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Icono-clash Whoppi Goldberg and the (re)presentation of black women in Hollywood film
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Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1999.
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Includes bibliographical references (leaves 195-198).
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Typescript.
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Vita.
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by Tarshia Lorraine Stanley.

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ICONO-CLASH: WHOOPI GOLDBERG AND THE REPRESENTATIONN
OF BLACK WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD FILM













By

TARSHIA LORRAINE STANLEY


A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY





UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1999














ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


This work is dedicated to my Lord and Savior, Jesus

Christ. Without the mercy and grace He has shown me, there

would be no degree. I am grateful for His guidance and

provision during this long journey.

This degree has been paid in full. Every time my mothers

changed somebody else's baby or cleaned someone else's floor,

they paid for it. Every time my uncles loaded a truck, topped

tobacco, or ushered one of their brothers into prison or into

an emergency room, they paid for it. Every time my sisters were

called something other than their names, they paid for it.

Every nail my grandfathers hammered into crossties on the

railroad, every box car of coal, every bullet in WWII and

Vietnam paid for it. Every word my family couldn't read, every

opportunity they never had, every blow unfairly dealt, and

every drop of blood that fell from an old wooden cross, all

went to buy me what this dissertation represents.

Every time I left my baby sitting in front of the

television or on someone else's knee, she paid for it. Thus,

special recognition, love, and gratitude to Thai Catherine

Dolores Matthews. I carried her when I first began graduate

school, but she eventually came to carry me.














TABLE OF CONTENTS





page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ......................................... ii

ABSTRACT.. ........ ....................... ... ...... ......... v

INTRODUCTION.......................... ............ ....... 1

CHAPTERS

1 THE MAMMY AS METAPHOR: BLACK WOMEN
ON SILVER SCREENS......................... ........ 5

History ............................................. 5
Chloe, Queenie, Beulah, and Delilah:
History, Not Hers................... ............. 10
I Still Need Beulah to Peel Me a Grape.............29
Harriet, Clara, Corrina, and Mary Clarence.........36


2 THE TROPE OF THE LOCK ............ ....... ..... 62

Gazing at Black Women's Bodies ..................... 62
Body Spaces....................................... .65
Body Boundaries......................... .......... ..84
Image Is Everything ...... .......... .......... ..... 87
Sexual Feedom and Freedom from Sexuality..........100


3 THE CROSSOVER FORMULA............................... 111

Matriarchs......................................... 1
More or Less a Mother...................... ..... 111
Always a Nurturer, but Never a Mother.............121
Crossing Over and Selling Out..................... 132
Sisters, Sista-Girls, and Girl Friends............ 142


iii













4 MADWOMEN AND GOOD BUDDIES.......................... 147

Marketing Goldberg................................ 147
Good Buddies ............................. ........... 150
Spy, Detective, Burglar........................ ... 172
Mad About My Buddy................................ 177

CONCLUSION .......................................... 192

REFERENCES ....................................... ..... 195

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH................................... 199














Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

ICONO-CLASH: WHOOPI GOLDBERG AND THE REPRESENTATIONN
OF BLACK WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD FILM

By

Tarshia Lorraine Stanley

August 1999

Chairman: Mark A. Reid
Major Department: English


This dissertation examines the filmic work of Whoopi

Goldberg. Goldberg is the most prolific Black actor in

Hollywood film. This dissertation looks at the reasons for

and ramifications of her success. Mainstream or Hollywood

film constructs images of Whoopi Goldberg that are palatable

for its audiences. Often these constructions of Goldberg hark

back to the mammy figure. It is possible to theorize the

attitude of Hollywood film and mainstream audiences toward

Black women, given the way they consume their most celebrated

Black star.

It is no secret that Hollywood has more often than not

worked to perpetuate images of Black women born out of racial

stereotypes and tensions. Critics such as Donald Bogle, bell

hooks, Clyde Taylor and Jacqueline Bobo constantly call

Hollywood to task for its continued depiction of Black women









as jezebels, tragic mulattos, matriarchs, and mammies. Yet,

Hollywood continues to promote Goldberg and her persona as

supernurturer. Because of the place she already occupies and

will occupy in film history, it is imperative that her

contribution to film be examined critically. This

dissertation examines her roles in films that capitalize on

the body presence of a Black woman, but which empty her of

all cultural significance. Also taken to task are depictions

of her as the desexed or asexual odd woman whose major

function in her films is to further the narrative of a white

character. Given Goldberg's phenomenal talent it is difficult

to label her roles stereotypical and caricature driven. Yet,

the evidence to support just such a hypothesis is

overwhelming.














INTRODUCTION


I became interested in film and the power of images

after watching Daughters of the Dust, from Julie Dash. As I

sat in the theater struggling to understand the Gullah

dialect spoken by the characters, I remember being

overwhelmed by the images. I had never before seen so many

Black women, on one movie screen, who kept all their clothes

on, and who were not fleeing from the "massa." I was inspired

by the range and depth of Black womanhood Dash's film

represented. There were young girls and old women in the

film, and neither state was presented as preferable. I saw

wrinkles and gray hair right next to nubile young bodies. I

saw yellow women and blue-black women and women the color of

caramel. Blackness was celebrated, embraced, and even touted

in a way I had never seen. I realized as I left the theater

that I had never before departed an encounter with the silver

screen thinking Black women, Black people as a whole, were

beautiful.

After that occasion, I knew that I wanted to write a

paper that centered around film and the way Black women are

representedd in it. It was not difficult to choose Whoopi

Goldberg as the impetus of my dissertation. She seems at

times to be only Black woman making Hollywood films. In a









career that has spanned only fifteen, Whoopi Goldberg has

managed to star in almost 30 films (this figure does not

include supporting roles and cameos). I began to ponder the

mechanism of Hollywood. I wondered why Goldberg could and

did make so many films and why she rarely appeared in movies

with other Black people.

Given the lateness of the century and the length of time

Hollywood has had to master its techniques, it seems odd that

the Hollywood machine still fails to present complex and

multi-dimensional images of Black women in general and of

Goldberg in particular. I could only conclude that Black

women are still caricatures in American media. While at one

time the Black woman was only defined as the tragic mulatto,

the jezebel, the castrating matriarch, and the mammy, current

parodies have taken on even more detrimental connotations.

There has been a significant shift toward even more sexually

charged stereotypes that work to define Black women. The

castrating matriarch has been transformed into the welfare

queen. The jezebel is now a bitch and a ho.' Even the mammy

has moved away from the image of being desexualized because

she is emotionally the quintessential nurturer and physically

obese to desexualized because she is the only caricature

whose overt sexuality is not a question. Because the Black

woman can be daily (even hourly) consumed in any one of her

stereotypical capacities, she has in many ways come to

represent only these things in America. Goldberg, as a major

Hollywood actor, seems to be the most readily available









counterpoint to this imagery. Yet Goldberg, in many ways,

depicts only the re-working of the mammy figure into the star

of a film.

It is no secret that Hollywood wields great power in

America because it manipulates images. These images can be

even more powerful than words because Hollywood fashions the

kinds of images that leave little room for alternate

interpretations. Hollywood continues to serve up images of

the Black woman that mainstream (typically white) audiences

want to see or are comfortable seeing. As a result, a

talented actor like Goldberg is continually limited to roles

that nurture and further a white character's development.

This dissertation acknowledges the criticism of Goldberg

as a modern-day mammy figure. It also acknowledges

Hollywood's complicity in continuing to present stereotypes

of the Black woman overall. Whiteness seems to need Blackness

in order to define itself. Whiteness needs to be juxtaposed

against negative or nonexistent images of Black sexuality,

negative or nonexistent images of Black woman/motherhood and

Black relationships in general, in order to mark itself as

what is normal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in

mainstream cinema's lone Black female star. Goldberg is

stripped of culture, sexuality, and family, so she is more

palatable to mainstream audiences.

This disseration uses works by Patricia Hill Collins,

Lola Young, and Jacqueline Bobo (among others) to elucidate

the very real problems and the very real pain of constantly






4

being reduced to stereotypes in this culture. Black women

have had to articulate a theory of themselves in the wake of

a brutal history of being women in America. The importance

and power of popular culture as a whole is discussed in hopes

of elucidating the reciprocative relationship between

mainstream cinema audiences and the Hollywood movie-making

machine which operates in defining Black women in the media.














CHAPTER 1
THE MAMMY AS METAPHOR: BLACK WOMEN ON SILVER SCREENS



History



Cinematic depictions of the Black woman have rarely

presented her as a full characterization worthy of critical

attention. She has seemingly only existed to further the

development of the major characters in a film. This has

resulted in the black woman becoming hyperfragmented. She is

shown as little more than a caricature, with little

opportunity to be developed fully. According to Gloria J.

Gibson-Hudson,


the black woman, as presented within mainstream
cinema, is a one-dimensional depiction. Black
women are shown as sex objects, passive victims,
and as "other" in relation to males (black and
white) and white females. . Consequently,
these representations limit the probability
of an audience seeing black women as figures
of resistance or empowerment. (25)


Typical images of the black woman lack multiple and complex

meanings. Among the most prevalent of these one-dimensional

renderings are the tragic mulatto, the sapphire, the

matriarch, and of course the mammy (Bogle 9). Of these

caricatures none has been more apparent or successful than

that of the mammy.









The mammy has resurfaced again and again in American

film, from Birth of a Nation to both screen versions of

Imitation of Life. Whether lacing Miss Scarlett's bodice or

peeling grapes for Mae West, the mammy figure has several

defining psychological characteristics. The mammy usually

exhibits a memorable screen presence (she is either extremely

witty or a buffoon), is nurturing and self-sacrificing, is

highly spiritual, and is necessarily disconnected from her

ethnic community. Perhaps the modern Black actor who is most

often associated with this stereotype and whose screen

personas embody these images most readily is Whoopi Goldberg.

In Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks,

he compares Goldberg to Hattie McDaniel--the quintessential

mammy figure (331). In "Denying her place: Hattie McDaniel's

Surprising Acts," Stephen Bourne points out that the only two

Black women to have won Academy Awards are Hattie McDaniel

and Whoopi Goldberg (30). There is much criticism of

Goldberg's tendency to be cast in roles that mimic

"mammying." She is usually the only black character of

narrative importance and ends up helping to guide her white

cast mates through some great dilemma. This chapter hopes to

draw attention to the way in which the cinematic images of

Whoopi Goldberg have been and remain splintered and over-

dramatized caricatures. It will also point to cinema's

traditional process of defining black women in fragmented

ways as parallel to the way they are defined in society; and

to the fact that society (and cinema as an extension of it)









benefits from the act of definition. As society defines Black

women, it simultaneously constructs itself. This will lead to

a reading of Goldberg's imagery as the apotheosis of the

mammy figure.

While she is contemporary cinema's most prolific,

financially successful and well-known black actress, there is

relatively little scholarly criticism that engages the

character and characterizations of Whoopi Goldberg. In what

is perhaps the definitive work on African Americans in

Hollywood cinema, Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mammies,

Mulattoes, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in

American Films, Goldberg garners perhaps a page. Most of that

page is spent describing Goldberg as the latest mammy figure.

She fares even worse in bell hooks' latest effort at film

criticism, Reel to Real. hooks sees Goldberg's Corrina,

Corrina as Goldberg's "break from her usual racist, sexist

role as mammy or ho" (74). But even if a substantial portion

of Goldberg's phenomenal body of work can be criticized for

its perpetuation of the mammy figure, the sheer magnitude,

and solitude, of her status in Hollywood deserves adequate

critique.

As we enter into the next century, much of film

criticism, at least from an African American perspective

still levels charges of racism and racist sexism at Hollywood

and the media in general. Yet Goldberg's very presence and

power, in terms of marketability, in the movie industry

seems to circumvent such allegations. After all here is a









woman who is, at least physically, readily identifiable as a

Black woman receiving top billing in Hollywood. She is

certainly not one of the tragic mulattos embodied by Fredi

Washington or Dorothy Dandridge. Neither is she a supersexed

action heroine like Pam Grier (of black exploitation fame).

