How Roger Ebert Embraced Black Beauty

Roger and Chaz Ebert attending the Chicago Public Library Foundation gala in 2011 (Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)
Roger and Chaz Ebert attending the Chicago Public Library Foundation gala in 2011 (Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images)

(The Root) — While the world continues to mourn the loss of film critic Roger Ebert, who died last week at the age of 70, and celebrate his love of film, many also have been introduced to his other great love: his wife, Chaz.


Though we have become a culture that increasingly celebrates women not for their own accomplishments but for their ability to marry or become a baby mama of an accomplished man (see Basketball Wives, Real Housewives, etc.), Chaz Ebert stands out. She is a woman who was very much accomplished in her own right when the couple met (as a lawyer at a major Chicago firm) and whose accomplishments helped her husband realize his full potential in a manner he never would have without her — according to him.

She became vice president of his production company but didn't use the role as a vanity title the way some relatives of celebrities are wont to do. He wrote of her tenure, "She organized my contracts, protected my interests, negotiated, wheeled and dealed. I've never understood business and have no patience with business meetings or legal details. I had a weakness for signing things just to make them go away. She observed this, and defended me. It was a partnership."

He had many reasons to appreciate her, but unlike many husbands, or wives, he did something extraordinary. In 2012 he wrote down every single one of them in a 3,000-word essay titled "Roger Loves Chaz." It sets the bar extremely high for any future love letters, which is how it reads — like an extremely detailed love letter.

In it he cited one of the main attributes that drew him to her. "I liked her looks, her voluptuous figure, and the way she presented herself." The line stood out because we live in a society that dictates that there is a certain "type" of woman to whom powerful men are supposed to gravitate. That type is often a certain complexion, a size 2, with long, flowing hair (either her own or purchased from someone). To be clear, I am not "hating" on women who fit this traditional standard of "perfect" beauty. But I am "hating" on the idea that there is only one definition — which seems to get narrower with each passing year.

Yet when Ebert met his wife — who is a dark, chocolate-brown, voluptuous, African-American woman — he was at the height of his career. He was a nationally recognized 50-year-old man with power and money, and the woman he found so beautiful that he actually made up an excuse to garner an introduction to her in a crowded restaurant is someone who epitomizes African-American beauty. Not the Eurocentric standard that society keeps trying to convince us that men of his stature — and men, period — seek. This is not the first time Ebert displayed an appreciation for such beauty. He previously squired Oprah Winfrey.

Did I happen to mention, for those who don't know, that Roger Ebert was white?

There has been much written about Ebert's commitment to striving for more diverse and less stereotypical minority depictions in film. No doubt his wife, a civil rights activist in her younger years, helped shape his perspective on such issues. But Ebert should also be appreciated for his own small role in diversifying how we define "beautiful." His wife, Chaz, is, and so is their love story.


Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent.

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Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter