The Oscars & the Black Female Image

Zondra Hughes, Chicago Now, February 2, 2010

The oversexed siren and the asexual, overweight Mammy are among the dominant caricatures of Black women, according to Tom Burrell, one of the most successful ‘ad men’ in modern history and author of an explosive new book.

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In 2004, Burrell announced his retirement from Burrell Communications Group. Today he’s rewired–having released a riveting new book, Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority (SmileyBooks, February, 2010), which no advertising exec would want the urban consumer to read.

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Two Black Women: the Mammy & the Siren

The oversexed siren and the asexual, overweight Mammy are among the dominant caricatures of Black women, according to Tom Burrell, one of the most successful ‘ad men’ in modern history.

Of the two, the Mammy is especially controversial.

Aunt Jemima (portrayed by Nancy Green, a bandana-wearing, full-figured black cook), made her world debut in Chicago, at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893. Green happily flipped pancakes with the new self-rising flour, as she told cheery down-home stories.

Fast forward.

On December 15, 1939, 20th century Confederates packed Atlanta’s Loew’s Grand Theater for the world premiere of the civil war saga, Gone With the Wind, where another Mammy would make her debut. Hattie McDaniel, who made history as the first African American woman to win an Academy Award for her portrayal of the doting Mammy in the film, wasn’t invited to the premiere. But her presence was felt–while Atlanta’s Big Bethel choir, clad in costumes of the old South, serenaded Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh with Black spirituals, the Atlanta black press pounced on McDaniel for her role in the film.

Fast forward.

Decades later, Aunt Jemima and Mammy remain sore spots for many black women–fueling the complicated, yet blossoming underground resistance to Precious. Translation: It’s beautiful that Gabourey Sidibe can be the face of self-acceptance and self love; it’s tragic that her spring board is the ghetto tale, Precious.

Writes NY Press film critic Armond White, “Not since The Birth of a Nation has a mainstream movie demeaned the idea of black American life as much as Precious. Full of brazenly racist clichés (Precious steals and eats an entire bucket of fried chicken), it is a sociological horror show.”

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African-American Film Critics Association Selects “Precious” As Top Film of 2009

Organization Will Present Awards at First Annual Live Event

Los Angeles, CA (December 14, 2009)–The African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) has named “Precious” as the Best Picture of 2009. Directed by Lee Daniels, the Lionsgate release captured a majority vote by the organization, which is comprised of African-American media professionals from across the nation. Founded in 2003, the organization will present this year’s honors at its first live event tonight, Monday, December 14, 2009, at the historic Ebony Repertory Theatre in Los Angeles.

Morgan Freeman was selected as Best Actor 2009 for “Invictus.” Nicole Beharie earned AAFCA recognition as Best Actress 2009 for “American Violet.” With the first unanimous vote in an acting category in the organization’s history, Mo’Nique was selected Best Supporting Actress for “Precious.” Anthony Mackie earned Best Supporting Actor recognition for his performance in “The Hurt Locker.” Lee Daniels was named Best Director for “Precious,” with a tie for Best Screenplay between Ron Clements, Rob Edwards, John Musker for “The Princess & The Frog” and Geoffrey Fletcher for “Precious.”

“In 2009, the film community produced a dazzling array of performances from African-American talent both in front of and behind the camera,” states Gil Robertson IV, AAFCA Co-Founder. “This year’s selections give a strong indication that the film community is becoming more committed to a wider range of stories that entertain and educate.”

AAFCA bestows Special Achievement Award to Michael Jackson, whose seminal film “This Is It” captured a lifetime of exemplary creative expression.

The organization’s Top Ten list of film honors includes “Up In The Air,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Good Hair.” “The films selected for 2009 reflect a fascinating combination of work that both entertains and addresses themes and issues of cultural importance,” remarks AAFCA President, Wilson Morales, editor of Blackfilm.com.

AAFCA 2009 Film Selections

The African-American Film Critics Association’s Top Ten Films of 2009 are as follows in order of distinction:

1. Precious

2. The Princess and The Frog

3. Up In The Air

4. The Hurt Locker

5. This Is It

6. American Violet

7. Goodbye Solo

8. Medicine for Melancholy

9. Good Hair

10. Up

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