Angry Black Women in Film & Television
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called an angry black woman. Okay, now raise it again if you were actually angry at that particular time.
Honestly, I was called it so much during my time in graduate school that I became immune to it. Where I was simply passionate or firm in my position on a particular topic, others saw anger and aggression. It became such a normal thing that I began to question my own feelings. Was I an angry black woman? Was I too mean? Was I too intimidating for the workplace? Was I difficult?
It agitated me that people saw me as angry when, most times, I was the furthest thing from it. Sometimes, I want to say screw it all and say “I’ll show you angry.” However, I realize that as a black woman, society will not allow me to be angry in public. If I was, I would only be proving their point. Furthermore, I would undoubtedly be held up as an example to further somebody’s stereotypical, racist, and/or sexist agenda. I would lose the respect that I worked twice as hard to earn, and it would be damn near impossible to gain it back. So, I’ve learned to find some sort of catharsis through the rage expressed by black women in television and film.
I’m not going to lie. The penultimate episode of this season’s “Insecure” triggered me. When Issa started destroying her apartment, my first thought was “Oh no baby, what is you doing?!” But as the scene progressed, I felt some sort of satisfaction and release from watching Issa basically ruin any chance of getting her security deposit back.
I’ve been there. I’ve had so many bad things happen that I thought I was going to lose it. There were times when I was pissed and my ‘tolerance for bullshit’ cup was running over. I’ve wanted to throw things, scream until I was hoarse, and flip tables like it’s 1996 at the Source Awards. So yes, I empathized with the rage burning through Issa’s veins like liquid fire, and at some point, I found myself screaming “FUCK IT UP ISSA” ‘at the television.
At the end of the episode, I thought about the other times where I found relief from watching black women fully embrace their strongest emotion: rage. My first thought was one of the most iconic scenes in Blackbuster film history.
“Fuck the family! I let the family in my house and you know what? The family fucked my husband.” Who can forget when Teri pulled that knife on Miles in the kitchen because she found out that he had slept with her cousin under her own damn roof?! I wasn’t mad at her. I felt that betrayal just as viscerally as I did when Bernie found out that her husband was leaving her for a white woman in “Waiting to Exhale.”
When she dragged that little red wagon through that house, ripped all of his clothes out of the closet as she screamed and raged, only to burn it in a Volvo in her front yard, I stood from my seat and applauded. I FELT THAT. I, too had been deeply hurt by someone I had loved, invested in, and almost gave everything. I wished that I could been like Cookie and went through his house with a baseball bat to destroy all of his fancy, expensive things, but I knew that my bank account (and Judge Mathis) would probably have something to say about that.
When Katherine Johnson was sick and tired of running a mile in the rain just to use a bathroom, I understood her frustration. No, my situation was not like hers, but I was sick and tired of walking into every room and suddenly becoming the “Africa” expert because I was the only black person there.
I had to go to Timbuktu just to find another WOC in my field, and God if that doesn’t burn the bottom of my damn biscuits that it’s still a problem in 2017. And sometimes I felt like Kimberly Elise in "John Q.," where it felt like my world was literally ending, and I needed somebody to just do something. DO ANYTHING instead of just stare at me and expect me to have all of the fucking answers.
And no, I didn’t condone Minny making that “special” chocolate pie for Miss Hilly, but I knew why she did it. Revenge was a dish best served in a pie pan with a dollop of Cool Whip.
There’s countless of other scenes from great movies and television shows that I have used as coping mechanisms during dark times. No, it’s not right, and yes, a therapist would probably have a field day with my mind, but it is what it is.
Society is not a place where it’s ready to open its eyes and learn the difference between angry and passionate where black women are concerned. If you’ve never reached a point in your life where you were just ready to put “Knuck if You Buck” on repeat and see what happens, then you are truly blessed and highly favored.
But for those of us who have had those moments, I hope you too find some sort of comfort from watching these women express the emotions that society forces us to repress. Their expression, in whatever form it takes, makes me feel less guilty about having those same feelings within myself.
It feels good to watch them because being called an ‘angry black woman’ has become so normalized that it’s refreshing to see what true anger really looks like. I’m not ashamed of it. Not only is my conscious clear afterwards, but my bank account isn’t missing any zeroes, and I don’t have to call my parents to bail me out. You can’t beat that.