WASHINGTON WATCH: Confronting Negative Images Of Black Women In Moves And On Television (VIDEO)

If you believe most of the images of black women you see in movies and on television, or the words you hear used to describe sisters in music, you get the impression that they are mean, spiteful, crazy, out-of-control, always at each other’s throats and only interested in shaking their butts, servicing their men and getting in their pockets.

Roland Martin sat down with some women here to challenge those images. They are actresses, Robinne Lee, Essence Atkins, Noree Victoria from “The Ricky Smiley Show” on TV One and Jackée.


MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back, folks.

If you believe most of the images of black women you see in movies and on television, or the words you hear used to describe sisters in music, you get the impression that they are mean, spiteful, crazy, out-of-control, always at each other’s throats and only interested in shaking their butts and servicing their men and getting in their pockets.  No, seriously.  That’s pretty much what it comes down to.

Well, we have some women here to challenge those images.  They are actresses, Robinne Lee –


MR. MARTIN:  — hey, Robinne – Essence Atkins –


MR. MARTIN:  — Noree Victoria –


MR. MARTIN:  — from “The Ricky Smiley Show” on TV One – thought I’d go ahead an’ pop that in – and, of course, Jackée.

What’s hap’nin’?

JACKÉE:  That’s all I get – is “of course, Jackée”?

MR. MARTIN:  Well, first of all, you know, you the only one with one name!


MR. MARTIN:  Think about it.  Everybody else got a last name.  You just Jackée.

OFF CAMERA:  Jackée.

MR. MARTIN:  So, how you more [when] all you got is one name?

JACKÉE:  [Laughs.]


MR. MARTIN:  All right.  … you know, on this show we talk a lot about images and what we look like and what we sound like.  And for you, when you’re watching television, and when you’re watching movies, are you sitting there, going, “I can’t believe I’m looking at this nonsense – what I’m seeing right here”?

MS. ATKINS:  It depends on what we’re watching; but oftentimes, yeah, I’m kind of horrified.  I was in the dressing room – this was about two years ago.  I’m in the dressing room of “Are We There Yet,” and the makeup artists are watching a clip of the “Real Housewives of Atlanta,” and –

MS. LEE:  Yeah.

MS. ATKINS:  — and it was the clip where, you know, they get into a fight, and somebody hi- — and I was like, “Why are you watching this?”  Like, “Aren’t you embarrassed?  Aren’t you just horrified by the fact that these are grown women – not just grown women, but grown women with children, and this is the image … the behavior that we’re seeing?”

And they’re like, “Oh, yeah.  I didn’t think about it like that.”

OFF CAMERA:  [Laughs.]

MR. MARTIN:  “But I’mma keep watching it.”

OFF CAMERA:  Yeah, they do.

MS. VICTORIA:  [Crosstalk] – don’t have a choice but to think about it like that.  And it’s really disappointing, because there are young girls coming up, and they’re watching this, and this is how they’re learning to solve their problems –

MS. LEE:  Right.  These become their role models, unfortunately.

MS. VICTORIA:  — exactly – when they’re in the cafeteria, when they’re in the classroom, when they’re on the school bus.  And that’s horrifying to me, because it’s like, “What are they doing?”  What are they learning?  And I feel like kids that are born in the 2000s – unfortunately, they have a very limited perspective of seeing us interact.  You know, we’ve had “227,” and we’ve had “The Cosby Show,” and “A Different World” and shows like that.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. VICTORIA:  And now we have shows where we’re throwing drinks in each other’s faces.


MS. LEE:  Yeah, but I mean I think you get a lot of that in those reality shows, like all the “housewives” shows.  I try to stay –


JACKÉE:  I don’t’ see it.

MS. LEE:  — away –

JACKÉE:  I disagree –

MS. LEE:  — from them –

JACKÉE:  — with all of you.

MS. LEE:  — because – well, because I think they –

JACKÉE:  I think that women –

MS. LEE:  — they draw attention.

JACKÉE:  I think women –

MS. LEE:  They want the ratings.

JACKÉE:  — in general – white, Hispanic – we all come off like we’re aggressive and spit-fire, and nobody has that serial killer tone like Hillary had the other day when she was –


JACKÉE:  — [bangs the desk] she was forthright.  She was strong.

MS. VICTORIA:  She lost it.

JACKÉE:  No, but she wasn’t loud.  She just let – she laid down the law –

OFF CAMERA:  Yeah, she was great.

JACKÉE:  — without being all of that, in-your-face.  That’s what I resent.

MR. MARTIN:  But – but –

JACKÉE:  We’re not all in-your-face.

MR. MARTIN:  — but here’s the deal.  Well, I think about your character from “227.”  To me, I don’t have a problem with over-the-top when we know it’s fiction.

JACKÉE:  Yeah.

MR. MARTIN:  But there’s a difference between over-the-top and –

OFF CAMERA:  And reality.

MR. MARTIN:  — just flat-out crazy.



OFF CAMERA:  Right, right.

