Black Hollywood: Is it really like how it is in the movies?

“Hollywood movies create a fictional world that does not exist.” No matter how real it seems, Hollywood production add an extra element to create an original story. For black trauma films that experience this cinematic treatment, how much of an extra spin is really added? Is the Hollywood depiction of the inner city communities the real thing, or is it simply fanaticization for the big screen? The 1990s created a plethora of historic black films, written and directed by African Americans. Two of the most popular and iconic films Boyz n the Hood & Menace II Society effortlessly displayed the horrors of black trauma in communities. The directors of these films create a world so vivid, a world as realistic as can be. So believable that it raises the question, how much of it is true?

The 1990’s, especially the West Coast, played home to the most extreme cases of violence and destruction to the black community. Culminating in the LA Riots post the viral video of Rodney King’s beating at the hand of Caucasian police officers. As these events occurred in reality, it created a shadowed vision of African Americans in inner city communities. Outside of firsthand accounts or images broadcasted across the television screens, there was no other way for people to experience the Black inner city struggle unless it was portrayed through film; and because of that, the Black experience was exposed to new levels.

In particular 90’s movies, the depiction of the Black communities shared a connection to the real world that no other film provided before. Issues regarding drugs, violence, and poverty all found themselves to be focal points of the movies. At that same time, the black community was plagued by similar problems, every single day. Despite the national issue of poverty, violence, and drugs, the center of it all resided on the West Coast of the United States. California happened to be the center of it all and statistical numbers proved that. In the first half of the decade, at least one city in California sat in the top two of America’s most dangerous cities according to the crime rate. The numbers do not lie, they tell you more about the life in the inner city communities than any person can.

Hollywood, and innovative black directors chose to take this life, this inner city struggle, and display it on the screen for the world to see. The image was then real, all the stories, statistics, and conversations now had a tangible element, greater than just imagination. Menace II Society, a film released in 1993 displayed the bumps and crossroads of the life of a young Black man living in the tough world. The movie refused to shy away from the harsh realities that impacted the community, especially drugs and violence. Specific moments in the film create unpredictable images for the viewers, some uncomfortable to see. When two of the films main characters turn a simple trip to the liquor store into a murder and armed robbery, that emulates the unpredictable violence that arises in these cities. Although the scene is not real life, the reality is that situations such as this do occur, and life will continue to go on as if nothing happened.

Prior to Menace II Society, director John Singleton created a film of similar nature. Boyz in the Hood carried all the characteristics of the dramatic, inner city struggle movie that it was. Beginning with the characters from young ages, and following their lives throughout the years. It became very apparent to see the options young African Americans, especially young men have when they live in these communities. Their lives come down to accepting the horrors of the street life, or trying the best to make it out. Set in Los Angeles in the plagued 90s, the gang violence and bad influences became an important aspect for the characters to battle. Important not only for the movie, but also for the life that is reality for many individuals. Battling for survival on a daily basis was a theme in the film, similar to the non-Hollywood version that people live thru.

Masculinity developed to be another theme of the film, profoundly as the characters transformed from boys to young men by the end of the movie. Masculinity proved to be an important topic throughout the semester. Important to the point that one of the class lectures featured writer Scott Poulson-Bryant, and he specifically used Boyz in the Hood to speak on masculinity. Although the lecture was merely one class out of the whole semester, it was important to see the movie used as a positive example. Scott Poulson-Bryant found the positives in the film despite the troubling images and situations that created the movie.

Whether Hollywood added extra touches to these iconic films or not, they remain some of the most true reality movies created. The depictions of violence, drugs, and other forms of trouble in black communities find themselves in the middle of the movies. These particular movies are as real as it gets when it comes to the lifestyle that many individuals live and it was special for that to be placed on the movie screen for all to see.

The Beauty of Black Women:

How are the standards set?

Black women face criticism unlike any other in regards to their appearance. Their beauty standards are undoubtedly higher than any other group of women. Black women are most often criticized for their skin tone, but a distaste for their shape, clothing, and their hair have all manifested themselves in social standards. The prejudice against women of color originated during the era of slavery, when women were brought from their homelands to be treated as sexual objects. Constant media representation of the “perfect” image in the 21st century does nothing but reinforce these trends as well. There are few Black women in modern mainstream media who are portrayed as the beautiful, holistic women that are present in the world. Due to the normalization of European beauty standards, Black women become overly critiqued and externally analyzed . They are evaluated too heavily on their appearance, in both professional and social settings; enforcing an institutionalized bias that continues from centuries before. 

