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Beyond Madea and Mary Jones: My Hope

I can't begin to say how happy I was for Mo'Nique's Best Supporting Actress Oscar win, for the glowing tribute Oprah gave to Gabby Sidibe and the bright future she has, for Sandra Bullock winning for a role that had more depth than she's been able to show in a long, long time. I cheered for Katherine Bigelow and at the same time felt some sorrow that the first woman to win an Oscar for directing wasn't Barbra Streisand, who wasn't even nominated for "Yentl."

Once my euphoria died down, it hit me: Maybe Sandra and Katherine will be presented with a host of challenging projects and wonderful opportunities, but Gabby and Mo'Nique probably won't.

Although we don't have a plethora of black female Oscar winners -- Hattie McDaniel, Halle Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Jennifer Hudson, and now Mo'Nique -- it seems that Hollywood just doesn't seem to know quite what to do with black female Oscar winners, or even black female Oscar nominees -- Ruby Dee, Diana Ross (who was robbed for "Lady Sings The Blues"), Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Sophie Okonedo, Taraji P. Henson, Queen Latifah, even Oprah herself. Seems to me that if a black woman isn't playing someone tragic or just tragically cartoonish, she isn't playing much at all on the big screen. Yes, there are more opportunities than ever before, but is that really saying much?

Surely there must be opportunities for black women film actresses beyond the characters of Madea and Mary Jones. And Madea isn't even played by a woman.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I'm not knocking Tyler Perry's Madea or Sapphire's Mary Jones. Although I find Madea to be cartoonish and over-the-top, I'd be lying if I said she didn't remind me of some of the women in my family. And I appreciate that Perry at least tries to include a message, however heavy-handed, in all of his movies. And, truth be told, the Mary Joneses of the world do indeed exist, in all races and both genders.

But there's so much more to the African American female experience than Madea and Mary Jones. Is it because we reward the Madea- and Mary Jones-type roles that Hollywood thinks we won't reward anything else that demonstrates the breadth and depth of the African American female experience? I'd like to believe wider and deeper kinds of roles will be forthcoming for Gabby Sidibe and Mo'Nique, and not just when a best-selling white author is wonderfully and laudibly adept at capturing the breadth and depth of our experiences (Sue Monk Kidd's "The Secret Life of Bees" and, I would imagine, Kathryn Stockett's "The Help"), but when a black author does, too. Can someone tell me why Edward P. Jones' "The Known World" or J. California Cooper's "In Search of Satisfacton" hasn't made it to the big screen yet? Or anything by Octavia Butler or Pearl Cleage?

I understand that Gabby Sidibe has snagged a role on a television show, and Mo'Nique, God bless her, has her own show. My hope for Mo'Nique, Gabby, and all the Oscar-nominated fabulous black actresses who preceded them is that they will be afforded equal and ample opportunities to practice their craft and show the world that there's so much more to us than gun-toting drag grannies and unsympathetic abusers.

Or better yet, I hope they create their own opportunities.


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