My favorite movie used to be Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I idolized Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Deborah Karr to name a few. These are prominent white actresses of the 50s/60s. You know, back when movies were shot in technicolor if not black and white and full of fabulous what’s now vintage clothing. The best movies were shot in New York or Paris and were classic coming of age/finding love tales. Last fall I had pictures of Audrey Hepburn all over my dorm room until I realized that I couldn’t see myself in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Casablanca, or An Affair to Remember.
At some point, it clicked in my brain that while these movies are classics and deserve to be heralded as such, they really do nothing for me. I realized that in idolizing Audrey, I was idolizing whiteness and for what? There are so many amazing black female actresses, singers, entertainers from the same time period. Why don’t I know anything about them? Dorothy Dandrige, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, just to name a few – these are the women I should be admiring. These are the women that should be on my wall.
Representation matters and knowing that black women have been opening doors and slaying in these fields for decades is inspiring. It affirms our existence, experience, and struggle. Dorothy Dandrige is GORGEOUS. Why isn’t she praised for her beauty in the same manner as Marilyn Monroe? Diahann Carroll is a fantastic and elegant actress. Where are the posters of her? Billie Holiday sings with a voice that you feel deep in your soul. Why is her work relegated to the shadows?
Don’t get me wrong, I will probably always love a good Audrey Hepburn movie. But, I don’t need to praise her at the cost of myself. White women have begged, borrowed, and stolen black women’s aesthetics and culture for centuries. And I don’t need to contribute to that. There are few if any black characters – female or male- in any of these movies (& if they are present, it’s as a nanny/worker). No one will tell our stories, share our films, sing our songs, or affirm how beautiful our blackness is but us. So, maybe think about taking down your poster of Marilyn and replacing it with one of Dorothy. I did, and it’s done wonders for me.
Have no idea what black women might be worthy of hanging on your wall? Part 2 of Marilyn Monwho coming soon because we’ve got you. (LOL)