In roughly 30 feature films, Goldberg has received star

billing. Yet Black film critics, moviegoers, Feminist and

Womanist critics alike continue to be dissatisfied with the

kind of vehicles in which Goldberg has achieved her success.

Whenever Goldberg is addressed in serious film

scholarship, she is labeled a mammy figure. The kinds of

roles she has received lock her firmly into a stereotype long

used by the dominant society, and even Black people

themselves, to define Black women. While Goldberg's response

has often been that at least she is working, and while white

America's response has been to give her an Oscar and the

latest People's Choice Award for favorite entertainer, many

Blacks continue to be outraged, even wounded by the double

meaning of Goldberg's success.

In order to understand the significance of labeling

Goldberg a mammy, it is first necessary to trace the

conception and use of this term and image that is, perhaps,

just as loaded as the word nigger. The scholarship on the

imagery of the mammy, particularly when it is generated by

Black women, is tainted with not only disdain, but pain. When

writers like Trudier Harris, Patricia Hill Collins and bell

hooks engage the mammy, she is not a historical concept but a








contemporary enemy. For them, the mammy is not only alive,

but doing exceptionally well. She is still as powerful an

image at the turn of this century as she was at the turn of

the nineteenth century.

Once the history of the mammy is traced in this chapter,

it will be possible to understand the strength of her visual

imagery when she has been used as a weapon against Black

women, and why Goldberg is viewed as acquiescing in the plot.

Next I examine the implications of a contemporary cinema

which continues to prefer images of Black women that are one-

dimensional caricatures. Lastly, I critique several of

Goldberg's movie roles that have been accused of perpetuating

the images associated with the mammy. These movies include

Clara's Hart, Corrina, Corrina, Sister Act I/II, and Bogus.

Throughout the work, I capitalize Black and Blackness in

order to draw attention to Blackness as a culture and not

just a skin color. Just as African American, Native American,

Indian and Chinese are capitalized, I treat Black or

Blackness in the same way. I believe that white Americans,

and often Black Americans themselves, sometimes view Black

people as white people that have failed at being white. Black

people are not white people who didn't get white skin. They

should not be penalized for not acting or thinking like the

majority. Black Americans are a unique and different

conglomerate of cultures and skin colors--just like white

people. I use the term Black instead of African American,

because not all Black people can identify themselves solely









with an African/American heritage. For instance, there are

Black Americans of Jamaican, Haitian or Canadian descent. By

capitalizing Black and Blackness I want to move these terms

away from being words that solely trigger thoughts of skin

color toward words that denote culture. Additionally, I do

not capitalize white to also draw attention to it. Whiteness

is so often the normalizing factor that when one refers to

people, for example, they are automatically thought of as

white, while any other kind of people are clearly denoted by

an identifier like Black people, Chinese people etc. Even

more attention is drawn to the word white when the word Black

is capitalized. Rather than advancing any theoretical agenda,

I hope that these choices in punctuation will simply provoke

thought.


Chloe, Queenie, Beulah, and Delilah: Histories, Not Hers



In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins

contends that the Black woman has always had to negotiate

mythic identities. While the battle to defy or even reify

mythological identities is waged across the board--every

group has a stereotype to combat--Black womanhood seems

peerless in its suffering. But the mammy is only one of the

Black woman's nemeses; they also include the equally

denigrating jezebel/whore and, of late, the welfare queen.

This point is emphasized by Hill-Collins when she writes that

"portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies,









matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas has been

essential to the political economy of domination that

fosters Black women's oppression" (67-68).

It is no secret that antebellum society began defining

the Black woman in ways which would edify/justify their

appropriation of her body, her labor and her family. As a

result of this need powerful myths about Black women were

used from the Middle Passage to the auction block and found

fertile soil in the cotton and cane fields. Her humanity was

de-emphasized while her sexual appetites and fecundity were

exaulted. The most readily available and widespread myth was

that of the Black whore/breeder woman. She was a completely

carnal creature incapable of reason and morality. This

mythical Black woman's wantonness coupled with her ability to

procreate gave reason enough to control and subjugate her. In

The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom: 1750-1925, Herbert

G. Gutman quotes New York Sun reporter Frank Wilkeson. Upon

visiting St. Helena Island, South Carolina, just after

emancipation, Wilkeson wrote that his prior notions about

Black women had been confirmed.










Almost without exception, the women of these
islands, who have Negro blood in their veins, are
prostitutes. It is a hopeless task to endeavor to
elevate a people whose women are strumpets . .
Their personal habits are so filthy, that I
suspected that venereal disease was wide-spread
among them. (532)


Wilkeson, writing for what was, at the time, a preeminent

newspaper, affirms not only his, but much of society's belief

that Black women were uncivilized and primitive. Comments

like these were not limited to journalistic tracts but were

widely accepted. Much of this type of folklore was used to

make Black women easily accessible to white men. For, if the

Black woman was all sexual appetite it would be impossible to

rape her; if she were all sexual appetite it would be

impossible to hurt her by selling away her children and/or

her "husband." If she were nothing but raw lust and

unrestrained passion it was not likely one could physically

work her too hard. Thus the mythology comprising the Black

whore stereotype, along with all the others, was invaluable

in maintaining patriarchal, socio-economic and gender

divisions and hierarchies.

A further extension of the Black whore is the Welfare

Queen. The notion of the Welfare Queen is so firmly cemented

within the popular imagery of the Black woman that it becomes

unnecessary to even add "black" before the term as an

signifier. If the Black woman spends all of her time in bed

then it is inevitable that she ends up with a multitude of

children for which she is incapable of caring. In the









antebellum south, slavery was the perfect solution to her

promiscuity. But while the Black woman's sexual appetite

produced useful additions to the slave workforce, the Welfare

Queen's progeny drains society financially and morally.

Currently, the Welfare Queen has had to be arrested because

of her reckless sexual appetite that swells the Welfare

roles. Hill Collins writes:

Essentially an updated version of the breeder woman
image created during slavery, this image provides
an ideological justification for efforts to harness
Black Women's fertility to the needs of a changing
political economy. (Black Feminist Criticism, 76)


Again, the construction of the Black woman as a

irresponsible, irrepressible breeder justified the dismissal

of her maternal instincts, and more recently merits the push

to do away with social programs suspected of helping her

perpetuate her immorality.'

Thus, the popular images of the Black woman as Whore and

Welfare Queen were historically, and are currently, useful in

defining and maintaining the Black woman's position in

society. These kinds of images of Black women have become so

commonplace that there seems to be nothing unusual or

noteworthy about them anymore. Even though the mammy image

has undergone a makeover, she still exists in and is

essential to the fabric of American popular culture.2


1 The Whore and Welfare Queen are discussed further in Chapter Two
which explores sexuality and Whoopi Goldberg.
2 Here I make reference to the updating of the image on the Aunt
Jemima pancake mix box circa 1990. Aunt Jemima loses her head wrap, a
historical signifier of the mammy figure and is re-presented with









Invariably, the mammy remains, and is as effective in

defining the way dominant society thinks about Black women,

as are the "black ho" who is consumed daily in music videos

and talk shows, and the Welfare Queen stereotype which is

bandied strategically about on the evening news.

Again, the genesis of the mammy figure comes directly

from American slavery mythology. None of these mythical

identities created during Slavery were meant to accurately

reflect who the Black woman really was, but were rather

generated out of neccessity. The mammy figure grew largely

out of a need slave owners had to create surrogate

mothers/nurturers for their legal and out-of-wedlock

children. Not only were these black women expected and

encouraged to care for their white charges at the expense of

their own families, but at the expense of their

individuality. According to Trudier Harris, the Black serving

woman's role became more important than she was herself; "she

should cook, clean, take care of the children--and be

invisible or self-effacing" (11-12). Herein lies the crux of

the Black woman's problem with the image of the mammy and

indeed, with all of the stereotypes that make up popular

notions of Black womanhood. The uses of these stereotypes

cause the Black woman to cease to exist as anything but her

type in the eyes of dominant society, and eventually in her

own eyes. The Whore, the Queen, and the Mammy are just that.


chemically relaxed hair. The new hairstyle does not alleviate the
traditional meaning behind the Black woman on this pancake box.









They do not love, feel, wish, believe or do any of the other

things commonly associated with one who possesses personhood.

While it was important that the Whore and the Queen be

incapable of bonding with their children, it was even more so

with the Mammy. After all, unlike her sister Whores and

Queens, the mammy had no sexual appetite. She was at the

opposite end of the spectrum when it came to sex and

sexuality. The void this negation of sexuality left in her

caricature had to be filled with motherly instincts, but only

for the master's children--never her own. Again the Black

woman is forced to mutate and is reconstructed to fit the

needs of the slavemaster. He removes a few of his

superbreeders from the confines of their denotations (mammies

have no sexual appetites, they exist only to nurture) and

endows them with the ability to be supernurturers--but only

for his children. Harris writes:


Features inherent in the job made it necessary for
the black mammy to deny her own family in order to
rear generation after generation of whites who
would, ironically, grow up to oppress blacks yet
further. (35)

It is the denial of herself and her own family which causes

black women critics, in particular, to react so vehemently to

the mammy figure. While the mammy bathes, feeds, and coddles

her white charges, where are her own children? While she is

mammy for Miss Anne and Miss Anne's children and perhaps even

Miss Anne's grandchildren, what has become of her own family,

her own children, her life?








Popular literature and film have always portrayed being

a mammy from the dominant society's perspective. It is a

good, even desirable position. Trudier Harris cites a 1938

essay by Jessie Parkhurst denoting the attributes of

mammyhood.


If she did not live in the big house, she lived
nearby; she dressed well, was not usually punished
or sold, and could cultivate an intimacy with the
master that none of the other slaves dared. "She
was considered self-respecting, independent, loyal,
forward, gentle, captious, affectionate, true,
strong, just . trustworthy, faithful . .
(35-360)

White people saw mammies in this way because this is what

they needed mammies to be. African American women are wounded

by such a depiction because it erased the selfhood of Black

women during slavery and denied their individual autonomy.

While the point can be made that slavery effaced all of

the slaves' individuality, the image of the mammy is not only

about effacement. It is about embracing white culture as that

which has the right/is right as opposed to Blackness. In From

Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature,

Trudier Harris asserts that because the mammy's position

afforded her access to the inner workings of the plantation

house and intimate knowledge of the plantation family, the

mammy began to "see whites as the models for everything good

and right, while black was ugly and undesirable" (36). The

contention is that such close association with the source of

Black people's oppression and their relatively privileged

position at the top of the slaver hierarchy, caused mammies









to identify with whiteness, and shun their own culture and

kind. Harris continues with her appraisal by accenting the

rigid boundaries between the mammy and the other plantation

slaves.


Mammy's self-respect was lost in groveling before
and fawning upon her mistress, master, and young
white charges. Her loyalty became self-effacement
and her affection anticipated the exaggeration of
the minstrel tradition. Her piety and patience
worked more often than not in favor of the whites,
and her tyranny was most ruthless when it was
exercised over other Blacks. . .she also believed
in aping white manners . and believed herself
inferior to those for whom she worked. (36)


The author is brutal in her assessment of the mammy figure as

having sold out her own people. While Harris' accusations are

scathing, they are important for noting the vehemence with

which Black women critics attack the mammy. They are also

important because she draws her conclusions largely from

studying a particular Black American literature that takes up

the trope of the mammy. Thus she is reiterating the way Black

authors themselves see the mammy. Harris goes on to

conceptualize the mammy as a traitor among slaves and

eventually a traitor among early and middle 20th century

Blacks. Harris critiques Charles Chesnutt's Mammy Jane in

The Marrow of Tradition, Ann Petry's Lutie in The Street, and

the Opal Simmonds character in dem, by William Melvin Kelley.