MR. MARTIN:  That’s what drives me nuts.


MR. MARTIN:  And so even I, as a man – I have nine nieces, and I’m sitting there going, “Trust me.  Act like that [and] see what happens.”

MS. LEE:  Um-hum.


MS. ATKINS:  Right.

JACKÉE:  Michelle Obama does not act like that at home with those kids.  It’s slow, quiet tones.  “Okay.  This is what I want you to do, baby.  Go in the bathroom ‘n’ brush your teeth.”  It’s not – [raises her voice, with lots of neck action] – “Go in the bathroom!  You brush yo’ teeth, baby!  You don’t do it, I’ll be back out!”  No.

MS. VICTORIA:  Then – [crosstalk].

MR. MARTIN:  Well, actually –


MR. MARTIN:  — actually, Michelle’s momma –


MR. MARTIN:  — Michelle’s momma, Mrs. Robinson, she don’t even say nothin’.  She just throw a look like – [gives a sideways glance] – “Act a fool.”

OFF CAMERA:  One look – right.  “We at it!”


MS. VICTORIA:  But did you see the look Michelle gave Malia when she pulled out her cell phone during the inauguration?

MR. MARTIN:  Uh-huh.


MS. VICTORIA:  I saw that.

MS. ATKINS:  And that was enough.  She was like, “Okay!”


MR. MARTIN:  She was like, “Yeah.  There won’t be any pictures.  Gotcha.  All right.”


JACKÉE:  [Crosstalk] – generation, see[?].  And Essence just had a baby, and this is a  young girl, and … they’re all saying the same thing.  They don’t like seeing it.


JACKÉE:  And nobody’s talks about it.

MR. MARTIN:  But –


MR. MARTIN:  — I guess what jumps out – and I was on CNN.  We had a couple of “Mob Wives” on, and trust me.  My whole expression said, “Y’all know I don’t watch this show.”


MR. MARTIN:  And one of the women said it.  She said, “Look, our ratings go up when there’s more fighting and more” –


MR. MARTIN:  — “drama.”

And so, for African-Americans, we are gravitating to this stuff.  And for me, it’s crazy.  That’s why – look, and I know all y’all appreciate this.  I’m a huge fan of scripted shows.  I’m trying to get all y’all jobs.


MS. VICTORIA:  Thank you!

MR. MARTIN:  I don’t want to see somebody –

JACKÉE:  Well, all of us have jobs here – thank you.


JACKÉE:  She in a movie – [crosstalk] –


MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, I’m trying to give you more jobs.  But I’m just saying that –


MS. ATKINS:  Here – here’s the thing –

MR. MARTIN:  — there’s an appreciation of scripted –

MS. ATKINS: — that is a misnomer – is that people believe that this is somehow reality.  It’s not.  All of these situations are crafted.  They’re designed.

MS. LEE:  They’re contrived –

MS. ATKINS:  They’re contrived.

MS. LEE:  — and manipulated.

MS. ATKINS:  Yeah, nothing about these are authentically reality – these people’s lives.  I mean they pick personalities that they know are going to be contentious and that are going to have these kind[s] of explosive moments –

MS. LEE:  Right.

MS. ATKINS:  — and then they manipulate the situations to create those scenarios where that occurs.

MS. LEE:  I –

MR. MARTIN:  [Crosstalk]- —

MS. ATKINS:  So – [crosstalk] –

MS. LEE:  — I had a girlfriend who was on “Football Wives,” and her show was cancelled because there wasn’t enough drama.  And the producers kept saying, “We need” –

MR. MARTIN:  — Sinbad –

MS. LEE:  — “more drama.”

MR. MARTIN:  — said the same –

MS. LEE:  “We need more” –

MR. MARTIN:  — thing.  He said –

MS. LEE:  — “drama.”  [Crosstalk] – like –

MR. MARTIN:  — his family show –

MS. LEE:  — we don’t fight

MR. MARTIN:  — not – not a drama.

MS. LEE:  — like that at home.  We don’t – you know?  That’s just –

MR. MARTIN:  Give me –

MS. LEE:  — how it is.

MR. MARTIN:  — an example, each one of you, where someone wanted you to do something, and you instantly thought about, “My momma might be watching.”  “My family might be watching.”  “My kid might be watch-” – “No, I can’t do that.  I’m just not going to cross that line.”

JACKÉE:  I had to drop the f-bomb in a movie, and I’ve never dropped the f-bomb anywhere.  And they asked me.  I said, “Okay.”  I said, “Yeah, it’s time.”  But I don’t know how many years.

And you – [touches Ms. Victoria] – went all the way back there – [mutters].


JACKÉE:  No – which I’m proud of, but, Lawd, hammer[cy]!  But I’d never dropped the f-bomb, and I had to think about it.   But y’all – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  So, it was conscious for you.

JACKÉE:  — yes, and I’m sure these young ladies – you have images you have to protect.  And you have to protect them for years.  Don’t just speak – they know.  Don’t start now.  Think about your … trajectory.

