Wednesday, 4 June 2008

I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week, than be a maid for $7

Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Academy Award, is famous for saying "I’d rather play a maid and make $700 a week, than be a maid for $7"

Hell, I would too. Though on this site it is pointed out that with this comment and others similar she brought wrath and it was thought she traded group values for personal gain.

Her Academy Award seemed to be loaded with criticism, but I think it's one of those double edged sword things. People seemed to complain when she won it that she played a role that just perpetuated stereotypes of blacks and brought up issues of slavery which they'd rather not revisit. On the other hand if you don't hand it to her, I guess people would foam that it was a great opportunity to give an Academy Award to a black woman and the Academy didn't because they were racist. Oh damn.

So, Hattie played a slave and this was offensive to blacks. As is noted here she didn't have a whole lot to choose from - she's a huge black lady and at the time there weren't a whole lot of roles for huge black ladies. What was she supposed to do - I like her comeback - "''What do you expect me to play?'' she asked. ''Rhett Butler's wife?''

At least she got out there and played something, which is more than can be said for some people who whinged about her.

Naturally, if a white person makes a career out of playing delinquents and villains and druggies and criminals, it doesn't seem to get loaded with criticism. I guess it's because there are other caucasians out there playing heroes. So why should Hattie cop it all for not carrying the responsibility of depicting the "acceptable image that Negroes want to be portrayed as" on her shoulders? Is it because they are such broad shoulders?

No, it seems it's because there aren't enough Negroes in Hollywood so they put all their expectations on her. Maybe those who whinge ought to have got off their backsides and become stars instead of telling her how to live her life, their way.

I do think a lot of hit films in English are mainly filled with white actors in more varieties of roles, but then, what you have to do is crack in to the market. I see Asian actors badly stereotyped too - you either are a martial arts fighter or a whore, to a large extent. I suppose the way to change this is to become a scriptwriter or producer - preferably both. You can also encourage actors of certain races to get involved to support your projects. A lot of stereotyping could be argued to be the laziness or disinterest of some nationalities in cracking into certain markets, and some of them perpetuate their own stereotypes.

I think there is nothing wrong with Hattie playing slaves and maids if that's what she wanted to do - she probably did a whole lot more for film than many will admit. It's not possible always to make giant leaps all at once; her driving that small wedge in made it possibly easier for many other people later to secure more varied roles and they would not appreciate her difficulties - and make it so much easier for them to criticise her.


JahTeh said...

She nearly always played a maid but she could dominate the screen in any minor role. Some actors made a good living out of the minor roles because they had the chance to be characters not just a pretty face.

Maria said...

I like many of those actors. Sometimes I don't know their names but I think they must be very talented when they are in a minor role, they are not a big name and yet you immediately recognise them from another minor role - more so than you would even the main big name actor.

It's fantastic, it's a gift.