Thus the conceptualization of the mammy figure is

manifold in this society. Many Black authors and critics see

the mammy as an apostate member of her race and the final and

triumphant result of internalized racism, while a writer like









Lillian Smith (a white-southern-female who benefited from the

tradition) waxes nostalgic about the feelings she had for her

old mammy. In Smith's novel, Killers of the Dream, a bold

assessment of the white South for the time, she critiques

white people's treatment of Blacks. In her assessment of her

mammy she admits to having feelings for her, but having to

deny them because truly caring for one's mammy was not

supposed to be publicly expressed. According to Smith:


I knew that my old nurse who had cared for me
through long months of illness, who had given me
refuge when a little sister took my place as the
baby of the family, who soothed me, fed me,
delighted me with their stories and games, let me
fall asleep on her deep warm breast, was not worthy
of the passionate love I felt for her but must be
given instead a half-smiled-at affection similar to
that which one feels for one's do. (28-29)

Whether intentionally or not, Smith romanticizes the plight

of her "old nurse." While Smith was partaking of her mammy's

stories and sleeping on her breast, and constantly reminding

herself that the mammy was not to be afforded the same

affection as a mother, the mammy was losing her identity. In

the novel Smith continues to criticize the way she was raised

as a proper southern lady, yet she still fails to see her

mammy as anything other than her own personal nurturer. Mammy

does not even garner a name, nor does the audience ever learn

whether mammy had her own family. Hence the mammy is

perceived quite differently by those whom she cared for and

by those members of her culture. The very nature of her

bipolar perception marks her as a powerful type in American








society. The dominant society tends to see her as harmless,

gentle, even likable, while African Americans see her as a

by-product of racism.

According to Patricia Hill-Collins the mammy figure was

and continues to be so potent not only because of the

multiplicity of readings she generates, but because she

helped to perpetuate a certain maternal, economic and

psychical order. Hill-Collins writes:


The first controlling image applied to African-
American women is that of the mammy--the faithful,
obedient domestic servant. Created to justify the
economic exploitation of house slaves and sustained
to explain Black women's long-standing restriction
to domestic service, the mammy image represents the
normative yardstick used to evaluate all Black
women's behavior. By loving, nurturing, and caring
for her white children and "family" better than her
own, the mammy symbolizes the dominant group's
perceptions of the ideal Black female relationship
to elite white male power. (71)


Thus dominant society is comfortable with the mammy figure

because there is little tension inherent in their

relationship. Andrea Stuart writes in her article, "Making

Whoopi," "Indeed, Goldberg's appeal, at least in film, lies

perhaps in the fact that she is unthreatening, even relaxing"

(13). Stuart reiterates the notion that Whoopi Goldberg is

successful because she does not threaten her audience or

persuade them to feel guilty or responsible for the state of

race affairs in America. Just as the mammy made those she

served feel comfortable and did not consciously remind them

of either her Blackness or their whiteness, such is the

appeal of Goldberg. Therefore, Hill-Collins sees the very









presence or practice of the mammy as an endorsement of her.

For Black women who internalize the imagery of the mammy, it

will successfully keep them in their places, as constituted

by the dominant society. As for the dominant society, they

remain comfortable in their power positioning when they only

have to meet the Black woman in her role as mammy.

Hill-Collins assesses a reality of African American

women's lives that is difficult to articulate. African

American women occupy the lowest rung of the economic, social

and political totem pole. It is still a surprise when a Black

woman is elected into office or is allowed into corporate

boardrooms. It is no surprise that Black women still earn

less than Black men or white women or that they still have to

battle stereotypes labeling them mammies. Hill-Collins is

just one of many Womanist/Black Feminist theorists to see the

real and imagined lives of Black women being shaped by the

unequal and powerful images of her built into the American

system. The mammy image, and all that she represents, implies

that the Black woman's status in this society is at best

ingrained structurally and at worst her own fault, but

certainly the best she can hope to achieve. Consequently the

most an average African American woman who successfully

internalizes such imagery can hope for is to receive

employment in the home, business or office building of a

white person. She may take care of children, clean the office

building or even file papers but she must realize that this

is her designated place in society. This is what best suits









her. After all, her only alternatives are the Whore/Welfare

Queen images.

The mammy is also powerful because she can define the

relationship Black women have with their children. For Hill-

Collins, "the mammy image is important because it aims to

shape Black women's behavior as mothers" (72). Society on the

whole sees the Black woman as bereft of maternal instincts.

In All the Women Are White, All the Men Are Black, But Some

of Us Are Brave, Alice Walker articulates the way Black

motherhood is often exhibited.

Perhaps it is the Black woman's children, whom the
white woman--having more to offer her own children,
and certainly not having to offer them slavery or a
slave heritage or poverty or hatred, generally
speaking: segregated schools, slum neighborhoods,
the worst of everything--resents. For they must
always make her feel guilty. She fears knowing that
black women want the best for their children just
as she does. But she also knows Black Children are
to have less in this world so that her children,
white children, will have more. . Better then
to deny that the Black woman . Is capable of
motherhood. Is a woman. (44)

While Walker speaks specifically about white women's notions

of Black motherhood, this interpretation is perhaps universal

within the dominant culture. Inherent within the mythology of

American culture is the premise that Black women are not only

unwilling to mother their own children, but lack the ability

to nurture. For Walker, this perceived fault in the Black

woman's mothering capabilities allows white society to use

the Black woman as a scapegoat. Society at large does not

have to bear any of the responsibility for the state of Black








people. The source of inadequate housing, jobs, and

opportunities can be traced to inferior parenting.

Black people have long been aware of this brand of

inequity built into the system of cultural codes. The Black

community has long been aware of the unspoken tenet that

stated if Black children failed it was the parents and/or

community's fault and not the result of a racially biased

system. They knew this just as they "knew" the equally

malicious premise that Black women were really incapable of

adequately mothering their children. One of the first places

critics and theorists of African American culture began to

articulate and subsequently combat these issues was in the

pages of their fiction. In Toni Morrison's landmark novel,

The Bluest Eye, the author creates a portrait of a Black

woman who has forsaken her children and her selfhood, in

exchange for a life on the periphery of a white family. This

novel is particularly useful for examining the effects of

erasing Black selfhood. Pauline Breedlove has so embraced her

life as servant to a white family that she completely turns

her back on her own husband and children. Not only has

Pauline opted out of Blackness, but her daughter has been so

inundated with whiteness as rightness that she too longs for

it. While her mother longs to simply fade into the midst of

her white employers, Pecola longs for blue eyes. Pecola

thinks that when she obtains blue eyes her mother and the

rest of the world will suddenly love her. Yet both Pauline

and Pecola are mistaken in their assessments.








Pauline Breedlove desires the order and regulation, the

cleanliness and calm, the affluence and abundance she sees as

belonging to and inherent within the white family. She

concludes that by becoming a fervently zealous and therefore

indispensable servant, she somehow becomes a legitimate part

of the white family. For Pauline, interacting with the family

on a daily basis even in minuscule ways makes her worthy of

them--makes her one of them. Morrison writes:


Power praise and luxury were hers in this
household. They even gave her what she had never
had--a nickname--Polly. It was her pleasure to
stand in her kitchen at the end of the day and
survey her handiwork. (101)


Eventually, Pauline cannot find fulfillment or happiness in

her own family or her own culture. She can only experience

joy as the servant of her white family. Pauline sanctions an

intimacy between herself and her employers that she

discourages within her own family. Both her husband and her

children refer to Pauline as Mrs. Breedlove. Yet, she is

pleased that the white family has abbreviated her name,

changed her name, to suit themselves. In a sense she has

acquiesced to their re-naming her Polly. Her sense of self,

her sense of identity can only be found via interaction with,

re-naming by, the white family.

Perhaps Pauline could be offered redemption if it were

the lifestyle, the things of the white family she craved.

However, Pauline does not covet the white lifestyle for

herself and or her family, but desires to become a part the








white life. Pauline's desire is not about herself as a Black

woman achieving a similar way of life as her employers but

rather becoming, if not one of these people, then joyfully

guilty by association. Pauline fantasizes about being white,

not about having the same economic opportunities as white

people. In one of the most haunting passages in the novel,

Pauline recollects the time she would spend at the movies.

She arrives early and sits in a darkened movie theater and

feels real excitement when the black screen suddenly turns to

silver. The theater is one of the first places Pauline begins

not only to abandon her sense of reality, but to lose her

sense of self-worth as a Black woman. Pauline recalls her

forays to the movies as the only time she acquired pleasure.


Then the screen would light up, and I'd move right
on in them pictures. White men taking such good
care of they women, and they all dressed up in big
clean houses with the bathtubs right in the same
room with the toilet. Them pictures gave me a lot
of pleasure, but it made coming home hard, and
looking at Cholly hard. (97)

Pauline Breedlove has done what all psychologically

distraught mammies do, she has come to believe that whiteness

equals masculinity, femininity, and moral station. Instead of

questioning the nuances of a movie, or even a society, where

a man's ability to take care of his family is associated with

his skin-color and beauty is defined as looking like Jean

Harlow, Pauline internalizes what she sees and judges herself

and her husband to be lacking. This self-hatred eventually

turns to hatred for her husband and her children as well. She








looks at Cholly and the children and is overwhelmed by their

Blackness--therefore their incredible lack of whiteness.

Pauline then participates in white life in what she

believes is the only way possible for her and for people like

her. Pauline partakes of beauty and family in the only way

she believes she can. She becomes the perfect servant, the

perfection of the mythical mammy, complete with a disdain for

her own children. In her assessment of The Bluest Eye Trudier

Harris writes, "Pauline Breedlove identifies completely with

the white world and takes excessive, self-deprecating pride

in childrearing, cooking, and cleaning for it" (39).

Pauline's characterization is a classic example of the mammy

figure. The mammy is no longer a job description or a

position but becomes a state-of-mind. She is representative

of the mammy in her worse traditional sense. This character

is so inculcated with the legitimacy of her white family,

that she rejects anything that is not them, including her own

family and her identity as a Black wife and mother. In the

end, she confuses intimacy with whiteness with access to it.

Pauline Breedlove is the quintessential mammy because the

mammy is the purest evidence of the internalization of anti-

Black racism.

This curse becomes generational when Pecola Breedlove

adopts yet another form of self-effacement. Pecola reacts not

only to rejection from her mother, but rejection from her

Black community. Not only is Pecola having to negotiate her

identity in the face of a mother who rejects Blackness, but









among her Black peers who view hues of Blackness in

gradations of acceptability. Pecola is a dark-skinned, short-

haired child in a world where those things indicate

unattractiveness. She has no loving support system at home to

combat the intra-racial stereotyping that occurs. Thus Pecola

assumes that blue eyes will make her acceptable. Blue eyes

not only represent a physical embodiment of whiteness but a

"white" outlook. If Pecola could begin to see the world as

white people saw it, she could take on their perception of

reality. Again the purpose is to assume a white identity, in

lieu of a Black one which is automatically equated with

anguish, lack and everything awful. Pecola lies in bed and

prays for blue eyes while her parents fight.


It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her
eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew
the sight--if those eyes of hers were different,
that is to say beautiful, she herself would be
different. . If she looked different,
beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and
Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they'd say, "Why, look at
pretty-eyed Pecola. We mustn't do bad things in
front of those pretty eyes." (40)

Pecola, like Pauline, sees escape and dissociation from

Blackness as the only solution.

Even at the end novel, when Pecola pays far too much for

her blue eyes, Pauline makes no effort to rescue her own

child. Pauline goes on being the mammy in its most historic

and psychological sense. She continues to be surrogate-mother

to her white charges, while her own family dies,

disintegrates and slips into madness. For Pauline and








subsequently for Pecola, the only way to deal with being

Black is to reject it.

It seems ironic that the same mammy icon that is so

inept at nurturing her own children, could then turn around

and successfully nurture the children of her white owners.

Again this points to the contradictions in slavery, racism,

and the production of the mammy figure herself. In the slave

infrastructure the same mammy who could and did abandon her

own children at least emotionally and spiritually was able to

fashion motherly instincts from nothing, and then lavish them

upon white children. This is one of the most painful aspects

of the mammy figure. It is not the denigrated physical

characteristics that defined her or the fact that she was

slave labor, but that she could abandon her own precious

Black children in favor of the secondhand-mothering of white

children which made the mammy the bane of African American

culture. Yet this glorification of the mothering of white

children and the derisive depiction of Black mothers

mothering Black children was necessary to create and sustain

the myth of the mammy. This embracing of all that is white,

even at the expense of one's selfhood and progeny, marks the

Black women as guilty--just as her accusers said. The hurt is

only magnified when the mammy's accusers are other Black

women. This fact becomes extremely important when examining

Goldberg's role as a contemporary mammy figure.

