“Don’t nobody bring me no bad news!”
-Mabel King, “The Wiz”
I had just barely put in my copy for last week’s column, a response to Brittney “Prof. Crunk” Cooper’s own column appearing on Salon.com, when I got a tip from one of my readers that actress and comedienne Mo’Nique was virtually blackballed from the Hollywood entertainment machine. I didn’t even need to read the articles to understand what was at the root of the issue, but by the time I had scanned through several of them, they only confirmed my initial suspicions – and provide powerful evidence for my argument made last week: that, contrary to Prof. Cooper’s assertions that Black women en masse are somehow being held down economically due to some vast White-wing conspiracy (read: Racism), I offered that one of the biggest impediments to Black female achievement and success in our time today, in 2015, is their own behavior and life choices they make.
Mo’Nique is a case in point.
We learn of Mo’Nique’s troubles by way of acclaimed director Lee Daniels, who recently stated in an interview that the Oscar-winning actress has been shutout of the movie-making business due to her unwillingness to “play the game” – in other words, to be courteous and pleasant to be around and fairly easy to work with. None of this comes as any shock to anyone who knows Black women in general; as I noted in last week’s column, they have a very nasty reputation for being irascible, uncooperative, “sassy”, and even violent. What Daniels noted in Mo’Nique’s behavior is something that has long-held great cultural force in Black American life among its women; I refer to it as “Diva Culture”.
Many Black women subscribe to the notion that they, and other Black women, are “divas” – a term that literally means “goddess” – and in any event was originally taken to mean a woman of incomparable talent and ability. Names like Maria Callas and Aretha Franklin come to mind, as they are ladies whose outsized singing talent have made them household names.
Unfortunately for many Black women, and even Mo’Nique herself, they have seemed have latched on to the more commonplace understanding of the term “diva”, which suggests merely a woman who think’s she’s all that and is extremely difficult to contend with. While it may not be cricket to say in polite company, the truth is that IF you’re extremely talented – and therefore difficult if not impossible to replace – then yes, people can and will put up with you. But if you’re merely “alright” or even a bit above average, then people can and will put some considerable distance between you and them. And, when you stop to think about it, who can blame them?
The simple truth of the matter is that Mo’Nique, while talented, is not on the same plane as Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett or Tracy Ullman; her acting chops, while good, aren’t on par with Judy Dench, Helen Mirren, Glenn Close or Meryl Streep. She is not a female version of the late Robin Williams, who was able to play both comedic and “straight” (read: serious) roles with aplomb and skill. Her “diva” behaviors got out way ahead of her actual abilities – and she paid a heavy price for it.
Speaking of economics, when topics like the one we’re currently examining comes up, it is rarely done so with the bottom line in mind. However, when one considers the facts, it becomes clear just how fiscally ruinous certain cultural norms and behaviors actually are in Black American life, and accounts much more for the state of things there than anything “racist”. For example, last week I made the case that a major reason Black women as a group have the lowest net worth of any group of American women, was due to the fact that they are the least partnered group of women – they have the lowest marital rate, the highest divorce rate, the highest rate of breakup and infidelity (both cheating and being cheated on) in relationships, and of course, the highest out-of-wedlock birthrates – and that this too, was due at least as much to the adherence to “diva culture” among Black women, than anything else. I stated a simple truth: that for most average Americans, a surefire way of upping your economic profile was to get married, stay married and work together with your spouse to build a better life. It’s something that has worked, and continues to work, and if anyone knows this, it’s the White feminists in our time who have successfully implanted the notion into the minds of millions of Black women that “they don’t need no man”. They’ve played a seriously cruel joke on their “sistas” – one that amounts to real dollars and cents lost on the ledger.
And, as Mo’Nique’s current situation aptly shows, it doesn’t stop there. She has lost numerous opportunities to act in what would become highly acclaimed (and financially successful) films that could have put her onto yet another Oscar track. How much has those lost acting jobs cost her? Could it be to the tune of millions?
You do the math.
And contrary to Prof. Cooper’s rants, the plain truth of it is that if it were not for anti-discrimination laws and affirmative action, quite a few more Black women would be out of work today, due to their anti-social ways – nor is this a closely guarded state secret. Black women themselves know this to be true.
Of course, instead of examining all the variables on the table, Black women like Cooper insist on “examining” only those variables that please their ideological sensibilities and that assuage their egos. But, the facts have a nasty way of bursting one’s bubbles, don’t they?
