White women were recognized in Hollywood this year, but what about women of color?
It’s pretty well established that men have more power and are better represented in the film industry than are women. Women account for less than one-third of all speaking characters in major studio films and are also the minority in occupations behind the scenes. So it makes sense that plenty of feminists were quick to celebrate the great strides women have made in the industry this year, like the amazing work done by women like Patty Jenkins, Greta Gerwig, Reed Morano, and Amma Asante.
I, too, am super excited for the women who have received critical acclaim and attention. I cried during Wonder Woman and read dozens of articles about Greta Gerwig after seeing Lady Bird. But this accomplishment is one mainly achieved by white women.
As a woman of color, I feel like I have to make a choice when I watch movies. Critically acclaimed movies made by and about women don’t completely allow me to see myself. Take the coming-of-age movie Lady Bird. Even though I related to aspects of this film, I didn’t have the visceral experiences that so many white women reported they had. On Twitter, white women posted about crying during these films because they saw themselves on screen, whereas I only sort of did. I saw women, but not ones that looked like me: There weren’t any women of color in Lady Bird. The women of color in Wonder Woman also didn’t have any lines that I can remember, and even though I inhaled Big Little Lies, the one prominent woman of color in the show didn’t seem to get a full character arc compared to the other female protagonists.
Ultimately, I can’t pick one part of my identity over the other. My blackness and my womanness are connected. I share some general experiences with white women, but they don’t know what it’s like to have their hair braided for hours on a Sunday, or to tie their hair up in a scarf before bed. White women write scenes where daughters scream at their mothers — behavior my mom would never stand for.
I don’t expect someone like Greta Gerwig to write a coming-of-age story about a girl who looks like me. She hasn’t lived my life or experienced anything like it. Her attempt to tell a story so different from hers would likely even upset a lot of people. But what I do want is for white women to be conscious of their own racial biases and for more women of color to be lifted up in this conversation of representation.
Of course, it’s worth noting that even these white women are still not always recognized by the greater Hollywood community. Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins were snubbed for Best Director nominations at the Golden Globes, and while Big Little Lies was widely nominated, it’s important to note that two men wrote and directed the show.
While many women reacted to these incidents with anger, I also wish people had noted that women of color were snubbed, too. Take Dee Rees, who directed Netflix’s Mudbound, a sweeping historical drama about the lives of a black and white family that received rave reviews when it debuted at Sundance. I haven’t heard anyone talk even about the film since. Girls Trip, which was co-written by Kenya Barris (creator of Blackish) and Tracy Oliver, was the only comedy of 2017 to gross over $100 million domestically, but was still ignored by the Golden Globes. This reveals another troubling pattern: While white women can now be praised for stories about their everyday lives, black art is still only acknowledged when it centers on suffering.
Ultimately, I don’t want to fault white women for their celebration because I understand what it’s like to see yourself represented so well for the first time. But I want them to take notice of the way they’re feeling and try to make that happen for women of color. There aren’t many WOC filmmakers, but they do exist. Now that we have begun to lift up films made by white women, we have to focus on supporting films made by women of color, who have a harder time having their voices heard.
More articles by Category: Feminism, Media
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