Thus the mammy figure is more than a big, dark-skinned

Black woman with a rag on her head and white babies on her









hip. She represents one of the first ways that dominant

society manipulated the black woman's imagery for its

benefit. Inherent within the negation of the black woman's

maternal instincts is a relief from the guilt by whites for

treating blacks as they do. If Black people don't love their

children then they don't need good jobs or nice homes or

welfare to assist them.

The mammy became an archetype like the Black man as

rapist or the white woman as flowering femininity. The

ideology of the mammy was fashioned to uphold the institution

of slavery, justify its needs and misdeeds. Within the

African American community the notion of the mammy represents

self-hatred and internalized racism at its best. The mammy is

a reminder that much of what slavery was designed to do was

successful. This imagery remains potent and popular in

contemporary society. When Black critics and theorists

acknowledge Goldberg, then it is usually as the latest

transformation of the mammy.











I Still Need Beulah to Peel Me a Grape



It is possible to turn on the television and consume

images of Black women as video 'hos and welfare queens quite

readily. The presence of Black women on the television

screen has escalated in recent years with the advent of music

videos and talk shows. Yet, these kinds of vehicles still

present very one-dimensional caricatures of Black women.

However, it is the nurturer, the mammy, who still reigns in

Hollywood cinema. Yet, the mammy figure does not always make

her appearance in the traditional way. She is not just the

elderly black woman in charge of white children or a white

household, the mammy is much more mutable than that. The

mammy, whatever her current physical manifestation is a

supernurturer. Super is used here in the sense that it takes

the form of an over-extended kind of nurturing. It is a

nurturing that goes over and above what is adequate. This

kind of nurturing represents the only comfortable way

Blackness has been, and evidently can still be, negotiated on

screen. Thus the most high profile Black actress in Hollywood

is consistently presented in vehicles where her primary

purpose is to nurture the white characters.3 Yet, this enigma

is not inherent solely in Goldberg's work. Often when

3 Goldberg does not always mammy in the traditional way in every
movie. There are some movies in which she plays mad, or highly
eccentric characters--which is another prolific use of Blackness in
mainstream cinema. In short, Blackness is also acceptable if it is
mad. Mad Blackness can end up nurturing whiteness just as well. This
is discussed further in Chapter Four.









Blackness is presented on Hollywood screen's it is made more

palatable because it's sole function is to further the white

narrative.

The way Blackness is presented on screen is of course

comparable to the way it is used in literature. In Playing in

the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni

Morrison examines the ways in which the African presence

serves as a "surrogate and enabler" for whiteness (51).4

Morrison says that authors like Mark Twain, Saul Bellow, and

Willa Cather construct Blackness in their work to buoy

whiteness. American literature in general either denies the

existence of an African presence, or fills the trope of

Blackness with negative meanings that make the trope of

whiteness all the more positive and stable--all the more

"white." Although Morrison's critique is aimed at literary

practices, some of the same tenets hold true for film.

Blackness if often seen as negative so that the white

characterization can be valorized. Morrison further defines

familiar stereotypes of Blacks in literature such as nurses,

rescuers and catalyst. In film, these same tropes are

utilized as acceptable and necessary ways to present Black

characters. This kind of practice is so inherent in

literature and film that it becomes almost invisible to the

audience. Mainstream cinema audiences are comfortable with


4 Morrison uses the term Africanist to represent the denotativee and
connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as
well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and
misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these peoples"
(6).









images of Black people as nurturers and enablers, not with

fully developed characterizations. Hence, it behooves the

film industry to continue to perpetuate the image of the

mammy because that is what their audiences are familiar and

comfortable with seeing. Mainstream audiences are comfortable

seeing what they have always seen and with viewing Blackness

as the peripheral character even when she/he is central to

the narravtive. White audiences are content to see Blackness

serving to further the life or development of white

characters, with it prompting and saving them in setbacks and

in sickness. The result is a cycle that is rarely challenged,

the circle remains unbroken. Even when there is evidence that

some elements of mainstream audiences can and do watch so-

called "Black" movies, for instance the cross-over success

Waiting to Exhale, the movie industry still does not deviate

from its formula.

Yet, even with all the trouble the movie industry has

with presenting Blackness on screen there remains a need to

do so. Implicit in literature and film which attempt to

include some formation of Blackness is a kind of closeted

duality. The very creation of the mammy caricature and film's

willingness to perpetuate the image implies a double-

consciousness in terms of race on the part of the dominant

society. Morrison writes:










If we follow through on the self-reflexive nature
of these encounters with Africanism, it falls
clear: images of blackness can be evil and
protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and
desirable--all of the self-contradictory features
of the self. Whiteness alone, is mute, meaningless,
unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained,
dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers
seem to say. (59)



Morrison is pointing out the double-handedness in the

treatment of Black characters. Accordingly, the same Black

women characters who are inferior to whites (male and female)

on screen, somehow make great mammies, nurses and confidants.

If one looks at the way Whoopi Goldberg is constructed as an

actor, her characterizations also exhibit contradictions.

Goldberg is constantly portrayed as dispensing the kind of

nurturing that white characters cannot forgo. Basic

components of the white characters psyche or life education

are missing, or in stasis waiting for the super-nurturer to

coax it out.

In Tania Modleski's analysis of gender and race in film,

she labels Goldberg the signifierr of the signifier" (133).

Modleski is drawn to a recoding of Blackness similar to the

one defined by Morrison. While no one can argue that

Goldberg and many other black actors are not used to

perpetuate and sustain whiteness, it is possible to read

film's need to represent them so as significant. Perhaps it

is an involuntary acknowledgment of the effect naming

Blackness has upon naming whiteness.









In The Imaginary Signifier, Christian Metz writes about

the ability of the signifier to act upon the signified. He

uses the word "Bordeaux" pointing to its literal meaning as

the sight where a certain wine is produced, and its

transmuted meaning as the wine itself (154-158). Of

importance here is the ability of the secondary figure to

have monumental influence upon and even usurp the place of

the primary. Perhaps this theory applies in part to the

anxious way in which film deals with Blackness. While the

relegation of Blackness into convenient and facilitating

caricatures actualizes the hegemony's need to define it;

defining Blackness is also the dominant society's way of

defining it self. The objectifying gaze does not just push

Blackness, Black women specifically, into the margins but

subjects them to superfragmented and partial meanings which

make complete meanings possible for the objectifier.

Defining Blackness makes it easy to be used as a reference

point, and self-circumscription in relation to it seems

natural. Thus the signifier has "significant" influence in

its relationship to the signified. While it is true that

relegating Blackness to positions of inferiority makes

whiteness appear superior, Blackness does act back upon

whiteness to influence its definition. Hence, Morrison's

summation of whiteness is that it needs Blackness to exist.

In his essay simply titled "White," Richard Dyer writes:










Trying to think about the representation of
whiteness as an ethnic category in mainstream film
is difficult, partly because white power secures
its dominance by seeming not to be anything in
particular, but also because, when whiteness qua
whiteness does come into focus, it is often
revealed as emptiness, absence, denial or even a
kind of death. (44)


Dyer engages the question of how "whiteness" is defined and

acknowledges that the difficulty in doing so is that

whiteness is it at once everything and nothing. Whiteness as

the normalizing and naturalizing factor in this culture

causes everything different from it to be evaluated against

it. In the recent past it was almost redundant to mention

"white" people, "white" culture and "white" history because

people, culture and history were white. This normalcy that

whiteness began to represent has not only worked to establish

its place as foundational but also causes a self-reflexive

definition to be difficult. If whiteness is the standard by

which everything else is judged then difference must exist--

is necessary--so that whiteness can carry out its function.

Thus images of Blacks, like the mammy, become essential to a

reading of whiteness in film. Since whiteness is read as what

is normal and stable--it is so normal and so stable that

difference must be present to keep it from fading away.

Cinema needs Goldberg and the personification of

characters like the mammy not only to help sustain it but as

a way to negotiate Blackness in a "white" film. Blackness is

treated on screen in ways that make it palatable to

mainstream audiences. Mainstream audiences are familiar with









images of Blackness as violence, as overt sex, and as sources

of super-nurturing.5 All of these presentations allow

whiteness to go on being white. Yet, no matter the particular

style of treatment, Blackness is almost always presented as

something to be vicariously consumed and or as something

whose rudimentary function is to serve. The result is a

chiastic relationship where Blackness then begins to affect

whiteness. Consequently there is a need to continue the

imagery of the mammy in film.



























5 Here it necessary to comment on other ways Blackness is presented
on screen via Hollywood film. If Blackness is not presented as the
catalyst to white development, then it is seen as violent. It can be
suicidal, which means Black on Black crime or violence directed at a
white character, usually a white woman by a Black male. If Blackness
is female and she is not a mammy figure, then she is overtly sexual,
yeilding the jezebel/whore or the welfare queen. When Blackness is
presented in these ways, then the film is usually "Black" denoting a
Black storyline and a majority of Black characters. More often if it
is a white film--which is what this project examines--then Blackness
is presented in the visage of the mammy.










Harriet, Clara, Corrina, Mary Clarence



Very few of Goldberg's film have received adequate

academic criticism. While there are numerous film reviews,

the bulk of film criticism as it concerns Goldberg is limited

to her first role in The Color Purple, and Ghost--the movie

for which she won an Oscar. With that, the major commentary

about Ghost coming from Black critics (Bogle, hooks, Lola

Young) was that Goldberg was perpetuating the character of

the mammy. However, many mainstream commentaries saw

Goldberg's performance as phenomenal thus her procurement of

an Academy Award. Mainstream audiences love to love Whoopi

Goldberg. They find no inherent problem in the kind of roles

to which she has access. While Black audiences find

Goldberg's isolation from her community disheartening,

mainstream audiences seem to read this as liberation from the

confines of ethnicity. In "Making Whoopi," Andrea Stuart

writes:


Indeed, Goldberg's appeal, at least in film, lies
perhaps in the fact that she is unthreatening, even
relaxing. To many--black and white alike--her films
are a delightful break from our society's endless
negotiations on the subject of race, time out, from
which we can return refreshed for the next round.
And perhaps, therefore, Goldberg is, in a strange
way, a hope for the future: a black performer whose
black skin is an empty sign, like that of her white
counterparts, that simply spells entertainment and
does not carry with it the baggage of oppression or
history. (13)








Here Stuart is articulating the very reason Goldberg is a

bone of contention between Black and white cinema audiences.

While it is impossible to speak in terms totality concerning

the taste and responses of "Black" and "white" cinema

audiences, given a boycott by the NAACP and comments from

well known Black cultural and film critics, it seems safe to

assume that the overwhelming majority of Whoopi Goldberg fans

are white. Stuart assumes that it is possible for moviegoers

to completely suspend their belief during the viewing of the

film. If that were the case, Goldberg would not have to be

completely removed from the Black community in the majority

of her films in order to sustain her popularity with white

audiences. Stuart assumes that Black audiences find it

"unthreatening" to see Goldberg as the only Black person on

the screen or of import in her movies. She assumes that Black

audiences find her estrangement from Black men and women and

children as "relaxing." I would argue that the abdication

from Black culture is precisely why Goldberg is not popular

with Black audiences, and why she is associated with the

mammy figure. Again, the most painful aspect of the mammy

figure for Black people is her separation from other Blacks

whether coerced or circumstantial. Perhaps Goldberg does

represent "a break from society's endless negotiations on the

subject of race" for white people, but that is not the case

for African diasporic audiences. While Stuart's call for a

racial time-out may read well, society is not there yet. One

of the few places where Blacks can rest from racial battles









is in a place (or at a movie) that reaffirms their viability.

This resting place is definitely not at a Whoopi Goldberg

movie.

