“Angry Black Woman” vs. “Kind Black Woman”: Exploitation in American Cinema by Cailey Tin
The "angry black woman" is a racial trope that has been prevalent in global society for centuries, particularly in American movies dating back to the 1800s and up to the present day; it is a constant stereotype in the media we see from adult Hollywood movies to sitcoms for children.
In this popular film trope, a black woman is portrayed as constantly upset, but the problem centers around the fact that whether they voiced a sincere concern isn’t the focus of the scene. The noise of whatever they were opinionated about gets drowned out by their shouting, causing a scene, or disturbing the white protagonist’s vacation plans with their hot, newly married spouse.
Photo via Pexels
The kinder, "softer" black woman, on the contrary, is another creation of the film industry. It is an exertion of effort from the producers and writers to make this character more likable by allowing them to go to unnecessary lengths to prove to viewers that they’re a wholesome, loveable person.
If the black woman isn’t portrayed with borderline anger and internalized trauma, they must go above and beyond in kindness, making sacrifices, and delivering sweet dialogue, requiring much more from them to be considered a likable character compared to their white woman counterparts. The powerful contrast between the two versions of a black woman as played on film makes others’ perception of them even more black and white than it really is: that black women in real life must sit obediently, with tolerance and patience, because either they let other "characters" get what they want from them, or they would be deemed by others as a fit-throwing, hostile, and ill tempered bomb.
The most harmful issue with this trope is that they leave the audience with unfair expectations for a black woman to exceedingly express how gentle and loveable they “can be”, when no human being should be required to prove anything before being appreciated and loved back. And if this woman doesn’t do the "bare minimum", then society’s perception of them, thanks to their being spoon-fed with stereotypical content on screen, is that this woman is the utter opposite of gentle: aggressive with no exception to having bad days like everyone else. There’s no room in between. But there’s plenty of space for objectifying and dehumanizing a black woman, and this pattern in American cinema, which is also globalized and consumed internationally, needs to be put to an end.
To learn more about this topic, linked below is a thesis by Michelle Webber that covers films with better portrayals of black women, black women in literature, and the root of stereotypes.
Cailey Tin is an interview editor of Paper Crane Journal. She is an Asia-based staff writer and podcast co-host at The Incandescent Review, a columnist in Incognito Press and Spiritus Mundi Review, and her work has been published in Fairfield Scribes, Alien Magazine, Cathartic Lit, and more. Her work is forthcoming in the Eunoia Review and Dragon Bone Publishing. Visit her Instagram @itscaileynotkylie.