Jenice Armstrong | A lousy stereotype
You see these plus-sized, wise-talking women in commercials hawking products such as Pine Sol and on the big screen - sometimes played by male actors dressed in fat suits. Old stereotypes die hard. And no matter how far the advertising and movie industries have come, the image of the overweight, loud-mouthed black woman is one that the bosses just can't seem to let go of.
On Tuesday, I wrote about "Norbit," the latest movie to exploit the altogether-too-familiar racial caricature. The movie stars Eddie Murphy, who plays a morbidly obese woman who coerces a nerdy guy, also played by Murphy, into marrying him.
Lately, there's been a spate of films featuring black male actors doing the drag-in-fat-suit thing. I'm referring to Martin Lawrence in that disaster of a movie, "Big Momma's House 2," Tyler Perry in "Madea's Family Reunion" and Murphy in "The Nutty Professor" and other movies. In each, otherwise-talented actors sink to goofing on overweight black women for the sake of a joke - and, no doubt, a hefty paycheck. At any rate, I'm not alone in being so over this. Since Tuesday, I've been getting e-mails from readers similarly offended by this kind of misogynistic humor.
Payne Brown, a Chestnut Hill parent concerned about his daughter, had this to say: "I think the portrayal of black women as overweight, overbearing or ass-shaking, over-sexed vixens is evidence of the entertainment industry's hatred of black women . . . How else can one explain Flava Flav and now, ('I Love) New York' - VH1's contribution to the assault?"
(Don't get me started on the ghetto-acting New York aka Tiffany Pollard from the "Flavor of Love" spinoff "I Love New York." That's a whole other column.)
Then, there was a white reader married to a black woman who wrote, "I, personally, don't find anything funny about a man dressed as a woman, a man dressed as a fat woman or a black man dressed as a fat black woman . . . I guess these fellows will keep making these sorry movies as long as blacks pay to see them."
"Eddie Murphy has made a career out of denigrating black folks from Buckwheat to 'Coming to America' to 'The Klumps' to 'The Nutty Professor,' " another reader pointed out.
Why would Murphy, who has been nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actor for his role in "Dreamgirls," continue to resort to this kind of humor? Because there's phat money in it.
The first "Big Momma's House" made $25.7 million in its debut weekend back in 2000. And when "Big Momma's House 2" debuted six years later, it experienced the biggest January opening since the 1997 re-release of "Star Wars: Special Edition." What's more, the very next month, "Madea's Family Reunion" opened to the tune of $30 million during its first week.
"It's unsophisticated. It's primal. It's as basic as you can get," Mel Watkins, author of "On the Real Side: A History of African-American Comedy (Lawrence Hill Books, $16.95), told me earlier this week. "I don't think you'll ever get rid of it."
Especially if moviegoers continue to shell out good money to see it. *