Goldberg's skin like the skin of other Blacks is far

from empty as a signifier. It is the Black skin's loaded

connotation that makes it possible for white skin to be an

"empty sign." One of the inferences of Black skin is

precisely that it "spells entertainment." Stuart, like many

mainstream audiences, presumes that because Goldberg is

palatable for them, that she is also navigable for Black

audiences. According to Donald Bogle, the "cultural

rootlessness" exhibited in Goldberg's films serves to

alienate her from Black audiences (297). So, what white

audiences view as a race break and as "refreshing"

characterizations of Goldberg, Black audiences tend to view

as a convenient absence and a deliberate and debilitating

reshaping of Blackness to make it negotiable for mainstream

film audiences. Perhaps Goldberg represents the way white

audiences feel Blackness ought to be--amiable, humorous, non-

threatening and ready to facilitate.

In Jacqueline Bobo's Black Women as Cultural Readers,

she explores the responses of Black women to the ways they

are presented on screen. She quotes Julie Dash, the director

of Daughters of the Dust, "As a black woman," states Julie

Dash, "you take for granted that you are never going to see

certain moments--certain private moments--on screen" (161).

Julie Dash is articulating the frustration that Black women









experience when presented dehumanizing images of themselves

on screen. In general, Black people are so used to the

cardboard caricatures that they have all but given up hope of

seeing complex, comprehensive and undiminished images of

themselves on screen--especially in Hollywood films. For the

majority of Blacks, Goldberg does not represent a place where

insufficient representation is satisfied.

Lola Young re-empasizes this point in her critique of

the kinds of roles, the ways in which Black people are

allowed to appear on screen. Using Joseph Conrad's Heart of

Darkness, Young speaks to the historical use Africa and

everything relating to the African continent, as the space

wherein whites could play out their fantasies. Young writes

that:









As the embodiment of those fantasies, Black people
have been expected to behave, respond and
experience in particular ways: we are 'obliged' to
play particular roles. In the case of most 'white'
authored fictional narratives this means being
confined to specific spheres of action. (176)


Perhaps the new "dark continent' is the screen. Film may

represent the latest space wherein the dominant culture can

carry out their fantasies against Blacks and other people of

color. By allowing only Whoopi Goldberg (someone who can

successfully carry off the mammy) into the eschelons reserved

for Hollywood stars, Hollywood indeed makes a statement

concerning when Blacks will be allowed centrality on the

silver screen.

Even when mainstream film critics recognize the mammy

quality inherent in Goldberg's characters, they tend to

scapegoat her talent rather than yield a full critique of

Goldberg as mammy. For instance, in Tania Modleski's Feminism

Without Women, she examines several movies where Black women

character's appear to further the narrative including Ghost

and Clara'a Hart. Modleski says,


I must acknowledge, however, although it places me
in an uncomfortable position, that I personally
find the Goldberg character in the comedies both
attractive and empowering . and part of this
attraction for me lies in the way she represents a
liberating departure from the stifling conventions
of femininity. (133)

Just as Stuart sees Goldberg as representing a hiatus for

white audiences from thinking about their complicity in

prevailing race equations, Modleski reads Goldberg as a break









from conventional femininity. Both methodologies rely on a

festive/fictive readings of Goldberg to further their causes.

They forego looking at race and womanhood from a perspective

that allows Goldberg to be the only Black woman on screen or

the only Black person in the movie. Because Goldberg is still

the latest embodiment of the mammy, there is little room for

a liberating reading of her either in terms of race or

gender.

Clara's Hart is the 1988 movie starring Goldberg and

Neil Patrick Harris. Goldberg is a Jamaican maid hired to

take care of young David Hart. David has just suffered the

loss of his baby sister and is continually ignored by parents

on the brink of divorce. David is left to his own devices in

suburban Maryland until the arrival of Clara Mayfield (Whoopi

Goldberg). Clara has already worked her special brand of

"black magic" on David's mother, hence her new job. While

recuperating in Jamaica from the death of her baby, Mrs. Hart

is restored to life herself by Clara. Mrs. Hart has spent

days in her ocean side bungalow, with the shades drawn,

alternating between the bathtub and bed until Clara arrives

to clean the room. Clara does immediately what Mr. Hart, whom

is present but invisible in Jamaica, cannot do. Before she

leaves Mrs. Hart has cried in her arms and offered Clara a

job. Upon arriving at the Hart house Clara again begins to

breathe life into this dead family. She not only invigorates

Mrs. Hart and David, but her constant fights with Mr. Hart

even bring him to life.









Clara's patois laden speech and her long dread locks

stand in direct contrast to the Hart's upper-class suburban

world. She implements changes in their routines, the food

they eat, and even decrees when it is time for Mrs. Hart to

dismantle the dead baby's nursery. Yet, it is the changes

that are wrought in David which are the focal point of the

movie. Of course, David does not like Clara at first, which

sets up the tug-of-war they must endure to get to know one

another. David is not used to adult attention, unless it is

in the negative. He has grown accustomed to spending his time

trying to be helpful to his mother and athletic for his

father in order that they might pay him some attention.

If the identifying characteristics of a mammy include

the nurturing of white children and alienation from one's own

community, then Clara's Hart is the perfect vehicle. Yet, not

only is Clara Mayfield David Hart's mammy, her body becomes

the space he uses to work through his own awakening desires

and assent into manhood. She is his primary source of nurture

and his first love, and he in exchange becomes her surrogate

son.

After a rocky start Clara and David eventually become

the best of friends. Their relationship moves even beyond the

typical servant/young charge relationship as Clara begins to

take him with her even on her weekends off. Clara becomes

very much the mythical wise-Black-mother kind of character.

The only person in house immune to her charms is the father

and even he cannot fire Clara--though he tries. Clara's









relationship with the father is depicted as volatile perhaps

in order to deny any competition between father and son for

her affections. Even her contact with David's mother begins

to wane as Mrs. Hart becomes the patient/close friend of a

psychologist seeking to heal her inner-child. This leaves

Clara and David plenty of time to be alone.

One of the unique aspects of this movie is that Clara

though a new immigrant from Jamaica, does have friends in the

area. During her weekends off she takes a train into

Baltimore and visits old friends who have also come from

Jamaica. Yet the trope of the mammy is at work even though

Clara has Black friends. She is still an outsider within the

Black community. There is secret about Clara Mayfield that

causes her to be the subject of songs and the brunt of jokes.

It is this secret that David Hart sets out to discover.

Upon visiting with Clara in the city, David meets a

young Jamaican woman who threatens him with Clara's secret.

Of course this mysterious young woman coupled with the fact

that Clara carries around a small red suitcase which everyone

else is forbidden to touch only exacerbates David's

curiosity. Eventually David opens Clara's suitcase and

discovers a bundle of letters that have been sent back to her

unopened, seemingly by her husband. Clara's has only

mentioned her own family in passing. She says she had a son

whom she lost and that her husband works outside of Jamaica,

but that he will be joining her in American soon. David's

opening of the suitcase symbolizes his betrayal of Clara and








his crossing into manhood. The red suitcase like a scarlet

letter, not only contains the remains of Clara's family, but

her shame. Clara has spent the majority of the movie doling

out wisdom and advice, sharing her anecdotes and raising

David. The letters in the suitcase tell of her own failure as

a wife and mother to her own family. Her husband will not

accept her letters because he blames her for what happened to

their son. It is clear that Clara also blames herself.

During Clara and David's final jaunt into the city, the

Jamaican girl Dora and Clara collide. Dora tries to tell

David what happened to Clara's son and in so doing grabs

David and holds him by his hair. Clara responds by telling

her to take her hands off her boy. Dora taunts Clara by

telling her she has no boy, that her boy died, and a fight

ensues. After returning to Clara's apartment David learns the

whole of Clara's secret. The audience understands why she is

an outsider among her own people and why she had so

vehemently declared David "her boy." The scene wherein Clara

reveals her secret to David is among the most poignant in the

movie. They are seated a table with David on the left and

Clara on the right. The camera remains on David's face as

Clara shares with him her awful pain. Clara's son who was in

some way mentally challenged, raped the young girl Dora. When

Clara confronted her son about it, he then attacked and raped

his mother. The tale ends with her son Ralphy having

committed suicide by throwing himself off a cliff. During the

entirety of this heart-wrenching story the camera remains the








entire time on the young white actor. We see the play of his

emotions and how he is handling Clara's revelation. After a

brief cut to a frame that includes them both, we again see

only the boy's reaction to the story, not Clara's telling.

This is significant in relegating her once again to the

position of mammy. While the movie has seemingly revolved

around Goldberg's character, at the most crucial moment in

the film she is simply a voice off-screen providing fodder

for the young white male's consumption.

Once David learns Clara's secret there is a change that

takes place in him. Clara's attention, love and finally her

revelation is the catalyst he needs to enter manhood. David,

who has struggled the entire movie with his status as a

pushover, suddenly challenges his school's bully to a race in

the swimming pool. With his father watching, David emerges

from the pool triumphant having finally won the respect of

his father and his peers. None of this takes place however,

until David learns Clara's secret. It is as if he needed to

take the one last piece of her that was solely hers. The

transformation that takes place in David is not only the

result of his taking her secret, but also of his taking the

place of both Clara's son and her husband. He becomes the men

in her life. David comforts Clara and reassures her that what

happened was not her fault, he is successful because he has

become "her boy." The mammy is reinforced here again as one

of her characteristics is the abandonment of her own family

in favor of a white one. Clara seemingly gives up the bond








with her son, not because he is dead or did wrong, but

because the wonderful David has finally come to take his

place. She even receives the comfort that was not forthcoming

from her husband, as evidenced by the letters he returned to

her, at the hands of David. Once again, the white family has

proven itself preferable to the Black family.

It is important to note that stereotypes of Black men

as beasts are confirmed. Clara's son not only rapes a young

woman, but also his own mother committing the ultimate

violation between a mother and son. Thus, it is the white

child David who is able to provide Clara with a proper son.

It is ironic that Clara ends up saving David from Dora

whereas she did not save Dora from her own son. Clara has

carried around a red suit case containing letters as evidence

of her rejection by her husband. David opens the suitcase and

exposes the secrets and eventually is able to comfort Clara

in lieu of a husband who was unwilling. Thus the mammy is

justified in her pursuit of the white family, in her pursuit

of a white son/man. David is able to do single-handedly what

Clara's son and husband were not.

Yet this tender moment between David and Clara cannot

last. The white child cannot truly belong to her. A break

must occur in their relationship to ensure that Clara does

not really usurp the places held by a white mother/woman.

David's reaction to the news that Clara will not continue to

care for him after his parents divorce, serves as the

breaking point in their relationship. After all the two have









shared, after Clara has stood in as his mother when his

mother was unable/unwilling, David hurts Clara in the one way

he knows he can. As Clara is explaining to David that she

loves him even though they will no longer be together, he

retaliates by saying "you'll just be a nigger in the end."

David resorts to racial slurs in order to hurt Clara because

she will no longer be at his disposal, he will no longer own

her.

David's calling Clara a nigger is the first sign of

racial tension between their characters. Throughout the film

David reacts to Clara and her culture by imitating it. He

imitates the way she talks, the way she worships at church.

Each event he experiences with Clara is new and wonderful to

him. He lives for the first time, vicariously, through Clara.

Declaring that she turned out to be just a nigger implies

that David thought Clara was exceptional. In his mind she was

somehow different from other Black people because he was able

to care for her. In essence, he brands her with his words,

pushes her back down to the status of mammy. Because she has

refused him his request (coming with he and his mother), he

has no more use for her. As Clara leaves, David does not say

good-bye to her and she is again carrying her red suitcase.

The movie does not end here however, but must redeem

David's character and allay any notion of racism. A young man

is seen walking into a hospital at the end of the movie. We

see that it is David Hart and he is both diegetically and in

reality a year or perhaps more older. He is much taller and









has shed his glasses and many other signs of boyhood. At the

hospital, he asks where he can find Clara and is pointed in

the direction of the children's ward. He finds Clara

surrounded by children, leading them in Jamaican songs. When

she sees David, she identifies him to the children as the one

she has talked about. She describes the young man before her

as the "remains of the boy" she knew. As Clara and David

begin their reunion there is a awkwardness between them. He

is no longer her "boy," and she is no longer his servant.

