mov_pre_mightyheart_2061.jpgAngelina Jolie is the “new” black these days. From making Africa her new crusade to adopting an African daughter and talking about racial harmony on CNN, Jolie’s so-called altruism is her way to profit from the image of blackness. The new black is also white actors like Jolie in blackface. Jolie is currently starring in the biopic A Mighty Heart as Mariane Pearl, the widow of murdered Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl. Jolie is white, and the real Mariane Pearl is of mixed heritage. (According to news reports, her father is Dutch-Jewish and her mother was Cuban-black-Hispanic-Chinese.) In the film, Jolie’s skin is darkened to appear more African and she is wearing a kinky wig.

Some people argue that since Pearl is of mixed heritage and not dark-skinned, Jolie is acceptable in the role. However, the symbolism of blackface is not about whether a white actor takes on a dark skin tone or light. It is the implicit message being sent that black women in Hollywood–which is slow to capitalize on the bankable quality of black female stars–can be replaced by white women. This certainly isn’t because of a lack of talent.

Movies aren’t just entertainment. There are cultural values embedded in the subtext of films. Movie stars are mythologies of hierarchy created by publicists, studios, and news media. The social constructions of the star-system archetype arose from the days of slavery. Hollywood’s consistent message is that black women are less profitable than white women. The standard by which North American women of all races are measured is the white female: feminine, beautiful, fragile, and perfect. By contrast, Queen Latifah’s mammy performance in the 2002 film Chicago as Matron Mama Morton and her 2003 Bringing Down the House role portray black women as aggressive, hostile, and unattractive.

The last major dramatic film for a black actress was the interracial drama Monster’s Ball. Although Halle Berry won an Oscar, it was degrading: Berry’s character, Leticia Musgrove, was depicted as sexually loose, the aggressor in the interracial sex scene, with the line “Make me feel good” delivered with a sneer. Such scenes shattered some of the respect the black community had for Berry. By contrast in A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie’s character is a pillar of strength, a woman demanding to know what happened to her husband. Since Hollywood is concerned about maximizing its profits, movies must be palatable to a mass market. Jolie was cast as A Mighty Heart’s female lead because she is considered an international draw, not for racial accuracy.

Black feminist bell hooks points out in Outlaw Culture, her groundbreaking book on films in pop culture, that we are controlled by a “White Supremacist Capitalist Patriarchy”. Hooks believes we must be “enlightened witnesses” and be cognizant that we are conditioned to accept whiteness as the centre of the universe. Black women have a long history of being typecast in film primarily as sex objects or maids. A Mighty Heart was the chance for a black actress to shine in a film that showcased the female lead as a three-dimensional person with complex emotions.

A more serious issue is the paucity of leading roles for black women in Hollywood. A Mighty Heart also tackles the rarely portrayed interracial relationship, in this case an interracial marriage between a black woman and a white man. Jolie’s presence in the film is a hindrance as it obscures and ultimately eliminates the real Mariane Pearl altogether. (Women have also asked why Mariane Pearl would allow a white woman to take the female lead in A Mighty Heart.)

Jolie consistently portrays herself as a Hollywood liberal who is against racism. Yet her superficial insensitivity to the plight of black women suggests an unwillingness to be challenged about her own values. What will she teach her daughter about white cultural domination?

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  • coco_fiere

    Jennifer, you’re right. I think if J. Aniston got the rights to this film in the divorce, she would’ve had enough sense and respect to cast a more suitable actress than herself in this role. Brad Pitt’s whipped behind was going to cast his mistress>>baby mama (LOL) regardless. She IS a decent actress yet the media kissing her behind and making this out to be the front runner for next year’s Oscars is ridiculous and premature. I personally think Thandie Newton would have been a much more compelling choice. She can act her butt off and is of mixed heritage like Mrs. Pearl so “tanning/blackface” makeup wouldn’t have been needed. She also masters the nuances of various accents and cultural idiosyncracies better than most in the business. Maybe this decision is just money-based–since “St. Angelina” is selling tabloids like hotcakes, that translates into ticket sales. I’m reading the book instead since this whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

  • The woman’s race is of insignificance, since this movie isn’t about race. Perhaps if people can focus on the message and not the melanin, then they would learn to get over this whole “she isn’t black” kick.

  • TIFFANY

    The role was hand picked by Marianne Pearl herself, not by any producers or casting team. She felt as if Jolie would portray her the best and that her decision. Marianna is made up of so many different cultures that it really did not matter who she picked to play HER in HER movie. I understand that back in the day people painting their faces black was and is an insult to all African-Americans but truth be told Marianna wasnt 100% African-American. Personally, I am an African-American woman who is not offended by her choice. I believe Jolie is a marvelous actress. True enough she could have choosing Halle Berry to play the role and received the same or better effect but she didnt…so, everyone needs to get over it!

  • I agree with Pink, Erica and Hanna…this movie is not about race. It is about a woman’s struggle to deal with the tragic events of her husband’s kidnap and murder. Marianne Pearl does not identify with the black community and she should not be faulted for it. Let’s try and see teh movie for what it is. A story to be told…

  • cutiegirl

    Totally agree with Tiffany. This is not some box office movie. This is a woman’s story about her husband who had his head CUT OFF and videotaped, i saw the video, the whole world saw the video. This is something close to her heart and very personal, it is told by her not some biographer. She is personal FRIENDS with Angelina Jolie before the movie was made. It’s a completely rare situation. I can’t think of another SIMILAR movie…most stories are told when the person has passed on or not by the person themselves.

    Angelina might not look like Marianne, but CLEARLY Marianne thought she looked like Marianne INTERNALLY, the same spirit, they knew each other very very well, had high respect for each other, I think Angelina took her character to a place NO ONE ELSE WOULD OR EVEN COULD, this movie is for Marianne’s beautiful son Adam. I doubt Marianne WHO IS NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF MAKING MOVIES AND PROB NEVER WILL AGAIN, cares whether Lela Rochon, Vivica Fox, or Halle Berry has lost a job opportunity, I can’t see Halle or Angela Bassett playing this role how Angelina did. ANgelina seems to have such a deep personal respect for Mariane.

    In the end, it is a message about LOVE and not succumbing to fear, and coming together of races, and for her son to know the story. Is it really a bad thing for Angelina to have assumed that responsbility???