America ridicules the image of the African American woman, it is embedded into the foundation of the country. If the women are not being overly sexualized, they are being mocked, called out of their name, and treated without the respect they deserve. “According to Black feminist theory, the devaluation of US Black women is rooted the institution of American slavery.” [1] The concept of treating Black women as sexual commodities derived long before any media platforms could promote that notion. During enslavement, women were forced to be sexual partners to the masters. From young ages, most beginning as teenagers, the masters took advantage of the women to satisfy their lust. “Within the bonds of slavery, masters often felt it their right to engage in sexual activity with black women.” [2] Masters used the enslaved women for not only pleasure, but also as reproductive tools. Each time an enslaved women, gave birth to a child, that baby was now the property of the plantation, and granted more potential income to the slave master. It became a horrific pattern as female slaves were continuously forced to reproduce children who eventually suffered the same fate. Within that process, the women were not allowed to serve as mothers because they were forced to return to their responsibilities on the plantation almost immediately after giving birth. Although the masters chose to treat the young women as objects for their sexual endeavors, they took more pride in violating the married women. This engaged the ridicule of the Black woman, the mockery of her desired commitment to a man.

The instistutionalized discrimination against the African American women remains apparent in modern cultre. Alike many other issues involving Black individuals in America, the prejudice has found new ways to manifest itself over time. Almost 300 years later, Black women remain excessively sexualized, and treated as mockeries of human beings. Body image is one of, if not the most, pressing concern amongst Black females. Women of all ages suffer from a feeling of depreciation, a lack of value. The main prepretror of this devaluement is mainstream culture, the power of the media. “In the past and still today, Black women’s bodies and beauty have largely been devalued and rejected by mainstream culture, which overvalues the European aesthetic and undervalues the esthetic of other racial/ethnic group with the exception of exoticizing them.” [1] Modern media plasters the white, Eurocentric image all over, making it difficult for Black women to see a female like themselves in a positive light. In America, the fair skin, blue eye narrative remains the unofficial standard for beauty. There is no appreciation placed on the image of the Black woman, nothing that promotes the beauty. The hair, the figure, the skin tone all makeup the beauty of the Black female, and these traits are constantly attacked. Whether it is from a white man, or another Black woman; someone always shares their opinion about the appearance of a Black woman. 

Women are sexualized in modern culture, almost any female can be visualized in a lustful manner if desired. With that being said, Black females are most often sexualized in the media, even when it is not coveted. Fetishized by all men and women, Black females are unable to escape the belittlement of being seen as sexual objects. “The perception of the African woman as hyper-sexual made her both the object of white man’s abhorrence and his fantasy.” [2]  It remains difficult for the Black women to leave this narrative behind when the only moments that they are seen as “sexy” come from the times of hypersexualization. Movies, music videos, and photos all portray the same message that the Black woman is most powerful in a lustful light. “Hollywood works hard at perpetuating dehumanizing stereotypes of people of color, and Black women often take the target hit for this.” [3]  

There is no universal standard of beauty; there is no American standard of beauty. Nonetheless, the Black woman does not fit into the institutionalized model of attraction that this country has developed. Why is that the case? The institutionalization began long ago, and has maintained for generations. The promotion of the Eurocentric image continues to cover the American screens. The hypersexualization of the Black female remains present, especially in the media-driven culture of today. The mockery of the Black female still stands as well, where women are critiqued harshly for their physical appearance. The beauty standards for Black women are undoubtedly higher than any other women. Although this social standard ingrained itself in American society, Black women constantly work to restructure the narrative that was created.

David Mitchell




Black Bodies: A Commodity Around the World

What is a commodity? Commodities are hard assets ranging from wheat to gold to oil (Citation 1). Commodities are often seen as products used to assist daily life, whether it is food or any other form of an asset. These items are traded, sold, and transferred throughout the world to where a demand is present. This process was the same for enslaved Africans, they were seen as items who could be sold at anyone’s will. A horrific way to be treated as a human, however that was the reality for those who were enslaved. Although black bodies are no longer being placed on a wooden pedestal to be examined and bid upon, they continue to be seen as commodities. In today’s culture, African Americans continue to be seen as a tradable, moveable item. In Athletics, the workforce, and even within the prison system, black bodies are being seen as simple commodities. 