They find it difficult to meet one another as adults.6 After a

brief apology from David, they shake hands. The awkwardness

that is apparent between them is even more prominent when

they embrace. Yet Clara tells him that the bond they share is

"perfect and more powerful than blood." Clara nearly pushes

David away, dismisses him. Her words do nothing to alleviate

the distance between them. Yet, it is a distance not entirely

of their own making. Clara and David may still care for one

another but there is no place for their relationship. She

after all is not his mother, and he is too old for a mammy.

Their reunion ends quickly and the last shot is of Clara

standing in the window looking longingly after David as he

leaves.

It is impossible to overlook to power of Goldberg's

acting or the excellence of this particular script. Yet,

Clara's Hart does what Goldberg's other obvious mammy films


6 It is interesting to note here that typically and traditionally the
only kind of legitimate relationship that existed between white men
and Black women was that of master and servant.








do, and that is leave the hard questions unanswered. The

movie does not address why David and Clara seem resigned to

the fact that their friendship is at best a memory at the end

of the movie. As David leaves, it is obvious that they will

not continue their relationship. Clara even tells David that

if he never sees her again, he will always have a special

place in her heart. Mainstream audiences are content with

David's long overdue apology and enthused by the fact that he

is now appears to be a man. However he is a man who has no

room in his life for a Black woman. Clara has done her job by

helping David come to fruition and now she must find others

to nurture. It is significant that David does not find Clara

remarried, reunited or with a family of her own. She is in

the children's ward of a hospital, teaching white children

Jamaican songs. Clara is still in the business of

nurturing/healing other people's children.

The other obvious mammy movie is 1994's Corrina,

Corrina. This movie has Goldberg as a maid once again. This

time her proteges is a little white girl who has lost her

mother. The surprising aspect about this movie is that

Goldberg's character gets to have a romantic relationship

with the girl's father. Yet, what seems a major departure

from the mammy role ends up taking the audience on a

deceptively circular ride.

Corrina Washington is an African-American college

graduate who cannot get a job. In order to survive

financially, she must take a job as a maid. Her dream is to








write articles for music magazines. She comes to be employed

by Ray Liotta's character Manny, because she is the only one

who has gotten a response from his daughter since her mother

died. Molly has stopped talking and of course it will require

the special attention of a Black woman before she regains her

voice. Corrina is able to do what the child's father,

grandparents and her father's potential girlfriend could not.

She helps Molly come to terms with her mother's death.

Like Clara's Hart the parent figure in the movie is so

busy he cannot provide adequate attention to the child.

Goldberg's character again has access to her community but is

not a complete part of it. Like the historical mammies, Clara

and Corrina float in and out of their community, recognized

and greeted, but still at the margins. Like Clara, Corrina is

able to expose her charge to the Black community. Molly gets

to frequent a Blues club, sing in the children's choir of a

Black church, and plait her hair. Molly begins to imitate

Corrina and even has fantasies of Corrina becoming her new

mother. All of this happens in the presence of her father who

seems oblivious to the goings on.

Unlike Clara's Hart, Corrina does have family in this

film. She even lives with her sister, brother-in-law, and

their children. The children become Molly's playmates, while

their mother becomes increasingly concerned for Corrina. She

warns Corrina after Manny buys her a gift, that he can only

want one thing from a Black woman. Corrina's sister also

reminds her that she needs to settle down with a nice man








(African-American) and have children. The impetus is that

Corrina will end up an old maid if she does not stop finding

fault with her suitors and prefering the company of her

employer. The movie is careful to paint a picture of Manny as

the obvious suitor for Corrina. Manny is the only one who

understands Corrina's love of music. Corrina's sister scolds

her for buying yet another music album, but it is the gift

from Manny. So that while they do not agree on God, cannot

live in the same neighborhood, or even dine out together

without causing a spectacle, they do love the same kind of

music. What more could a couple need to have in common. The

audiences is lead to believe that their mutual love of music

and Molly is enough to sustain them.

Of particular interest here is the parallelism in terms

of religion between Clara's Hart and Corrina, Corrina. One of

the defining characteristics of a mammy, according to Bogle,

is a strong sense of spirituality. In both movies there are

scenes where the white children go to church with the

Goldberg characters. David Hart partakes in his first

communion and Molly sings in a gospel choir. The final scene

of Corrina, Corrina finds Molly comforting her grandmother

at the loss of her grandfather by singing "This Little Light

of Mine." In both films the children's only exposure to

spirituality comes from the Goldberg characters. These

brushes with God prove invaluable to both children's

progress. It is significant that their introduction to

spirituality does not come via their parents, who themselves









are in need of Clara/Corrina's guidance when it comes to

these matter. However, in both movies this seemingly elevated

place the mammy figure has in the life of the children is

constantly under attack. In Clara's Hart, David's father is

constantly reminding anyone who will listen that Clara is not

David's mother and that their relationship has become too

interdependent. The same reality check occurs in Corrina,

Corrina as Manny reprimands Clara by reminding her that she

is not Molly's mother and has no right to make major

decisions concerning her. Again the Goldberg character's

status as catalyst for character development is just that.

Manny subsequently fires Corrina for making a decision about

Molly without consulting him. This relegates her once again

to servant status although she has been performing the role

of mother, and to a certain extent wife. The mammy's deep

spirituality is only honored and required as long as it does

not interfere with the white parents' ideology.

While the mother in Clara's Hart is aided in her

spiritual development by Clara, she only finds complete

fulfillment as the patient and lover of a psychologist. In

Corrina, Corrina, the father's source of spiritual connection

is Corrina. The film is a rarity in the Goldberg collection

as it features one of her few on screen romances. Corrina

gets to be touched and kissed by Molly's father. In the

process she touches not only his physical body, but his

spiritual self. The end of the film finds this declared

atheist praying for his and Corrina's "relationship" to be









restored. Like Mrs. Hart and David, Molly and her father are

ushered into a new spiritual realm via the exposure they have

to their mammies. In both of these films Goldberg's

characterizations do what the mammy has always traditionally

done, they give their whole selves to their white family,

even their souls. The Goldberg characters, like the real

mammies before them, bring a kind of "black" magic into the

lives of their white families. No where is this more apparent

than Corrina's magical ability to make red lights turn green

and mute children speak.7

Another significant factor in Corrina, Corrina is the

time period of the movie. It seems to be the late 1950's or

early 60's. This, in and of itself, is a daring move on the

part of the filmmakers because they are portraying

interracial love during a time of particular racial unrest.

It has not become accepted to date interracially at this

time. Yet, this boldness is precisely one of the reasons the

movie's premise does not work. It is difficult to believe a

white man in middle-class society during this time period,

would risk an open relationship with a Black maid. Even in

the wake of his wife's death, and his daughter's obvious love

for Corrina, the storyline seems implausible. The audience is

left to wonder if the couple will ever really become a

couple. Although Manny does go to Corrina's house at the end

of the film to "get her back." She stops him from kissing her

7 Here I want to reiterate that I am not blaming Goldberg for the
kinds of roles she garners, but rather I am pointing out that the
most successful Black actress in Hollywood plays these kinds of
roles.









outside on the porch because she has to "live in the

neighborhood." When they return to his home, his mother (who

has been the only one to really question the future of their

relationship) is being comforted by Molly after the death of

her husband. The car with Manny and Corrina pulls up to the

front of the house, they emerge and walk over to Molly and

her grandmother at the start of the credits. None of the

questions concerning what will happen between them are

answered. The closest the filmmakers can come to a happy

ending is Manny and Corrina standing together on a porch.

While of course films do not have to resolve every conflict,

this movie misses an opportunity to push the envelope. It

bypasses the opportunity to push Corrina out of the category

of mammy and into the post of woman. We do not see Manny

actually choose Corrina, we just hope that he does. The

ending of a film that has set itself up to make a major

statement about interracial relationships simply decides to

leave it open.

Another film which finds Goldberg caring for a white

child is the poorly rated Bogus. In this effort Goldberg is

again paired with a white man (Gerard DePardieu) but not

really. DePardieu is literally bogus, an imaginary friend

created by yet another white child who has lost a parent. In

1996's Bogus Whoopi Goldberg inherits the child of her foster

sister after the woman is killed in a car accident. Bogus is

more reminiscent of Clara's Hart not only because the

children in question are boys but because there is a healing









that must go on in Goldberg's character as well. In Bogus,

Harriet Franklin is an extreme realist. She has no

imagination and is only concerned with expanding her

restaurant supply business. It will require the intervention

of the little boy Albert and his friend Bogus for Harriet to

be restored. Again, the Goldberg character is removed from

the Black community, and although quite engaging, she is

missing her usual spiritual connection. It will be the child

who is able to restore Goldberg's zest for life in this

scenario.

Yet, Goldberg's film persona is so overwhelming that it

is unbelievable that she has no interests outside of work.

The audience is given a sketchy history wherein Goldberg's

disillusionment is explained away by having to be reared as a

foster child. Whatever the circumstances that took her from

her family have left her driven, cranky and lacking a sense

of humor. Perhaps the film's apparent failure lies in the

fact that it is almost impossible to imagine Goldberg without

a sense of humor. The connection that existed between Clara

and David is missing between Harriet and Albert. It is

difficult to believe Albert can renew Harriet's verve for

life.

Bogus seeks to invert the mammy formula by having magic

restored to the life of the main character via a child. While

in most of her other vehicles Goldberg possesses the secret

of joy, here she is scripted as having lost it. Harriet

Franklin does not laugh, or even have a social life. When she









is invited to her banker's son's birthday party, she

practically ruins the occasion because she does not want to

volunteer with the magician. When she first picks up Albert

from the airport she tries to assuage his fears by telling

him she is a alien from outer-space come to eat him. The

audience is further alerted to the kind of lessons Goldberg

will have to learn from the child through her conversation

with the airport employee assigned to safeguard Albert. After

lecturing Harriet about being late the woman introduces

Albert as the little magician to Harriet. She tells Harriet

that not only is he a magician but that his specialty is

turning the "ace of spades into the queen of hearts."

Immediately Goldberg is set up as the person who will need

saving from herself.

As the film progresses, the audience learns that Albert

has created an imaginary friend who will accompany him to

Harriet's house. Bogus rides in the back seat of the car and

stands at the end of the dinner table, dictating to Albert

what he should say to Harriet. Harriet's true test, her

decision to imagine, will culminate when she is asked to see

Bogus herself. When Harriet finally consents to see him she

is again a little girl who believes in dreams and fairy

tales. Goldberg and Bogus even dance together in an imitation

of Astaire and Rodgers. Harriet is no longer wearing her

asexual business attire but a flowing white gown and high

heels. As she spins in the middle of her living room she is

transformed into her fantasy, a stand in for Ginger Rodgers.









Once Harriet comes back to reality she must rescue the

sleep walking Albert from the roof of their building. Albert

has imagined that he is ascending a latter to meet his

mother, while Bogus rushes to prevent him. But, it is Harriet

who must prevent Albert from choosing a fantasy world rather

than reality. Thus, once again the mammy figure ends up

providing the white child with needed nourishment. This time,

however she provides reality rather than magic.

As with most of Goldberg's other films race is mentioned

only in passing. When Harriet first receives the call that

her foster sister is dead and that she must take charge of

the child, Harriet's first response is "I assume he's white."

Albert's mother's best friend who is also Black (played by

Sherly Lee Ralph) responds that Albert's mother would be

upset is she knew Harriet thought that "Black gets in the

way." In the context of the conversation between Harriet and

the friend, which takes place over the phone, it would seem

that it would have been white that gets in the and way not

Black. While this comment is never explained it is the only

time their perspective races are mentioned. Even when

Goldberg registers the little white boy for school and even

when she introduces him to her banker, who is also Black,

race is never presented as a factor again.

At the end of the film Harriet and Albert are seen as

having bonded as they stand at his mother's grave with

flowers. Harriet is again dressed in a long, white dress,

complete with a hat covered with flowers. This is a far cry









from the two piece suits she has worn throughout the film.

