Wesley Snipes – Noxema Jackson – To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar (1995)
Will Smith – Paul - Six Degrees of Separation (1993)
Ving Rhames – Holiday Heart – Holiday Heart (2000) [Television]
Chiwetel Ejiofor (British film) – Lola – Kinky Boots (2005)
Martin Lawrence – Malcom Turner (Big Momma), Big Momma’s House I and II (2000, 2006)
Tyler Perry – Madea – All the “Madea” films and stage plays
Eddie Murphy – Rasputia - Norbit (2007)
Miguel A. Nunez, Jr. – Jamal Jefferies/Juwanna Mann – Juwanna Mann (2002)
Shawn Wayans – Kevin Copeland – White Chicks (2004)
Marlon Wayans – Marcus Copeland – White Chicks
Flip Wilson – Geraldine - The Flip Wilson Show (1970s) [Television]
Jamie Foxx – Wanda – In Living Color (1990s) [Television]
Martin Lawrence – Sha Nay Nay – The Martin Lawrence Show (1990s) [Television]
The emasculation of black men persists… some might say.
I don’t necessarily have a strong opinion on this topic but wanted to present this matter for discussion.
As I was contemplating this article, I recognized that not all these portrayals are the same. I kinda loosely lumped a few films (where men dress as women or exhibit feminine behavior) into two categories – Group I (Necessary) and Group II (Unnecessary). I’ve highlighted a few pics. Undoubtedly, there are others. Acting as a woman is usually done for laughs by a comedian or comedic actor. Sometimes the impersonation is legitimate.
It was “legitimate” in Six Degrees of Separation, when Will Smith’s character (Paul) kissed a man. (We never did see their lips actually touch; I figure Will Smith wasn’t havin’ that. After all, he was in the midst of Fresh Prince success. LOL.) Given the story, the kiss made sense. I have no problem with this scene. I have no problem with Wesley Snipes in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything Julie Newmar. Same thing with Ving Rhames in Holiday Heart and Chiwetel Ejiofor in Kinky Boots. I’m cool with these characterizations, since the characters were, after all, drag queens or homosexuals. Truthfully, there are black homosexuals, drag queens and cross-dressers and these men have a place on the silver screen and their lives should be shown –- be it dramatically or for laughs.
The Group I characterizations are different from the purely comedic Group II characterizations. I think comedians think it is funny to dress up as a woman. Evidently, it is thought that there is humor in watching a man behave as a woman. There is… sometimes.
Jamie Foxx must have thought Wanda’s character was funny. And Martin Lawrence must have thought Sha Nay Nay was funny. The characters were funny. Martin Lawrence apparently believes a black man dressing as a woman is so
downright hysterical funny that he repeated it twice in the films Big Momma’s House I and Big Momma’s House II. Or maybe the motivation was greed money. Don’t quote me on this but I believe I read that a third entrant is at least under discussion for the Big Momma series.
Though not a comedian, Tyler Perry believes it’s
extremely profitable beyond your wildest dreams funny to dress up as a woman and portray the character, Madea. The character is funny. And well written. Millions of people think so. This is a clearly a profitable enterprise winning formula for Perry.
Eddie Murphy probably thought it was funny to play the character Rasputia in Norbit. But Murphy didn’t have to make this film. He already has an impressive and large body of work and sits on millions. He did it for laughs, I suppose.
Miguel Nunez, in Juwanna Mann. Maybe he was seeking exposure.
The point is, there are times when the man-dressed-up-as-a-woman thing makes sense -– and is necessary and integral to the story line. Other times, however, it is an actor’s choice to don women’s clothing and behave like a woman because it’s "funny."
It’s overdone. It was new and fresh I guess, in the 70s when Flip Wilson was Geraldine.
This is now. Clearly, there’s a belief that a man dressed as a woman is a “tried and true” formula for comedic success. Even if this is true, this form of entertainment is “old.” And it’s been done for so many decades that now it’s just played out. Make us laugh some other way.
Aside: I remember a long time ago there was an NBA player who dressed up as an grandmother-type character in TV commercials. This dude was a big dude (like Tyler Perry) –- Larry something or other. Anyway, I remember thinking those commercials were beyond stupid. I wondered what his motivation was for doing those spots. It couldn’t have been money. And he was already famous. I didn’t respect him at all after these commercials. The commercial was stupid. The character was stupid. The portrayal was stupid. I thought, "what kind of man is this?" This was a millionaire -– a multimillionaire athlete (not even an actor) and he saw fit to do this? I vaguely remember cringing in distaste and embarrassment when the commercials played. This grandmother caricature was on display in print ads, too.
During a recent interview (August 16, 2007) with eurweb.com to promote his film, Illegal Tender, John Singleton said the following:
"Nobody … has ever complained about the successful movies that are coming out that feature men with dresses on." I applaud Tyler Perry for his independence, but when it's Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence and nobody is telling them anything bad about it or telling young boys 'you know that this is just a joke' and they call those movies 'family movies’. Most of the movies that are comedies are coon shows."
Of course, with proper parenting, a young boy will not confuse that with reality or believe that straight men dressing as women is common or socially acceptable.
I don’t really feel that strongly about black male actors dressing as women, as some others might. I think there’s a place for it… sometimes. I’m okay with it, especially when there’s a valid cinematic reason for the characterizations. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time to move away from the purely comedic, meaningless depictions. I can think of no good reason for the prevalence of these kinds of films in modern black cinema.
But does it mean anything if black men are shown in dresses… fairly regularly? No doubt, it probably does. I probably haven’t given it enough thought to examine what it really means.
What does it mean?
These roles -- when they occur one by one -- may go unnoticed. Yet, these portrayals demonstrate the continuance of the emasculation of black men in motion pictures in the United States (and elsewhere). And that is not a good thing. It just makes you wonder if, in order to achieve real stardom, a black man must show his tits.