Jennifer Hudson is the new Aunt Jemima
If you notice, Hollywood loves to give black actors the Oscar for playing the most stereotypical roles possible. For the longest time, the only black person that ever even won an Oscar was the woman who played the Mammy character (I think the character’s name was actually Mammy) in Gone with the Wind. Then Sidney Poitier won one for one of those “magical negro” characters he played in the 1960s.
More recently, Halle Berry and Denzel Washington made history in 2002 when they managed to win the Academy’s top two acting awards for playing a filthy slut who banged Billy Bob Thornton and an angel dust-tootin’ gang banger respectively, in a year in which the Academy just so happened to also present the aforementioned Sidney Poitier with some sort of lifetime achievement award. Hmm…
Hence I was less than surprised when subsequent accolades for black actors included Morgan Freeman receiving a Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the magical negro water boy in Million Dollar Baby; Forest Whitaker getting Best Actor for playing Idi Amin as, essentially, a gorilla in a military uniform; and Jennifer Hudson winning Best Supporting Actress for reviving the Mammy archetype in Dreamgirls.
I was kinda surprised though at the way Jennifer Hudson is being put forth as a new, more progressive standard of beauty. Cracka-ass cracka magazines that usually feature hot, waifish models on the cover are featuring Jennifer Hudson as if to say fat women can be beautiful, too, god damnit! I wonder though if there isn’t a covert racist element to the idea that a fat black woman who can sing is also beautiful.
As pointed out in this Washington Post story a few weeks ago, when mainstream magazines need a fat woman to put on the cover, they ususally reach for a black woman. Of course they suggest that this is positive, but I’m going to go ahead and put forth that it’s negative. At the very least, it suggests that a lesser standard of beaty is necessary for black women, but I seriously doubt that’s all there is to it.
In fact, I wonder if white people aren’t drawn to fat sistas like Jennifer Hudson because their very image calls to mind the old Mammy archetype. I don’t have a link to it, but there was a story in the New York Times not too long ago about how companies love to use Mammy figures to sell various products. Think about it: who wouldn’t want a fat black woman to bring them a plate of pancakes every morning?
Which brings me to my point: Do white people love Jennifer Hudson because they’re genuinely attracted to women with faces like pit bulls and rolls in their necks, or do white people love Jennifer Hudson because she secretly reminds them of pancakes, if not slavery? Maybe it’s the former, but my guess is that it’s the latter. If that’s the case, it would be difficult for me to view her success as of late as a sign of progress.