Her dress is meant as a signal that she has softened, has a

sense of humor, an imagination, has regained her own

spiritual approach to life. The bogus character addresses the

camera and bids the audience fairwell. The last shot is of

him finding another little boy who needs an imaginary friend.

Bogus is probably the most disappointing of the films

that blatantly use the mammy trope because like Corrina,

Corrina there is much untapped potential. In Bogus the white

parental force has been removed. Harriet is the sole guardian

of little Albert. Yet the majority of the film focuses on her

lack of maternal abilities as far as Albert is concerned, not

what she can provide.

The last two movies that this sections examines and

labels vehicles for Goldberg's mammying are Sister Act and

its sequel. Sister Act was a phenomenally successful movie

for Goldberg. This is the consummate role for her as mammy

because she brings her special brand of magic to a convent

full of nuns. As a Las Vegas showgirl running from her

mobster ex-boyfriend, she takes refuge in a nunnery. While

there this new "sister" brings a bit of life to the nuns. She

takes them to a bar, teaches them to sing and eventually gets

them a record deal. This is all in a days work for the mammy

of the nineties.

Again, Goldberg is removed from relationships in the

Black community. Although her backup singers and the police

officer who helps protect her are Black, they are clearly









peripheral characters. Sister Mary Clarence's purpose in this

film is to bring spice to the life of the nuns. One need only

look at the movie poster of Goldberg in a nun's habit,

wearing sunglasses and red high-heeled shoes to evaluate her

role at the convent. Sister Mary Clarence's power is made all

the more apparent in Sister Act II. The nuns must call on the

Goldberg character to help them tame a rowdy bunch of inner-

city kids. Sister Mary Clarence returns to the nuns, this

time from a successful Las Vegas act, to become a music

instructor at the school the nuns now run. Ironically, it is

the same school Mary Clarence/Deloris Van Cartier attended as

a child. The nuns ask her to breathe on the young people in

the same way she did the nuns. Of course Sis. Mary Clarence

is able to answer their prayers after she wins the respect of

the kids. She does what she did in the original movie and

turns them into a choir. They are so spectacular that they

win a state competition and save their school which was in

danger of closing.

Sister Act II is different in that most of the young

people in the choir are Black or Hispanic. The principle

choir member is a young Lauren Hill whose mother (again

played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) does not want her to sing. Mary

Clarence must not only turn the kids into a choir but

convince the Lauren Hill character to pursue her dream. The

potential for a relationship between the Hill character and

Mary Clarence is never quite realized. While they eventually

come to respect one another, they spend most of the film









competing for attention. So that a relationship between them

never fully materializes. Again while mainstream audiences

are apparently happy, many Black movie goers are left

wondering if Goldberg will ever be relieved of her duties as

a mammy.

Sister Act I and II again adhere to the formula denoting

the appropriation of the mammy. In each of these films, like

the ones mentioned previously, the characters Goldberg's

protrays are able to endear themselves to audiences because

they follow a formula. This formula allows the Black woman to

appear in the role of a nurturer/servent/helper/catalyst and

never in a way that forces alternate and perhaps unfamiliar

and uncomfortable readings of her. Goldberg seems to be the

most successful Black actress via visibility and

marketability in Hollywood because she is easily consumed by

her crossover audience. The roles she plays are in keeping

with the preferred societal view of Black women overall.

Black women occupy limited media spaces loaded with

monumental socio-political connotations. Goldberg is rarely

seen as a Black mother to Black children, and never seen in

relationships with Black men because that would require a

full and complex depiction of her, thus a full and complex

reception. Goldberg is successful in the realm where she is,

because the mammy is both what Hollywood and their audiences

choose to want.

While there are several other movies, like Ghost, Soap

Dish, Boys on the Side, and Moonlight and Valentino where









Goldberg definitely engages in the role of mammy for the

white characters; they are discussed later. The films

mentioned in this Chapter are among Goldberg's most blatant

attempts at nurturing the white characters and follow the

most traditional manifestations of the mammy. The criticism

that labels Whoopi Goldberg an actress whose success comes

primarily from playing roles that mimic mammying are true.

Even at this point in history, the film industry is still

most likely to create roles for Black women, or one Black

woman, wherein her major purpose is to nurture white

characters.















CHAPTER 2
THE TROPE OF THE LOCK


Gazing at Black Women's Bodies



And now, something even more stupid, she's running
around with goddamn blue contact lenses in her
eyes, telling everybody that she has blue eyes. And
that's sick . to me. I hope people realize,
that the media realize, that she's not a
spokesperson for black people, especially when
you're running around with motherfucking blue
contact lenses telling everybody that your eyes are
blue.
Spike Lee
Harper's Magazine 1987


Hollywood has found it difficult at best to depict

multi-dimensional representations of Black women. Hollywood,

and films in general, have been guilty of either presenting

her as overtly sexed, or they have desexed the Black woman

completely. Their idea of negotiating the loaded meanings

inherent within the Black female body is to try and subvert

her racial connotations or revert to simple and archetypal

presentations. However, it is always with questions of her

sexuality that Hollywood seems to have the most trouble.

This chapter "looks" at Whoopi Goldberg (and Black Women in

general) and her relationship to the camera as well as her

relationships with and to her audiences. This chapter also

explores the physical presentation of Goldberg, aspects of









femininity and sexuality as they apply, and what this conveys

about those who reject, accept or produce her image.

Cinematically, as well as socially and politically,

sexuality) and Black women have always been a volatile

combination. In order to examine Goldberg's screen image as a

woman and as a Black person, it is necessary to examine how

Hollywood has imbued her with or stripped her of sexual and

feminine qualities.

Much of early feminist film theory takes as its point of

critical departure an analysis of the "male gaze." Critique

and discussions have focused on the way in which this

omnipotent male gaze objectifies woman. Jane Gaines marks

Laura Mulvey's "Visual Representation and Narrative Cinema,"

as one of the first essays to demonstrate from which "the

feminist commitment to revealing the patriarchal assumptions

behind cinematic language" (199). Mulvey's emphasis on the

"woman as image," "spectacle," and her "to-be-looked-at-ness"

summons images of woman caught within a bright, white light

that emanate from the patriarchal psyche, via the

camera(750). Once loosed, this metaphorical light impales the

woman in its flood, simultaneously defining, fragmenting and

fetishizing her. However, this construct assumes that

"women" are white, as it does not take into consideration

what happens to the Black woman's body within the patriarchal

gaze.

As white women are occupied critiquing their way out of

the trajectory of the objectifying gaze,Black women are left









to address their peripheral position as subjects of the gaze.

Trapped in the shadows outside of the gaze, the Black woman

is certainly the beneficiary of "left-over" looks. Whatever

emphasis is left over from a gaze that objectifies the white

woman subjects the Black woman to its refractions/remains.

Remnants of the gaze that do not adhere to the white woman,

deposit themselves on the body of the Black woman. She is

left with everything that remains in relation to the gaze.

This results in the Black woman being over and outside the

adoring aspects of the gaze, but as the over-emphasized, the

over-done, the over-emulated and overwhelmingly stereotypical

depictions of Black women. These stereotypes have lives of

their own. Usually, if seen at all, Black women are presented

as caricatures. Thus the gaze as feminist film theory

proposes it often renders the Black woman's image

stereotypical, it leaves her out and/or alone.

Given the popularity and the magnitude of her work, the

Black body of Whoopi Goldberg would seem the obvious site for

the nexus between surplus looks and fully rendered, multi-

dimensional presentations. However Goldberg's body as films

re-present it, has been relieved of any such burden. In

Goldberg, it is possible to see what happens to the sexless

Black female whose filmic image is continually presented and

consumed, yet remains emptied of all sexual significance.











Body Spaces



Goldberg's film presence as a (non)sexual entity is

predicated on her dark complexion and her gender. However,

before examining the reproduction of Goldberg on screen as a

(non)sexual being it is necessary to do what the camera does-

-look at her physical body. Most of the time when a Black

woman is looked at by the camera, whether in motion picture

or on television, she is like foreign matter in the lens. For

instance, Susan Dworkin, writing for Ms. Magazine, described

her as "a graceful black woman with ebullient teeth and hands

like happy birds" (12). Goldberg's dark complexion conjures

up animalistic and savage imagery that reflect the myths

about Blackness in Western societies. Blackness has always

been equated with deficiencies of mental, emotional and

social capacities as well as the absence of light. In Black

Skin, White Masks, Franz Fanon refers to the awareness of

Blackness not just as a skin color, but as a discourse as

"racial epidermal schema" (112). There are inferences and

ramifications that exist because of the simple presence of

black skin. To be Black is to automatically have insinuations

and hypotheses constructed about your character and family

history. According to Fanon:

I was responsible at the same time for my body, for
my race, for my ancestors. I subjected myself to an
objective examination, I discovered my blackness,
my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down









by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency,
fetishism, racial defects, slave-ships, and above
all else, above all: "Sho; good eatin'." (112)


Fanon articulates the baggage that his skin alone as a

signifier contains. Fanon is both self-conscious and socially

conscious of all the meanings expressed in his flesh. He pens

the above passage in response to the countless times a white

person had looked at him and exclaimed, "Look, a Negro!"

(112). This dictum not only makes him obvious but defines him

as well. Fanon is not known to the people who name him; their

"recognition" occurs solely on the basis of his perceived

character based on his skin pigmentation. If this then is

some sort of truth and Blackness acts as a universal

exposition then any film can make use of this and play on

racist premises.

This meaning attached to Black skin is perhaps part of

the reason for the continued success of an actresses like

Goldberg. Since film is the very act of privileging the

visual, any subject which comes into contact with the camera

is submitted to intense scrutiny. One's clothes, hair, and

skin color all function as discourses. The camera's scrutiny

functions in collaboration with the viewer, but is infinitely

more powerful. Long after the original viewers are gone, film

remains tenacious and repeatable. Given this kind of potency,

it is important to look closely at films that feature

Goldberg. It is not accidental that she is the most prolific

actress in Hollywood, nor can Goldberg's success be credited









entirely to her talent, though it is phenomenal. The

combination of fortune, talent and all the racial/gendered

connotations she embodies and/or erases, as a Black woman,

contribute to her achievement.

One can add to Fanon's theories concerning the

presumptuous meanings associated with Blackness, those

associated with Black femaleness. It is then possible to

explain why Goldberg has managed to become so successful.

She is dark complexioned and even her hair evokes meaning.

Goldberg's body, which is rarely given attention in her

films, is not overly thin or muscled as is typical with

female stars. Goldberg does not noticeably wear make-up. Her

walk, mannerisms, and voice are often described as masculine

(Stuart, 12). When Goldberg is discussed all of these

discourses and physical body markers collide. There is no

easy methodology to describe the spaces her physical body

calls forth. Hers is a physique Hollywood cinema usually

avoids when casting the female stars of their movies. Yet,

Goldberg has managed to be the most successful Black woman in

Hollywood film. She is a site filled with contradictions. She

is the physical epitome of a Black woman for mainstream film

audiences.

The widely accepted connotations about Blacks as put

forth by the media seem to fill the body of Whoopi Goldberg.

However, on further examination her dark complexion, her

natural hair, and other attributes that stereotype Black

women, become pantomimes. They signify the body of Black









women, but are emptied of their potency. Goldberg is

physically a Black woman but is often stripped of family,

community, politics, voice, personal sexuality and anything

that positions her socially and culturally as Black, female,

and human. This is precisely why Hollywood finds itself

enamored of her. Hollywood performs a slight of hand, in this

case a camera trick. It takes Blackness as a signifier and

provides it with meaning by working in opposition to some

stereotypes, like that of undue sexuality. Yet Hollywood

embraces others, like the supernurturing Black mammy. This

multiplication of some types and negation of others

culminates in a palatable adaptation of Blackness. Whoopi

Goldberg is mainstream cinema's idea of the acceptable Black

woman. She is usually clever, witty, friendly, unassuming and

maternal. She does not conjure up images of a jezebel but

rather the faithful servant/friend, who rarely has a child or

a man of her own. In fact, this is an important part of her

appeal. She lacks connection to any Black community.

