Celebrating Black Women

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One of the more frustrating things about Lee’s filmography this semester has been his treatment of black women. Going from film to film, he often reifies and reinforces the kinds of negative stereotypes about black women that plague the media and the popular American social imagination: hypersexual black women, angry black women, deviant black women. Rarely do the women in his films get to be at the center of attention for anything other than their bodies, and when they do, rarely do they get to push back against the limited and limiting spaces Lee puts them in. Chi-Raq promised so much, putting Lysistrata front and center on posters, on-screen, and in the plot, and then fell so far: Strata’s body and sexuality were featured as her most important attributes for a long time, the site of her power only her vagina and the denial of access to it.

Crooklyn was, in this respect, a breath of fresh air – focusing on Troy and her childhood, her subjectivity, her girlhood – and I can’t help but wonder how much of that was influenced by Joie Lee being one of the co-writers of the script, and Spike Lee a producer. I would say more, but Dani over on Blog 4 has written a beautiful post on why Troy and Crooklyn matter, and I encourage everyone to read it.

I also encourage everyone – and here I come to my main goal in this post – go to watch Lemonade. If, like me, you have grown frustrated about Lee’s portrayal of black women, or if you’re curious about what a raw, powerful, redemptive, honest, urgent, reclaiming, and human look at black women would be like, please go look at Lemonade. I could go on and on, but frankly I am not the person to speak about Lemonade – please click on any of the articles I linked to in the previous sentence, where amazing black women have written highly important pieces about it (thoughtful, potent engagements and critiques) – and please, if you can, go watch it (on Tidal’s free trial, because I know we’re all broke college students) for yourselves.

2 comments

  1. I was just thinking about doing a short analysis on the filmography of LEMONADE. It’s so beautifully constructed and really highlights how an audience can engage with visuals in moving, powerful, and often visceral ways. In terms of Lee, his treatment of women has always been a critique of mine and it has come to a point that I must come to terms with the fact that Lee is just ~not~ writing about women. I don’t think it’s his goal or his endgame or has ever been his intention. He uses women to speak to larger issues, and there is a critique in that as well, but what do we make of his films when we come to the realization that Lee is writing his films to be a feminist theory piece or a powerful ode to black woman like LEMONADE? What is the next step after we see these holes in the values Lee is constructing on the screen the beg to be filled by the mind of the 21st century black and brown feminist? Some food for thought.

    1. I’m so ready for your post on Lemonade, if you decide to do it! And re: Lee on women, I agree that there’s a point where we might just have to come to terms with it, but not before we get some solid critique in first. I think your questions are incredibly useful to think about – what do women do with those space that he leaves empty, ready for meaning to be read into them? That could definitely be a more fruitful direction to take our frustration in, for sure.

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