yes, it’s important for me to see some of that imbued in the works I enjoy.
That’s where it can begin to feel difficult, if not somewhat impossible, because often times what is geared towards “all women” really only heralds white women. While they can conveniently sideline intersectionality for the sake of a finished product, I can’t sideline mine.
It’s impossible for me to strip myself of my Blackness long enough to enjoy movie stars who repeatedly and unapologetically treat my identity like a prop. It’s hard to forget that I’m a woman of color long enough to embrace a “historical” film that actively erases the contributions of any woman who wasn’t white. I can’t shed my brown skin and leave it at the ticket booth while I watch a movie that relies on the harmful tropes of people who look like me for comedic relief.
I cannot and will not leave my various intersections at the door to support something that I feel entirely disrespects that very experience. Can it be done? Sure, and that is an individual choice. It would be infinitely wonderful, however, to not be asked to make that choice come every film premiere. Demands to ignore my needs as consumer for the supposed good of a movement, no matter how benevolent, only contribute to the culture of erasure.
I recently saw Hidden Figures and I felt certain satisfaction that was as untouchable as it was specific.
Going in with little knowledge about the film, I arrived with a healthy dose of apprehension. There are certain trends in visual arts that I’ve just grown to expect when approaching anything that features Black women. Fortunately, none of the elements that I had braced myself for ever manifested.
It was exhilarating to watch a story that didn’t rely on violence against Black female bodies, but rather the brilliance and determination of Black female mathematicians.
I can’t express how affirming it was to watch White Feminism not be centered as the savior, but as a part of the gatekeeping that prevented these women from advancing. And while a few filmmakers might have taken this opportunity to lean upon the crutch of obscenity to portray the rampant racism of the sixties, Ted Melfi managed to signal the open hatred in a way that was angering, heartbreaking, and familiar without preying on my pain.
I left feeling not only respected, but celebrated in the cinematic world for the first time since Ava DuVernay’s Selma. Best of all, it was an experience that didn’t treat my identities as mutually exclusive.
Films, television, comics, books…entertainment in general has become paramount to my life and the work I want to accomplish. Additionally, I want everyone to experience the unequivocal impact I felt when I watched a group of girls and women who reminded me of myself, my daughter, my mother — and so many Black women that inspire me every day — shine on such a big screen.
It’s important to be given opportunities to encounter art as ourselves — our whole selves — so that we can continue be nourished by it.
I won’t be so inclined to sacrifice a part of my being in order to be sufficiently entertained, because I know all too well that it isn’t necessary.