Why do most white people in the Entertainment industry think they “must” create and maintain a level of animus for the Black “character” using Race as Character while pretending equal opportunity?
Far more often than I care to, I find myself doing what people could call overthinking a meme, a movie, a television show, or some other form of communication or expression where the institution of Entertainment is usually the intent of the expression. I don’t see it that way, since part of my mission to educate is to critically think about those everyday kinds of things we take for granted and for which only surface interest and attention is usually applied. For this reason, very often I will get responses like, “I never thought of it that way,” or “It never occurred to me,” or “I didn’t see this at first,” among others.
These are all great responses because it means I made them think about something much more critically and offered an alternative that they did not originally consider, but having thought it through, they begin, perhaps for the first time, to see the kinds of things I see all of the time.
There are at least two generations of Black people who were lulled into a false sense of security that pretended Race as Color had been replaced by character, when the only thing that changed was the way Race could be manipulated into being seen through character, characterized almost exclusively by two specific bastions of Racism and white supremacy, the institutions of Criminal Justice and the Law, and Entertainment.
So, while watching the series, “Maid” on Netflix I got one of those moments when if I only looked on the surface, which I secretly wish I had the capacity to do when it comes to living within this paradoxical, racist, white supremacism-filled institution of Entertainment, I would say,
“Now how’s that for equal opportunity! A Black woman was cast as the wealthy one surrounded by white struggle for a change.”
It’s certainly not unheard of to see successful Black people in roles and sometimes it works depending on the plot and story line, yet this one gave me a moment where my inner “these jokers are doing it again,” kicked in and gave me pause, along with a rather prolonged, “Hmm.”
Now, it’s not that the series is poorly acted; quite the contrary. I almost immediately gravitated toward the characters and got to “know” them, which is important to keep my interest in any series.
Furthermore, I consider it good because I have at least fifty-six years watching white people on TV and movies being white people. I’m used to it. That’s okay. I am used to all white casts about problems that can be considered universal as well as uniquely white people problems.
Nevertheless, it is also a disappointment.
Here’s the problem for me:
The show made a feeble attempt at “equalizing” the races using their own class caste structure and behavior which fails miserably.
It sends a message all too clear to this critical thinker when it comes to the subliminal, racialized intent inherent within white centered entertainment offerings, and this struggle movie is no different. I don’t even think it’s intentional, which it sometimes is, and of course, not everyone will catch it, which is why I decided to discuss it.
There is an important question I find almost impossible to fathom a guess as to an answer. Why do most white people in the Entertainment industry think they “must” create and maintain a level of animus for the Black “character” using Race as Character. This is not just a play on the term, “character,” but an attempt to help you understand the nature of terms used in the Entertainment industry where the “character” of an individual is defined by the writers, producers and directors who then hire actors to play the character. Understand, this is not really the “character” as a person, but the character of the person. We are conditioned to believe in actors (people) who play characters (people), when the reality is they are actors who play the character defined by the role. This is why you have people who are known specifically as “character” actors. The character is literally created and then acted out. Get it?
This is a story about the “struggle” for white people stuck within their own form of subjugation. It is an economic class caste struggle, where all of the same elements can apply to any other group of human beings, but the writers, producers and directors take great pains to establish this series as a “white” or “trash” struggle for a “better life,” and is the side of white life they don’t typically care to allow the world to see. Then, in a twist I wouldn’t normally expect to see in a plot such as this, they chose to place a Black woman in it — cultured, wealthy and within the white economic class structure, representing the 000.1 percent of Black people at that economic level. Of course, she is one of two of the only Black cast members in the series as recurring actors. The other actor’s character as portrayed is most suited to be in the position she portrays very well.
However, they saw fit to cast the very wealthy Black character as an uncaring, rich bitch without any humanity. Zero, zilch. She has absolutely no empathy until at least eight episodes into the series when she begins to show a modicum of compassion for “the maid,” but the undertone of “Uppity Black Woman” as well as “Angry Black Woman” is still extremely palpable. So, it would seem the average, struggling Black woman has some humanity, but if she’s got money, well…
One could ask, “isn’t that to be expected among the very wealthy? Isn’t that normal behavior for them?” Why must you interject Race into everything? It is expected that we believe this behavior exists and surely many have experienced it firsthand. It is an archetype. Therefore, Race has nothing to do with it. There is no place for Race in this scenario.
