Saturday, May 15, 2010

"True Blood" race fail: Jezebel rides again

Ya'll know I love HBO's True Blood series like I love my mom's dressing on Thanksgiving. But the show's writing team clearly doesn't know what to do with black folks. For a fictional town in Louisiana, Bon Temps is awfully monochromatic. Though, I guess Alan Ball and co. deserve some "props" for doing better than than the books on which the show is based. Author Charlaine Harris rarely paints a black person that isn't a stereotype or a cipher. Ball gives us Lafayette (a minor character who dies at the end of book one in Harris' story ) and Tara (white in the book, new black Tara is essentially a sassy, black sidekick). But even for a less than racially conscious show, the mini-episode above is some hot buttered bullshit.

The scene: Eric, the proprietor of the vamp nightclub Fangtasia, and his henchwoman, Pam. are holding open auditions for new dancers. We're treated to a parade of stiff, gyrating and inappropriately-dressed yokels, and then Jezebel takes the state--or rather a walking representation of the stereotype. A black woman sans "draws" and bra, breasts peeking from the bottom of her crop top, tongue protruding, sneer fixed, gyrating and shaking ass aggressively, bending over to display her backside, all to a hip hop track.

Consider the portrayals of black women in the True Blood universe. We have Tara, a take no shit Sapphire, and a minor character--Kenya, a full-figured, stern cop. Now, in this very special mini-episode, we get a sexually aggressive video vixen. It seems that the writers of True Blood can only draw black women who are telling folks what's what, dropping it like it's hot or standing mutely by in service--how very original.

The other wanna-be dancers in the mini-episode are treated as obvious jokes. There is a fleshy man clad in gold booty shorts and one wearing a cowboy hat and little else. There is a metal chick and a wan-looking woman in a leotard and wrap one might wear to ballet class. None are dancers. They are rhythm-less, stiff and awkward, and that is the joke. It is ridiculous for them to think they might go-go dancers in a popular nightclub. The black woman is a dancer. The joke in her case seems to be simply that she is a black woman. Is there a joke if the dancer, instead of a scantily-clad black woman, is a suggestively gyrating Pamela Anderson type? Think about that and then hold that thought.

It is also interesting to note Eric and Pam's reactions to the black dancer. Pam, who is a lesbian in Harris' books and ambiguous in True Blood, is mildly aroused, but the tall, blond Viking, who has become female fan favorite, is unmoved. "Next!" It is okay for Pam to be intrigued by this black woman, but not our hero (or anti-hero, depending how you feel about Eric). In fact, moments later, in slinks a brunette, Russian-accented dancer is a micro-bikini top, tight, spandex pants, sky-high heels and a fur jacket. Her sexuality, though overt, is desirable. Eric and Pam fight over the opportunity to "audition" her alone. We never see her dance. We have no idea if she has any skill. But she is clearly the chosen one.

True Blood's deft mix of humor and drama and action is one of the reasons I am such a fan of the show. This tired bit that relies on nothing but very old racial stereotype is beneath the show and certainly beneath the black women I know, who deserve a hell of a lot better.


Moe said...

OMG it's like a bad episode of America's Got Talent or So You Think You Can Dance.

I'm still on Season One, we're behind up here, but Lafayette was one of my favorites and I was disappointed he was killed off. I kept thinking he'd come back in another season as a vamp but guess not.

This was an interesting read, you brought up many points I had not considered.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

I have never seen the show but I watched this mini-episode and your analysis sounds spot-on. I'm not sure why the fellow had to roll his eyes at the (obviously very skilled) black dancer. Oh, and yes, her sexuality was overt - but um, this is a nightclub, right? And as for sexuality the "desirable" dancer at the end (who we don't see dance and have every reason to believe traded on sexual favors to get the job) was no less so. Hot buttered bullshit indeed.

Kjen said...

honestly, in abstract, i don't mind when characters are motherly, "sassy"/outspoken or even stern, authoritative, but i really dislike how these characteristics seem to instantly render you as "undesirable".
Sometimes, I wonder if the characters are analyzed this way just because they are black, but ultimately
I think it is because all of these roles seem to pose a 'threat' (each stereotype in their own way holds power and wisdom independent of the men in their lives) to the hierarchy where men lead.

the jezebel stereotype, one of the few stereotypes where black women are seen as objects of desire, falls more in line with traditional/dependent female, so i was disappointed and a little hurt that her playing by the rules was not rewarded with admiration and lust of my two fave leads in the video just because she was black.

Kjen said...

quick question: why do you think it matters that pam and not erik seems, mildly, aroused by the black dancer?

does the lust seem to be less important or worthy because the master/creator vampire and male no less, isn't interested?

Tami said...


Because generally in pop culture a white, hetero male's sexual preferences are privileged--that's
Why I think it is significant that Eric is disinterested.

Kelly Hogaboom said...

Tami, I was wondering also if part of it is that Erik is a major player in the implicit POV of the show. Like much media (tv and movies) often have a character (hero or anti-hero) whom we are supposed to either identify with or see as the hero of the story. Therefore their actions carry a special significance. Again, I have not seen the show so I can't weigh in on if that's what's happening here. But I do think shows often have a POV that lives through the choices and preferences of central characters.

mmmj said...

Horrible. I had a hard time imagining it would be as bad as it was until I watched it. What could the joke be except that she's black? I wonder, too, what the writers TOLD themselves the joke was--I don't see anything else even plausible, but it seems unlikely they would be that straight with themselves.

Tami said...


I agree with that, too. In the scheme of the story, Eric is an important character. It matters what he likes and wants. more so than Pam, a secondary character.

Anonymous said...

Tonight I watched TrueBlood. I was excited to see the show until they got to Tara. OMB! Could you really be more stereotypical with a character as the writers are with her and Lafayette. Omg! Right Now Lafayette isn't as much gay as he seems an androgynous, Oh I'd say 50 year old black woman in a young black man's body. He sports a 5 o'clock shadow in a dude's watch with a woman's jersey dress on. He has more sense than all the woman in his family, Tara included. Yet he's alone. If he is gay his loved isn't around and he is alone. Tara'S love is dead. Their parents are both nut jobs. I find these kind of stereotypical characters terribly disappointing. Then on top of that Sookie gets all the love and options. She has two men at her disposal. Ugh! Surely the writer can be a bit more creative or maybe it doesn't matter because she isn't in a leading role. Gosh, I just hope it gets better.

Anonymous said...

tami, thanks for having this blog. I can't not even begin to say how frustrated I am with negative roles of black women. Though I see in my own life and everyday very different existance than the ones that are depicted on tv. also, I notice that the images of black women who look of African descent are slowly fading from the limelight. I find this bothersome. So thanks for your posts that provide a little more insight than the typical reasons for shutting these women out or in.


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