This week the internet was buzzing with the news that NeNe Leakes was on the cover of Ebony Magazine‘s Power 100 issue. Not only was she draped in diamonds lounging in a bathtub, but the cover was appropriately titled the Money and Power issue. My first thought was ewwwww because I’ve always thought Ebony covers were held for the Black Elite based on their entertainment, cross over appeal, or simple community activism. I honestly think Ruby Dee or Oprah Winfrey when I hear the words Ebony Magazine.
Not anymore. For those of us clutching our pearls in shame for this display of “blackness”, we have to admit something. We created the monster. America treats reality tv as if it’s on the same level as Law and Order, Gray’s Anatomy, and god forbid, Scandal. We actually tune in for the weekly train wreck and gawk, complain at the negative imagery, only to do it all again sitting in the same spot of the sofa the next week. I can’t blame tv execs, because they only create what they know people will watch. Imagine how many tv scripted sitcoms and dramas are canned every year because they simply can’t compete with NeNe and Sheree going at it or Steebie J runnin’ game on Joseline while professing his love for both of his girlfriends while sitting on the couch in therapy.
I’ve backed off of watching too much reality tv
save The Voice, because it takes jobs away from talented actors who actually train and refine their craft with the goal of being taken seriously. I also know that the imagery, however scripted, is largely what other groups of people use to define their perspective of the African-American culture. So while I hate that Nene is on the cover when there are 99 other qualified, educated, non-bullying people, I know exactly why she’s being rewarded. We constantly reward bad behavior under the guise of “hustle”. So, while I disagree with the bad behavior that got her to where she is, we gladly ushered her into the limelight. I rest my case.
Working in the theater as an African-American woman sometimes limits you to specific roles. It’s a blessing and a curse as we are either cast against type (me as Evita sportin’ a blonde wig) or only considered for roles that need belting, sass, and the usual amount of gospel riffs. I just opened a musical comedy with a cast of five incredible talented women. We each have distinct voices that shine in special moments through out the show. Mine, of course is hollerin’ out the gospel tinged number in the finale. I sing throughout the show but this part is strictly sangin’ riffin’ time.
Now for “The Help.” After each show, we meet and greet the guests to thank them for supporting our show. The majority compliment us, let us know they enjoyed the show and point out a particular scene that stood out. Most of the time, it’s a harmless experience. So imagine my utter shock when a blonde, fit, tight faced white woman (BOTOX alert), grabs my hand and says “You were wonderful!” Before I could say thank you, she interrupts “I have a HOUSEKEEPER at home and I’m going to get her to LEARN YOUR SONG!!!! Just wonderful!!!. I stiffened, and with a robotic smile sputtered,
“Thank you for coming.” Confused of course, I’m trying to grasp what this woman is talking about.
Peer into a couple of my thoughts:
- Wait, what, hell nawl!!!!! You sayin’ I remind you of your housekeeper cuz I’m black?
- What makes you think she wants to sing? I guess there’s still a stereotype that ALL blacks sing and do it well!
(cue for shucking and jivin’ music)
- I’m not that far removed from several black women who’ve cleaned homes and play nanny to children who look nothing like them, but what’s that got to do with me????
I calmed down and I realized I literally reminded her of HER help, as in her hired help. As in, I don’t relate in any other way to African Americans help. I’d like to nominate her for foot and mouth disease winner of the week, but I gather she’d have no idea why. Her tomfoolery filled compliment was way more a reflection of her poor perception/relationships with her housekeeper and other African Americans than how I presented myself. So, if she comes to the show again, I might just have to get a glass of wine and have a fireside chat with her about how I make a mean brownie pie and would love to bring one especially made for her. (Remember the scene in the HELP?) Nuff’ said….lol.
As for the roles for African American women, I will continue to seek and accept roles that allow me to maintain my dignity and integrity. Brownie jokes aside, I realize that it possibly will take another 50 years to end negative stereotypes. I’m so looking forward to our fireside chat.
One of my favorite things to do is sing. I was cast in the show Nunsense to play the 2nd in charge, right hand to the Reverend Mother. I’ve learned so much about myself doing this show. For one, I love costumes but prefer them fitted and showing off my figure. (Seriously) But, I’m also doing quite a bit of acting and actually tap dancing which is something I have feared in the past. But, the music is great, the cast is wonderful, and I’m singing the last number of the show. I’ll keep you posted on the reviews but for so far, it’s been a blast. Nothing like going after your dreams, even if it means putting on a nun habit, tights and pantyhose to totally cover up your body to do so.
Here’s a write up of the show in the Orlando Sentinel. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/entertainment/arts-and-theater/os-nunsense-winter-park-playhouse-20120731,0,7098182.story