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I Can’t Celebrate With Taraji: A Black Stage Mom’s Dilemma

And the award goes to Hattie. Halle. Whoopi. Mo’Nique. Octavia. Lupita. Isabel. Viola. Uzo. Taraji. The meaning attached to this list of names is remarkable for many reasons.  I look forward to the day that my #dramadiva Olivia is added to it. But on the heels of the Golden Globes, the Academy Awards around the corner, and the Emmy’s seemingly a distant past, I am reminded that there are rules for winning on the big screen. So, I can not celebrate with Taraji. And here’s why.

Olivia is my oldest daughter. She is everything anyone could ever hope for in a daughter: smart, hard-working, compassionate, driven, giving and obedient. At 10 years old she even started her own girls’ conference and a non-profit. Her main goal in life is to become a famous Hollywood actress with her own television show.

I’m Too Discouraged to Celebrate With Taraji

When I think about her dreams in comparison to that list, I get discouraged.  Most of those women amassed enormous bodies of work before being considered for the coveted top nods. When I think about her seeing the work for which they earned their stripes, I cringe. Not only at the content, but the inevitable questions she’ll have. I don’t know how to inspire her based on the unseen aspects of making it on that list. And that’s why it’s hard for me to celebrate with Taraji.

Hattie McDaniel won the first Oscar awarded to a person of color for portraying Mammy in “Gone With the Wind” in 1939. It took 51 years for the next African American female win; Whoopi Goldberg for her role in “Ghost” in 1990.

The only Oscar won by an African-American female in a leading role was claimed by Halle Berry in 2001 for her role in “Monster’s Ball.” She portrayed the poor, Southern wife of a convicted murderer who falls for and is “rescued” by the racist man who executed her husband.  It is also notable that in this role she goes topless.

To Celebrate With Taraji I have To Settle

So, the examples of “extraordinary performances” by women of color I have to share with my star-gazed tween actress are a Mammy, a murderer’s wife, a shyster, a mother who molests her daughter, the help, a slave, a manipulative and sexually indiscriminate power abuser, a prisoner and Cookie. Do you see my dilemma?

It seems that the only roles considered noteworthy and award-winning played by women of color are ones I’d rather her not see. Taraji wins for Empire and not Benjamin Button? Phylicia Rashad never wins for The Cosby Show?

As a mom, I find it difficult to celebrate what society defines to be success for female actresses of color when it seems stereotypically negative and only highlights the history that we as people of color in America are trying to overcome. How can I inspire her to greatness with roles I don’t even want her to see?

I was ecstatic when Viola Davis received a prime-time Emmy in 2015. After all, she is a Julliard Graduate and someday the #dramadiva may want to study there. I was torn, however at the thought of sharing her inspiring speech with my aspiring actress. How do I explain that there are fewer opportunities for her simply because of her skin color, hair texture, and ancestry?

I Await the Day I Can Celebrate With Taraji

So I struggle to celebrate with Taraji. It is a challenge to use Viola’s speech as inspiration for her. I find it difficult to share Halle’s history-making accomplishment with my future leading lady for fear that it may break her sweet spirit. As a mom, I remain emotionally torn.

However, I will celebrate the hope in Olivia’s eyes every time she sees an African-American actress on television or on stage. I will celebrate the optimism she maintains in spite of the limited number of opportunities she receives compared to her lighter skinned peers.  We will celebrate the success she has in the role of her real life and not just the characters she gets to play.  I will celebrate all this because I am left with little else.

How would you address your brown baby who aspires to be an actor/actress knowing the challenges he/she faces in the industry?

11 Replies to “I Can’t Celebrate With Taraji: A Black Stage Mom’s Dilemma”

  1. I thought I was the only person who felt this way. I would tell my little brown girl that we stand on the backs of the women before us so it is our duty to keep fighting and breaking barriers.

    Getting our foot in the door is only an opportunity to open a window and let others in. I believe this whole heartedly and this win is evidence of that.

    1. I do too! I pray that we are both successful in helping our children create their own opportunities and align their expectations with their value systems. We’ve got to support each other!

  2. Powerful… so much truth in this message. Good Stuff. I think about what life will be like for Dallas. I try not to think about it but life is so scary for black boys these days. As for Olivia, I think you are going all of the right things and the end of the day of you have to continue to create your own platforms, then so be it.

    1. That’s exactly what we’re going to keep doing. Creating the opportunities we want where they don’t exist, supporting her with everything she wants to do in life and allowing he to hold onto her innocence for as long as possible. She’ll have plenty of time to deal with the harsh realities of life.

  3. Great post, Anitra! I understand your pain. But from what I know about your daughter, she will enter Hollywood with confidence and take that industry by storm! She will lead the charge in creating a new Black Hollywood that others will find refreshing (and realize what they had missed).

    You see, that type of confidence sees no limitations, even if such are staring them in the face. It sees obstacles as the “ordinary course of business”. So I am happy and excited to see this unfold!

    But again, as I said, I know what you mean. My son, a graduate of Elon University (class of 2014), won a place in a program designed to help new college graduates navigate Los Angeles and connect with alum within the entertainment industry.

    He wants to own his own comedy show and become an inspirational rap artist. As a Christian, I found it difficult to see how he can be famous in the hip hop industry and maintain his religious beliefs. His answer: ‘If Eminem can come out on the scene and succeed despite the fact that he his not a “typical” hip hop artist, why can’t I?” I had no argument.

    His goal is to create his own entertainment “product”, where he writes the rules. God, Mom and Dad have instilled in Olivia the confidence she needs to tackle these obstacles. AND she will do it!

    1. Absolutely Mele! I just shared that on Periscope last night: create the opportunities you want where they don’t exist! And especially in entertainment, now more than ever there are chances to do that! Thanks for sharing your story. They will rise victoriously in their own ways!

    1. Thank you! Good stuff and bad stuff all at the same time, right? But this is what we face as moms of #superkids.

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