The Emasculation of the Black Man in the Entertainment Industry
by Steven Malik Shelton
There is a disturbing practice in Hollywood movies and network television programs that involves Black men wearing dresses, lip stick, fake breasts and posteriors and pretending to be women. This happens so often that it is beyond the probability that it is merely random or happenstance.
The most obvious and lucrative example of a Black man’s shameful and toxic attempt to take on the persona of Black womanhood is the slew of feature film performances by Tyler Perry with his Madea character invention and television and book productions.
Passed off as amusement or comedy, these fabrications have resulted in over a billion dollars in revenue for Tyler Perry and White parent companies and corporations.
In previous decades, the Black characters in movie plots were usually killed early in the film and almost always taken out before the last reel. In contemporary film making, although the Black character may survive the entire movie and may well be the star or protagonist in the script, there are other methods and techniques used to deliver destructive blows to his image and validity as a man. To, in effect, demean and reduce him as a symbol of strength, courage, and virility and to ‘kill him off’ in other more subtle, insidious and effective ways.
The show business penchant of parading Black men around in dresses received its genesis in the modern era with the Flip Wilson Show that aired in the 1970’s on NBC and showcased Wilson’s “Geraldine” character. This was followed by other Black-man-in-drag performances such as Martin Lawrence as ‘Shenahnah,’ Jamie Fox as ‘Wanda,’ Eddie Murphy’s performance as a transvestite on Saturday Night Live and later in his movie career. Film star Will Smith played a homosexual in the movie, Six Degrees of Separation. Wesley Snipes, Chris Tucker and Ving Rhames were all called upon to parody women early in their film careers and Rhames played a character that was raped in the movie, Pulp Fiction. Comedian David Chappell was pressured to put on a dress and a women’s wig as part of a comedy skit opposite Martin Lawrence. To Chappel’s credit he adamantly refused to do so (perhaps resulting in his lack of exposure in television and movies in recent years).
Movies and television shows are the most powerful and influential medium for molding perceptions and opinions, and because of this, they are much more than mere entertainment and are highly charged political vehicles in the sense of one group of people maneuvering for an advantage over another.
The masculine Black man is perceived as a threat to the White power structure on many levels. This is not new development, but has remained so since the initial mass contacts with Whites in the 13th century which led to the plunder of the American continent and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
This fear and hatred increased when Whites realized that that they were significantly outnumbered by Blacks in many areas of America, and they instituted psychological safeguards to render the Black man timid, passive and docile in the face of systematic White violence, exploitation and intimidation.
A similar phenomenon occurred in he early 1970’s when White power elites orchestrated a cultural and psychological upheaval in the collective Black psyche that transformed them from the militant pro-Black and afro-centric mentality of the 1960’s to the effeminate ‘Superfly’ and ‘Mack’ mentality where natural hair styles were turned into straightened shoulder length displays, and the stark, rugged clothing of the urban guerilla was changed to garish costumes with flowing robes, high- heeled platform shoes and shoulder bags. And the manly activity of freedom fighting and nation building was usurped by the relatively meek and cowardly vocations of pimping and dope dealing
The demeaning spectacle of Black male actors parading around in women’s attire and mocking feminine attributes is yet another calculated assault on the masculine strength of the Black man. It is, in effect, no laughing matter.