Slavery was not a choice. Slavery was not an option, nor was it a decision that any free African made to be taken from their homes and brought to foreign land for labor. No human being, for that matter would rather spend their time providing unpaid labor and services without receiving anything in return. While it is understood that slaves did not get paid, they also did not experience any acceptable lifestyle. Once they were brought to the United States, enslaved Africans were sold at auctions across the country, from the rice plantations of the South Carolina coast to the small businesses and farms of the rural Northeast (Citation 2). Slaves were seen as disposable items in the eyes of not only the slave owners, but also any individual who did not share the same black skin. They were commodities of the plantation and treated as such, only being used for cultivating crops and physical labor.

Despite all that was mentioned above, women experienced even worse conditions as products of the slave trade. The idea of black bodies being commodities became literal when it was brought to the point of enslaved African women. Female bodies were treated with less respect than a male’s mainly because they were not typically capable to work in the field. So given that they were not as valuable in such an important aspect of the daily life on the plantation, they received different forms of maltreatment. Women are the child bearers of the universe, so they are important for continuing the world’s population, however many slave and plantation owners did not even see the great value of women in that matter. Their willingness to pay more for men than for women, despite the fact that any children born to enslaved women would also be the slave owners’ property and would thus increase their wealth, suggests that they preferred to buy new enslaved people from Africa rather than bear the costs of raising children (Citation 3). Choosing to purchase a human being as an item, and neglecting to raise one is a clear indication that black bodies were seen as commodities. Instead of simply having a woman give birth and raise her child, (which would be more profitable) slave owners desired to see what they could receive immediately; basing their desire off of the body of the slave. 

In the present day, not much has changed when it comes to seeing the woman’s body as a commodity, especially the black woman. The black woman is sexualized more than any other race, their body is constantly desired. The black woman is often times viewed as more important for her body rather than her brain. Her body is thought to be her most powerful tool, but it is not. Her body is simply the most influential, it is what both men and women see first, and paves the groundwork for first judgement. 

The black woman is the strongest woman in the universe. Aside from the hardships of just having color on their skin, black women must deal with the remarks of misogynistic men about how useful they are in the workforce. Similar to how it was during the times of slavery, a women’s chances of work are judged off of her ability to maintain the pace of work required during pregnancy, and their need for recovery time after childbirth (Citation 4). 

Black bodies are objectified, sexualized, and fetishized to the point where that is all they are seen to be useful for. Africans and African-Americans are valued based off of what they can provide from a physical standpoint, and if it is not much, they are discounted. In athletics, those who can hit the ball the farthest, or leap the highest are valued the most. The black bodies who can continuously exceed physical expectations are more significant, opposed to those who do not. In the entertainment industry, for both men and women alike, the individual with the more attractive body will often rise to the top, no matter the level of talent. Particularly under post industrial capitalism, the ‘‘self-display’’ of the hyper sexualized Black female body is misconstrued as choice or ‘‘marketing’’ because we fail to acknowledge controlling processes (Citation 5). It is a shame that in order to appeal to a mainstream audience black women must overly sexualize their bodies. With black men, their bodies are fetishized by both black and white people. As if it is necessary for survival, the black man must maximize his full physical potential in order to maximize his opportunities. As awful as that sounds, it stems from the systematic oppression of slavery where only the strongest bodies were purchased and valued. Even centuries after the end of slave trade, the system still remains intact to this day. The black body is valued more than the mind, nevertheless, the black body is not valued enough, as it still seen as nothing more than a commodity.

David Mitchell

October 4, 2019

  1. Amadeo, Kimberly. “What Commodities Are and How Its Trading Market Works.” The Balance, 25 June 2019, Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.
  2. DPLA Education Advisory Committee., editor. “The Transatlantic Slave Trade.” Digital Public Library of America, Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.
  3. Paton, Diana. “Enslaved women and slavery before and after 1807.” History in focus, Institute of Historical Research., 2007, Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.
  4. Ibid
  5. Bernard, Akeia A. “Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives.” Sagepub Journals, SAGE, Accessed 3 Oct. 2019.