Here is where I actually differ dramatically and forthrightly with all of those previous statements to the contrary. Race is in everything. Racism is in everything. White supremacy is in everything. The question is whether you choose to acknowledge that fact or not, and if you do, to what extent do you acknowledge it.
We live in a culture where most white people have only just begun to see the disparities within criminal justice because of the open brutality of the police state for Black people, and some are only just becoming aware of the fragility of their own democracy because of the widening threat to the democracy of Black people whose votes many of them need to keep authoritarianism at bay. Many do not even believe Racism exists systemically or structurally, as evidenced by the fear towards Critical Race Theory, which places Racism squarely into institutional, systemic structures in which Entertainment and Justice reside. Some will not even consider the effects of messages that are sent every day through the medium of Entertainment, whether in music, acting or other forms. In fact, both white and Black people will not harken upon this fact of reality in this country, which is how the institution of Entertainment literally shapes the narrative of Black character through Race as Character.
Anika Noni Rose as Regina is thoroughly convincing in her role which attests to her acting chops. She is performing her job very well and is entirely believable. The reality, of course, is quite different. We know this series is not meant to illustrate fantasy but a microcosm of the average white person and their struggle, so it presupposes this role is considered a true and honest portrayal of wealthy Black women. Still, when you consider the wealth gap among white and Black families at $171,000 net for a typical white family and $17,150 net for a typical Black family, it is ten times less likely that the experience of a white maid in a Black family home will ever be a true and honest portrayal when only one out of ten of these average net worth stats would remotely indicate Black wealth. Moreover, the listed information for a typical white family net worth is considered “average.”¹ That would put the Maid characterization in that class of white people most white people don’t even try to see. I would suppose that was the impetus for the series.
Hey, but it’s just entertainment. Nothing to see here, or perhaps what they want you to think and expect about wealthy Black women. If you think I am being unrealistic about perceptions, ask any resident of this country who has never set eyes on a Black person in life what they think about the character of Black people and then ask yourself where you think they get their perceptions?
To add insult, and perhaps to appease the supremacy gods and the MAGA crowd, the writers ensured her character would literally lack the very thing Black people are stereotyped into living in real life every day by white people.
Humanity through empathy, so necessary as a human characteristic. This is, of course, sorely lacking in this actor’s portrayal of her character’s character.
And what subliminal message is lurking underground you might ask? One that I can’t seem to shrug off is:
“All the money in the world will not make you human. We can even be “poor white trash” and still be more human than you.”
You see, there is always that “we are better than you” supremacy strain loaded in; markers that appear always, sometimes more profoundly, but often subtly, even when they may think they are creating “equality” through diversity and inclusion for roles by casting Black people in roles actually designed for themselves. On a very elementary level, it is just as ridiculous as inserting themselves as “saviors” where they see fit in stories with predominately Black actors.
The sad fact is when Black actors are added to the roster of recurring roles, there are no voices to tell white people they are centering themselves around themselves without considering reality when they are attempting to portray reality. Even when they give the Black viewer a wealthy Black woman, it is only in consideration of their own view of that woman and what they think about her “character.” And Black people are supposed to be grateful we are being included. We are supposed to be thankful for the equal opportunity.
Am I saying you should let this series pass and not watch it? Not at all. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. If you already have, watch it again with new lenses on. What I am saying is there is such a strong need for more Black writers, casting professionals, producers and directors at the tables. That way, there won’t be a thought to casting a Black actor simply because they think they need to show diversity, but because the role is right. A writer or director can stop the scene to say, “she wouldn’t act like this,” or “this is the way this scene should go,” or “no Black woman would do this,” and a producer can say, this entire production needs to be reflective of reality if we are going to attempt to portray reality.