MS. ATKINS:  It’s interesting because, you know, “Haunted House” – I read the script, and I loved most of what was in there, but there’s one moment where I really objected to the material.  And it was the moment where we’re spoofing “The Exorcist,” and, you know, I was like, “Okay.  Okay.  I’m gonna pitch something else.”

And so I pitched that, instead of, like, messin’ around with the cross – with a crucifix – I thought it was funnier if I was messin’ around with a menorah, ’cause it’s like, “Well, how did that even work with a menorah?”  Like, there’s nine pieces.  Like, wha- —


MS. ATKINS:  — and I thought that that was much funnier moment.

Well, the producers were pretty hardline, and they said, “This is what we want to do.  This is the reason, and,” you know, “we need you to do it.”

And it was a tough decision for me, because as a Christian, I wasn’t really comfortable; but at the same time, I recognized that when I’ve been hired to play a character, it’s not my morality and my sensibilities.

JACKÉE:  Chile, I said, “Essence [is] in this movie!”  … I was like, “Look at Essence, chile!”  I’ve never seen you act like that, but –


JACKÉE:  — I like it.

MR. MARTIN:  [Laughs.]

JACKÉE:  My son said, “I’ve never seen her that outrageous.”


JACKÉE:  You’re always so cool and calm – ’cause she’s a singer, you know.  Not that we – you know.

MS. ATKINS:  Yeah, I know.

MR. MARTIN:  But, personally, she’s outrageous.  I follow her on Twitter.


MS. VICTORIA:  What’s – what’s true is that we are –

JACKÉE:  [Laughs.]

MS. VICTORIA:  — in service to a story.  We’re not in service to ourselves; but for me, personally, I always have this thing on my shoulder, “What would my daddy say if he saw this?”

So, there are things where – and, plus, the Internet is a time capsule now.

MR. MARTIN:  Oh, yeah.

OFF CAMERA:  Um-hum.

MS. VICTORIA:  Everything you do will be around –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. VICTORIA:  — and so it’s like future mothers, wives – you have to turn down.  You can’t turn it up all the time, because that’s going to be there forever and ever and ever.

JACKÉE:  It’s like “The Help.”  I’m still not over the movie “The Help.”  But I loved the book, but the movie – I’m still mad.


JACKÉE:  I just don’t like seeing us – it’s like “Django Unchained.”  One more n-word, I was outta there, Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  [Chuckles.]

JACKÉE:  I was gettin’ ready to turn it out!


MS. LEE:  No, it’s true.  I remember reading the script for “Django Unchained” and thinking, “Goodness!  There’s a lot of usage of the n-word in here.”


MS. LEE:  And there was a lot

MR. MARTIN:  Although I di- —

MS. LEE:  — of nudity.

MR. MARTIN:  — although I didn’t hear a lot of the k-word in “Inglourious Basterds.”  But go right ahead.

JACKÉE:  All right!  You better –

MS. LEE:  There was a ton –

JACKÉE:  — say that!

MS. LEE:  — gratuitous nudity in the script that I read and, fortunately, Kerry’s people were able to tame some of that down – because it was really kind of crazy, like – and gratuitous.

MR. MARTIN:  So, when –

MS. LEE:  I mean –

MR. MARTIN:  — you get these things … you are consciously going –

MS. LEE:  You get it, and you think … “I could do it, but I’d have to” – whatever, or, “My dad could never see this,” or, “I have to pass on this until my father is dead” – unfortunately.


JACKÉE:  That’s another battle[?], though.

MS. LEE:  Because, you know, you do.

MS. ATKINS:  Yeah.

MS. LEE:  You think about things like that.  You think about the image – I have two, young kids now; and, you know, my image is going to be out there for them to see years from now.  And I kind of want them to – to be proud of me and to know that I respected myself as an individual and, even as an artist wanting to take on new roles and understanding that I’m not –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. LEE:  — playing myself, I still have this idea of what I think is savory or palatable for a larger audience.

MR. MARTIN:  Her lil’ kids go, “Mommy, we seen you neckkit.  Whatever!


MR. MARTIN:  All right.  [Chuckles.]

JACKÉE:  But I just don’t want women –

MR. MARTIN:  Real quick.

JACKÉE:  — to be weak.  I don’t women to be weak.  I’m just sick of us being weak and the victim.  I’m sick of it.

MS. VICTORIA:  And – [crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  Yeah, I’ve never seen Jackée weak or a victim.  Never seen that.


JACKÉE:  Except my first marriage.


MR. MARTIN:  On that note, it’s time for us to go.


MR. MARTIN:  All right.  We appreciate it.  Always a pleasure.  Robinne, Essence, Noree, Jackée, we appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

MS. VICTORIA:  Thank you.

JACKÉE:  [Throws a kiss.]

MS. ATKINS:  Thank you.

MS. LEE:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, folks.

See?  I have such a great job.  I get to hang out with folks like this here.

Calm down.  I know I’m married, but guess what?  I might be saved, but I ain’t blind.