I chose the show Empire because while I was reading through the article, I could not help but think of the character Cookie on the show played by Taraji Henson. She follows this stereotype of black women that is talked about in the article, but the way that she portrays herself is in a way that the audience loves her. Her sudden outbursts of emotion are entertaining and funny for viewers, and Cookie is someone whom people are rooting for. She has power and control but there is also a wild fire to her. The clip that I have chosen to attach to this post is the “Best of Cookie,” which I think simply and quickly portrays the character in a quick burst. She is this diva in the show, even from a quick glance with the big coats that she is wearing to the way that she interacts with the others. She takes on that aggressive quality in how she responds to the wife of her ex-husband, trying to dominate all spheres of her life, even those that are no longer hers. This is what is expected of black women: to seek success while at the same time needing to “handle her business” in a manner that is allotted to the stereotype. In earlier periods, black women could only be portrayed as mammys or domestic figures, and this character completely breaks that docile standard. Because black women have broken out of this domestic role, when they are portrayed as Cookie is, they come off as “bitchy” to people because they have their own voice and are talking for themselves. This way they could let women move up in the world but still keep them in their place by putting this negative stereotype of them.
An important point to make here would be to talk about how the development of the role of black women has been represented, which was briefly touched on in the article “Divas, Evil Black Bitches, and Bitter Black Women” by Kimberly Springer. She mentions the mammy, which is a woman that works for the white family, with little regards for her own. She is fully subservient to that white family. The character of the mammy is one that has been separated from the plantation to give off the impression of freedom: she is a slave without even knowing it. Old photos depicting a mammy are of a plump, unattractive black woman who is always smiling while she is working and tending to the needs of the white family. As black women, or women in general, started to move outside of the home, there had to be a way of “putting them back in their place” so that they knew even though they were away from the home, they were to act in the same or similar manner. What Cookie does is completely break that standard in a way that people have in real life depicted as negative, but has been a way for producers in television and film to depict a stereotypical and narrow view of the way that these women act, for the entertainment of others.
I welcome you to ponder these questions and give me your opinions on these matters:
1. Do you believe that they character of Cookie (from the clip provided) follows the way that you view women of color in society? Why or why not?
2. Does the way that she acts draw you into her character? Would you watch the show solely to see the way that she reacts to situations such as these?
3. Are there still spheres in which black women are restrained in a way that holds onto the ideas of the past (mammys/domestic figures)?