In a piece for the New York Times’ Motherload blog, Kimberly Seals Allers, reflecting on the absence of color in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and I Don’t Know How She Does It, takes issue with the void she sees when she evaluates on-screen representations of African-American motherhood. Whenever Hollywood sets out to portray the joys and trials of modern motherhood on the big screen, she says, black mothers are blatantly and consistently missing from the mix.
But it’s more than just a gripe with casting choices that drives her commentary. Instead, she argues that black women are seen as unworthy of the big screen precisely because mainstream culture still sees black motherhood itself as a distortion of true motherhood ideals.
Like when I excitedly trekked to the movie theater to see Uma Thurman in “Motherhood,” as the epitome of a frustrated New York City uber-mom and blogger. But “Motherhood” must have been filmed in the same Hollywood version of New York used for years for the shooting of “Friends” (and currently being used to film HBO’s “Girls”): the no-blacks-except-for-the-extras version. Really?
Later, I was super-excited to see the big-screen adaptation of one of my favorite books, “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker. But apparently black mothers don’t do it at all.
Whenever there is a significant mainstream movie on motherhood, black mothers aren’t there. Why is that? If Walter Lippmann is correct is saying that how we come to understand the world is a function of the “pictures in our heads” and that the media play a crucial role in the formation of these images, then African-American mothers have a serious problem.
Because the “pictures in our heads” of black mothers depict them as crack heads, single mothers with deadbeat-dad issues, welfare queens, violent, uneducated or as neck-rolling sassy maids and smart-talking fishwives. Alternatively, we are being portrayed by a man. In a fat suit. And a wig. Nice! We are rarely seen as nurturing mothers or (gasp!) intentional parents with committed husbands, let alone successful women who don trendy shoes, fabulous handbags and have some of the same romantic-comedy-worthy struggles as any other parent or would-be parent. Hey, Hollywood, we even have fertility issues, despite the hypersexualized, baby-making-machine stereotypes you’ve come to believe …
Read more at the New York Times.