“Mama, Mama you know I love you…Mama, Mama you’re the Queen of my Heart…”
You know that song, right? Surely you remember when Boys II Men had us all hugging our Moms every Mothers’ Day after hearing it over the radio for the 10th time. With their 90s hit, those Men from Boys painted the picture that Mothers are perfect human beings, who always care and nurture their children, and as a result should be loved and worshipped “for all time”.
They used a hit song to honor black mothers...& then there was an era of amazing black TV moms. These shows made you feel like Black Mothers had Superpowers. Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show (lets just focus Phylicia Rashad as the ideal parent and leave the other guy out of this OK!) was all our quick wit Doctor Mother.
What about Aunt Viv from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (original ‘dancing’ Viv AND replacement ‘take no mess’ Viv) who had us all celebrating other Mom figures in our lives.
Let me just add in Blackish’s Bow for you young folks who didn’t watch the classics. Bow is full Black Girl Magic defined with the prestigious career, marriage, and birthing of five beautiful children. When you think about Black Mother role models on TV these are examples that give us all the warm feels.
What about in movies?? Is it just me or do you get less of “Mama” by Boys II Men and more of “Dear Momma” by Tupac vibes on the big screen?
“We were poorer than the other little kids…crack fiend Mama…a poor single mother on welfare…”
Hey Pac said it, not me! You don’t have to search too hard to find a plethora of movies where they love to show a struggling black mother trying to overcome some sort of stereotypical trauma.
I mean we get it…abuse, baby daddy drama, drugs, alcohol…these things happen, but why is it so much easier to write that character for melanated mothers? Even if it isn’t blatant, there always seems to be the trend of a “battle” whether internal or external with my fellow brown skin mothers. Lets talk some examples:
Precious…WHEW LAWD…LISTEN…I KNOW this is an extreme example (shoutout to Mo’Nique for her portrayal that kept me up at night) but think about how popular this movie became outside our community. It made a star of Gabourey Sidibe, but it also hit every note of how black mothers can be the root of young black children’s trauma, because of their own unhealed trauma.
Soul Food…Big Mama (played by Irma P. Hall) YES, she was the foundation and glue that held her family together, but she had a flaw that we find common in our community’s older generation…stubbornness! She ignored symptoms of her diabetes (a disease more prevalent in African American women) and ended up losing her leg...& ultimately her life.
Love and Basketball…yes Love and Basketball…shocked? Well, you may not remember or even care since her role in the movie was minor, but Monica (Sanaa Lathan)’s Mother played by Alfre Woodard was extremely critical of her daughter and even went so far as to make her feel undeserving of a man she knew her daughter genuinely loved. Turns out she later admitted being jealous of her OWN daughter…that ugly green monster smh!
Yeaaa, so I know I probably brought up some bad memories for some people and there's plenty more where that came from. Holiday Heart, Eve's Bayou, Losing Isaiah...
I’m not going to just leave you hanging with the idea that if you ever decide to break into SHOWBIZ that you have to play a complicated character that is riddled with past traumas. Here's some examples where black actresses showed the world that we are more than baby mommas, drugged out, or dealing with constant trauma.
Jamie “he so fine” Foxx did his THING when he portrayed Legend Ray Charles. But you know that saying, “behind ever great man…”. Ray’s Mother, Aretha Robinson played by Sharon Warren was the biggest unsung SHERO in the movie (a debate could be made for Ray’s wife played by Kerry Washington). She raised Ray to be independent and strong despite his disability. “Don’t let anybody turn you into a cripple!” she repeated to him, which he accredits for pulling him thru his addiction to drugs. She also sent him off to a Blind School in Mississippi when she realized there was nothing more she could teach him. Saying goodbye to her child for his betterment is probably the most admirable ‘BEST MOM’ moment on the big screen…where is her Oscar?
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
yes, we know…Brad Pitt…and YES, he is UNDENIABLY FINE himself, but not at the beginning of this movie! He plays Benjamin Button who is born with the appearance of an elderly man. He is left abandoned by his biological father on a doorstep and who takes him in and cares for him as her own? Queenie aka Taraji P. Henson! Both Brad and Taraji were nominated for Academy Awards, but if you ASK ME, Taraji should have won SOMETHING! Here she is a BLACK WOMAN working in a nursing home, unable to carry her own child, taking in a seemingly ailing white baby with no background information and loving him unconditionally. At least they gave her a proper name…hail to Queenie!
Though it was challenging to think of positive black mother roles in films, we gathered a few more. Look no further than Black Panther’s QUEEN MOTHER, Ramonda (Angela Bassett…PERIOD) and Coming to America’s Prince Akeem’s QUEEN MOTHER, Aoleon (Madge Sinclair…the late and great). They both were regal in their portrayals as royals, but more importantly supportive, loving Black mothers.
Let me just say this: positive or negative…BROWN SKIN WOMEN…lets not look to outside characterizations of what outsiders choose to promote and try to sell us. Remember we are ALL BLACK QUEENS and just trying our best to REPRESENT for each other and our kids.
Sisters and fellow Queens, in Beyonce’s infamous words, tell them to “BOW DOWN!”
Melanated Motherhood Blog Contributor