Representation Still Falls Short For Black Women in Hollywood
5 min read
Many questions come to mind when I reflect back to when I was a young little Black girl. I would watch Disney Channel TV shows from ICarly to Hannah Montana, and the only resemblance of something close to home was That's So Raven.
A great show in its entirety, though I've come to realize that I didn't have much representation in my youth of myself or my culture.
What started off as the best shows on television turned out to be the only shows on television.
There was never an option to switch between channels or movies of black families on Lifetime Movie Network or ABC Family. Instead, it was only on BET.
I would turn the channel to BET and watch the Awards with my mom and sister, watching Beyonce perform Deja Vu at the Grammys and Jennifer Hudson delivering powerful vocals from the film DreamGirls. Though BET had it all: live performances, black movies, and even hilarious rerun episodes of Martin and The Jamie Foxx Show - it was the only source of Black television.
And that came at a cost for Black women.
The provocative outfits of women wearing long v-neck slits across their chest dress outline or the too-tight fitted dresses that complimented their curves set a poor standard for the image of Black women.
Take, for example, R&B music videos like 50 Cent's "Candy Shop," where black women could be seen dancing sexually and acting out the submissive fantasies of men. Dancing blindly to the subliminal messages covertly intermingled with fancy cars and witty lyrics - it continues to be hard to overcome what society has deemed to be the archetype black woman.
The depiction of Black women has been hyper-sexualized for so many years throughout the media scene.
Surgically produced bodies, larger-than-life boobs, and even longer wigs, becoming the next black Barbie–THAT became the version of the Black woman most often seen in the media. No longer seeing the diversity or range that represents Black women in all our different flavors - the depiction is starting to fall far from reality.
We still don't have enough diverse representation of us in the media, and the little we do have prioritizes hypersexualization.
The management teams responsible for casting black women for roles are predominately white men, according to TheHill.com. The study also found that about 92% of CEOs in the entertainment industry are white, and 68% are white men.
It's already a slippery slope when the selected depiction of Black women is decided amongst a group that does not represent them in any way.
How do we go about this issue?
I've read numerous articles and watched countless interviews where Black artists in the entertainment industry share their frustrations.
They face encounters behind the scenes that they've expressed as "too damaging to their authentic selves."
Disney star Monique Coleman, known for her role as Taylor in High School Musical, shared in 2021 to Insider Entertainment in an article Monique Coleman reveals her High School Musical character wore headbands because the crew didn't know how to style Black hair that "We've grown a lot in this industry and we've grown a lot in representation, and we've grown a lot in terms of understanding the needs of an African American actress. But the truth is, they had done my hair, and they had done it very poorly in the front."
She then went on to mention that while playing Taylor, the team of hair stylists always insisted that she wear headbands to "maintain" her hair. Her character was always presented with straightened hair. In order to "define" her look to appear more naturally pleasing, a headband was granted by executives on the show.
Why are so many young Black women taught at a young age that their hair is "too difficult" to handle?
Gabrielle Union, well known for her role in Bring It On, stated in a discussion with Glamour that she realized too early on in the industry that "there were many people in hair and makeup trailers who were totally unqualified to do my hair." She openly shared that hairstylists would use products dedicated to white hair that would leave poor results on her black hair. Union recalled an encounter where a hair stylist used Aqua Net too frequently on her hair, causing chunks of her hair to fall out while on set.
Rather than accepting the distinction between natural black hair vs. white hair on screen and off, the "favorable" look always ends in the way of the white image.
Accurate representation and management of authentic depictions of Black women aren't just stripped away by dumbing down our appearance to meet misogynistic stereotypes or not allowing us to wear our hair in all its many textures and styles, but it's also historically lightening our skin post-edit or not having our shade of makeup on set to begin with.
Often while watching films that feature a far from diverse cast or even in magazines, Black women are seen with slight color distortions that do not match their correct skin shades. As Black women, we range in all different sizes and colors, and how we show up in films, on stage, and in photos should reflect that.
Leomie Anderson, a model for Victoria's Secret came forward in a recent Live stream via Instagram. She spoke with Insider Magazine, showing the makeup completed on her face after a day's work. What caught everyone's attention was the drastic discoloration from her normal skin tone and the orange shade that was added to her complexion. Anderson expressed her embarrassment by explaining the original look that the cosmetics team had completed on her and told the viewers that she had to fix the makeup to prevent walking out in such a disappointing way.
Since when did it become the models' or actresses' responsibility to "correct" their glam due to the lack of hair and makeup teams not being culturally fluent in their craft?
It is beyond disappointing to hear more stories about how black beauty and the representation of women who look like me are not widely recognized, understood, or embraced.
How many women will have to share their stories?
The pressure that black artists already face in the industry is overwhelming. But it becomes an ever more significant issue when many people in positions of influence have yet to acknowledge and address that this is, in fact, STILL an issue.
But, rather than pass the issue to someone else, why not strive to change it? Educate yourselves on Black beauty and the entire essence of who we really are, not what society has depicted us to be.