Speaking of which…
Sheryl Lee Ralph Gets The Facts Wrong
Not to be outdone, Black actress Sheryl Lee Ralph has weighed in on Daniels’ remarks on Mo’Nique, in which she says the following:
“What’s interesting about that is, she didn’t campaign. I wonder, do you think that they would blackball Tom Hanks for not campaigning for a movie? The game is different for women.”
Uh, no Ms. Ralph, it’s not. If you’re an irascible White guy, you can get blackballed, too.
How do I know?
A little movie called The Hurt Locker told me. I watched it several times over the past weekend, a “day in the life” flick about a bomb squad during the Iraq war that just happened to be excellently directed by a woman, who would go on to win an Oscar for her efforts – the first woman ever to do so.
However, one of her producers was banned – BANNED – from the Oscar proceedings for being a jerk:
“In February 2010, the film’s producer Nicolas Chartier emailed a group of Academy Award voters in an attempt to sway them to vote for The Hurt Locker instead of “a $500M film” (referring to Avatar) for the Best Picture award. He later issued a public apology, saying that it was “out of line and not in the spirit of the celebration of cinema that this acknowledgment is”. The Academy banned him from attending the award ceremony, the first time the Academy has ever banned an individual nominee.”
As you can clearly see, Mr. Chartier, a Frenchman, is very White. So, no, Ms. Ralph – being a woman – or being Black – has nothing to do with it.
It has everything to do with whether you’re just a jerk or not.
And that, is a good thing.
The Case For Black Women Going To Charm School
Last week I argued that Black women as a group badly needed an intensive course in charm school; unsurprisingly, not a few Sista ladies on my social media took umbrage to such a notion. However, what I said was not without precedent in Black American life; unlike other Blacks, particularly those who consider themselves “enlightened and educated”, I have never found much interest in attempting to reinvent the wheel, but rather, merely affirming that which has proven to work.
Enter Motown, the entertainment and pop cultural juggernaut of the 60s and 70s founded by Berry Gordy. Every major and even minor Motown star was required to undergo charm school training and instruction, (this was true of the male singers too, like Marvin Gaye – so Black feminists, before you even get started, give it a rest, hmm?) under the careful guise of the late and truly great, Ms. Maxine Powell, who passed away only two years shy of her 100th year on this planet barely two years ago. As the Los Angeles Times remembrance of Ms. Powell states:
“From 1964 to 1969, Powell ran Motown’s in-house “charm school,” a mandatory course of instruction in proper sitting, standing, eating, dressing, chatting with fans, responding to reporters and every other act of public deportment that might make or break a Motown star.”
Well into her dotage, Ms. Powell had many grateful students and well wishers, among them the pantheon of Motown luminaries, like the legendary Diana Ross:
“Powell ‘showed me that there was the possibility of beauty, grace, integrity and meaning to my life,’ Ross said in a statement.”
Please, go and read the whole article for yourselves – and then ask yourself, honestly – if Black women in our time, come anywhere close to the example Ms. Powell has set?
Shedding The Pounds Is Not Enough – But It’s A Good Start
Last spring, Mo’Nique made headlines for losing more than 80lbs – a formidable feat given her previous statements about being, to coin a phrase Prof. Cooper quipped to my copy editor Mr. Dean Esmay via Twitter last week, “fat and fly”. Mo’Nique instantly became more attractive as a result of slimming down, and was quickly noticed by Black lady fans, some of whom viciously attacked her for leaving the Obese Club. You see, as I’ve noted last week, Black women, taken together as a group now, are the heaviest cohort in America, and take great pride in that fact, as Prof. Cooper’s social media remarks clearly illustrate. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they insist on making excuses for their ever-expanding dress sizes, outmatched only by their egos and anti-social attitudes. It all adds up to a human being that is extremely difficult to be around.
No wonder so many Black men vote with their feet.
But, as Mo’Nique herself clearly shows (and other Black women, hint, hint), merely shedding the pounds, stand alone, is not enough; you simply have to comport yourself in a pleasant manner, too. Doing so can and has made the difference between those women who are successful in life, and those women who are not.
So, in sum: “diva culture” has not helped the bulk and mass of Black women, if all the social and economic indices are anything to go by; indeed, it has proven extraordinarily ruinous for the vast majority of them, incurring costs that simply put, most Black women, and that includes sistas like Mo’Nique, cannot afford. The answer is clear: Sistas need a resolution, because being a “diva” simply hasn’t worked.
They might try acting like ladies for a change.