Mainstream film audiences are comfortable knowing

Goldberg and letting only a few like her into their space.

One of the results of presenting the lone Black in a sea of

whiteness is that whiteness does not have to abandon its

confort zone. Much of the mainstream film audience rarely has

to deal with the reality of socio-political and economic

imbalances based on race. They get to continue in their

relative oblivion when they attend films or watch television.

This lack of concern becomes patronage when film and









television add one or two Blacks and create images of multi-

racial utopias.

Robert Stam in "Bakhtin, Polyphony and Ethnic/Racial

Representation," calls this kind of visual representation

"ethnic harmony." He writes:


One detects images of ethnic utopia on the "Oprah
Winfrey Show," in soft-drink commercials, in public
service announcement, and in the happily integrated
and multiethnic big-city Eyewitness news shows.
(261)

Goldberg's movies and Stam's examples illustrate a multi-

cultural fantasy. As she is often the single Black person in

her films, white audiences are able to "experience" a small

item of Blackness and avoid the excess Black baggage. They

receive a scaled down version of the Black woman. For

mainstream audiences, Blackness is deveined, declawed with

only a Black shell remaining, bell hooks reiterates this

thought in Reel to Real. She writes that, "white folks

wanting to see and "enjoy" images of black folks on the

screen is often in no way related to a desire to know real

black people" (10). Thus, Goldberg's popularity cannot be

summarily thought of as evidence of mainstream cinema

audiences' desire to both see and know Black people.

Consequently, while Goldberg is readily received by

mainstream audiences, she is often rejected by Black

audiences. Black audiences do not see mainstream cinema's

acceptance of Goldberg as a triumph--evidence that film and

society are evolving. Black audiences often reject Goldberg









because for them, exhibiting a Black woman on screen involves

more than the presence of the physical symbols. To present a

Black woman on screen would mean to present a multi-

dimensional characterization, not a stereotypical caricature.

The images of Goldberg that make her accessible to

mainstream audiences are often the very things that make it

difficult for her to be embraced by Black audiences. In

"Making Whoopi," Andrea Stuart points to Goldberg's dress as

the major point of contention between her and Black

audiences. According to Stuart this tension between Goldberg

and the Black community is about her appearance.


The sartorial has been one of the few mechanisms
for negotiating social hierarchies within black
communities, so it is no surprise that the person
who has appeared on the list of America's worst-
dressed women more times than virtually any other
actor should provoke her community's ire. (12)


Stuart is attempting to make simple an incredibly complex

relationship. The members of the Black community who have a

problem with Goldberg are not necessarily interested in how

she dresses in her films; rather they are concerned about the

reasons she is so popular in Hollywood film. Black audiences

seem to innately understand that Hollywood is both a

reflection of society and a producer of popular culture. They

understand that mainstream audiences, who are comprised

mostly of the dominant culture, watch on the screen what they

are comfortable thinking. Black audiences realize that

Goldberg's popularity is in part a reflection of the dominant

culture's mindset concerning Black people on the whole. Black









audiences are then apt to assume, based on the demand for

Goldberg in film, that it entertains the dominant society to

see a Black woman disconnected from her community, childless,

loveless, void of sexuality, and ever willing to serve as

friend, nurturer and even savior to her white contemporaries.

While Goldberg is Hollywood's favorite Black actress,

she is by no means the only Black person allowed to act in

Hollywood. Periodically, Hollywood is even fond of making

"Black" movies. By Black here I refer to the rash of "gangsta

flicks" produced by major Hollywood studios in the early

1990's, whose content and target audience was Black. Also,

Hollywood began in the later half of this century to produce

a rash of "Black" comedies whose themes include how to have a

good time, how to date more women, and how to steal and not

get caught--Friday, How to Be a Player, and I Got the Hook

Up, etc. The Black community can also draw conclusions about

the fact that these kinds of films are produced for Black

audiences, virtually to the exclusion of any other kind of

film thematically. While mainstream audiences enjoy amiable

encounters with Blackness via Whoopi Goldberg, Black

audiences are left to films depicting shootouts and Black

comedians turned actors. The film fare for Black audiences

still primarily consists of Black on Black crime and cameo

appearances made by the Buffoon, the Whore and the Welfare

Queen (OKazawa-Rey, 25). i Stuart and other critics who believe

1I refer to movies like New Jack City, Boys in the 'Hood, Menance to
Society, and Straight Out of Brooklyn. While all of these movies
boast Black directors, their common theme is a lack of
multidimensional roles for women and an abundance of Black men









that Black audience's problem with Goldberg ( and Hollywood

film as a whole) can be condensed to the clothes they wear on

screen are missing a vital element in their analysis.

Black audiences are sophisticated in their ability to

analyze the way Blackness is being presented. Historically,

Black audiences have had their own bodies as training ground.

Their ability to read these kinds of discourses enables them

to draw conclusions when watching Hollywood cinema. Thus, it

is quite easy to conclude that Hollywood presents Blackness

to all audiences in ways that negate and/or control it.

Although the contention between Black audiences and

Whoopi Goldberg cannot be simply reduced to clothing, an

important aspect of this dissonance does hinge on appearance.

In Fear of the Dark, Lola Young maintains that,


given the inscription of Otherness on the black
body established through colonial and imperial
anthropological, medical, literary and photographic
discourse, it seems it was inevitable the cinema
would become instrumental in the attempted
demystification and control of black people. (50)

While film is an important element in the definition of all

people, it is particularly adept at framing people of color.

Therefore film becomes complicit both in the maintenance and

production of current social, political and economic

standards. Film produces meaning visually. Many Black


killing other Black men. Also, when I refer to Black movies I
intentionally leave out the Richard Pryor/Eddie Murphy/Chris
Rock/Chris Tucker kind of comedy. These movies, while featuring Black
leading men, are more crossover in their intent. All of the actors
mentioned above are or were paired with white actors to appeal to a
broader audience.









audiences are visual experts, because they themselves have

been subject to constant inspection and examination. They are

acutely aware of Blackness as a visible discourse.

Lola Young contends that it is not possible to simply

present a Black person on screen. The very presence or lack

of Black people in a film speaks.

The question of images--their construction and
their histories and the meanings which accrue to
them--is central to a discussion of any visual
text. When it comes to carrying out work which
involves representations of black people, the
analysis of images has a heightened political
inflection, since representations of black people
are always deemed to 'mean' something, to be laden
with symbolism in regard to 'race' in racially
stratified societies. (7)


Once again, this is evidence of how saturated Blackness is

with meaning. It is almost impossible for the mere presence

of Blackness not to mean anything. Black audiences are more

aware of this than perhaps mainstream audiences. Black

audiences are acutely aware of anything that looks like them

(or not) on screen. The very nature of racial categories and

hierarchies makes many members of Black audiences adept at

reading their own imagery.

A great example of the ability of Blacks to police their

own imagery is apparent in movies and novels that involve the

tragic mulatto and their "passing" as white. Often the

enemies of these characters are other mulattos or other

Blacks. In Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Passing, and both the

novel and screen versions of Imitation of Life, as well as

Alex Haley's Queen, the light-skinned women who are passing








as white are afraid. They express concern that it will be

someone of color who exposes their secret. Such cultural

detective work can almost be second nature to people of

color--in this case Black audiences. It is virtually inherent

in them to look at the screen (and at life) in a way that

asks "what did they mean by that?" As a result, many Black

people look defensively at themselves on screen. Black

audiences are often engaged in critique when they watch film,

and it is different from the kind of critique implemented by

mainstream audiences.

Christian Metz writes in "Language and Cinema" that film

is a "pluricodic medium." He contends that while film has no

"master code," it can be read as the result of an

intermingling of "specific cinematic codes," (codes that

appear only in the cinema) and "non-specific codes" which are

shared with languages other than the cinema (Stain, Burgoyne,

Flitterman-Lewis, 48). Many Black audiences are adept at

reading non-specific codes mainly because Blackness as a

signifier is often universal in its application. The

treatment of Blackness in film often traverses class,

language, culture etc. While mainstream audiences may be

unaware of (or refuse to be aware of) the implications of

constantly presenting Goldberg as the only Black person or

the masculine Black woman in her films, Black audiences

almost compulsively read this kind of coding. The ability to

evaluate racial coding has historically been a survival

strategy.









Black Women as Cultural Readers is Jacqueline Bobo's

study of Black women and their reading of non-specific filmic

codes in Spielberg's The Color Purple and Julie Dash's

Daughters of the Dust. She interviews a group of

Black women from varying social, political and economic

groups. What she finds is a wealth of reflection and

rumination on how Black women are presented in these films.

She finds that while Black audiences do go to films for

visual pleasure, diagetic construction often intrudes upon

and interrupts that pleasure. Take for example these very

different assessments of The Color Purple. According to Bobo:


One of the women expressed a feeling that was
similar to one of the predominant criticisms by
mainstream reviewers--that the novel was more
"gritty," and Spielberg obscured its message by
making the film look too nice. . [The woman
says] "I thought, Damn, this man [Spielberg] is
trying to say, "Oh, look, they had a rough life,
but wasn't it pretty." I mean, look at all the
purple flowers. . He romanticized it all the
way through--and the music, it was that
stereotypical old white romanticized music. (95)


None of the women Bobo interviewed were film critics, yet

this woman, like all the women, were able to read the

material in quite complex terms. While this woman was not

particularly pleased with the images she saw re-presenting

Black people in The Color Purple, another interviewee thought

the prettiness of the film helped to soften the brutal

reality of the text. Bobo writes:









I like the fact that it wasn't gritty. I think that
if it had been gritty it would have been too much
to handle. It was difficult to handle as it was .
If it had been grittier it might have made that
even more uncomfortable, or it might have made me
back away from it so much that I couldn't feel it.
. It would have been too ugly for me to watch.
And I wouldn't have seen it (96).

Whether the reading is positive or negative, it is important

to note these women's ability to negotiate this text in terms

of how Blackness is re-presented. They seem used to

navigating their imagery in very complex ways.

I don't mean to imply that every member of Black cinema

audiences engages filmic text looking to decode images of

themselves. Black audiences go to the cinema for the same

reason other audiences do. They want to be entertained. Yet,

given the historical and contemporary position of Blacks in

this society, it nearly impossible for them to avoid seeing

some aspect of their controversial position duplicated on

screen. As Stam writes in "Unspeakable Images,"

although it is true that complete realism is an
impossibility, it is also true that spectators
themselves come equipped with a "sense of the real"
rooted in their own social experience, on the basis
of which they can accept, question, or even subvert
a film's representation (254).

Thus, whether Black audiences are actually aware of it or

not, they bring their history and culture with them to a

film, just as any movie-goer does. Black audiences must

negotiate images of themselves on screen that are fraught









with meaning. They either read defensively, embrace what they

see, or choose to ignore facets of a film altogether.

It is often easier for both Black and mainstream

audiences to embrace the images that they see. According to

Farah Jasmine Griffin encountering Blackness means having to

look at or past a great deal of history. This is particularly

difficult for Black people themselves. Griffith contends that

conventionally when white people "examine black bodies

"visual difference," "the color black," progresses to

ugliness which progresses to inferiority" (520). If this

progression from Black as ugly to Black as inferior is apt to

take place in the mind of the mainstream audience, then the

Black audience is no different. It becomes even worse for

Black audiences because ugliness and inferiority are no

longer just projected, but internalized. Black people often

cope with the repercussion of such thinking by embracing it.

Consequently, as Griffith also writes, Black people "are

often complicit in maintaining standards (of beauty] that

oppress them" (521).

In "Perceived Attractiveness, Facial Features and

African Self-Consciousness," John W. Chambers Jr. and a team

of Black psychologists write:

Historically, the hallmark of feminine beauty in
American society is to have blond hair, blue eyes,
and Caucasian features. This is the image that has
been held up for all racial groups to admire . .
Western society conveys its concept of
attractiveness primarily through the media, that
is, television commercials, movies, magazine
layouts of models, beauty pageants, commercial
catalogs, and billboards. (306)











Given the media's continual bombardment of all audiences with

notions of beauty, complicity seems the easiest coping

mechanism.

It is not just the standards of beauty that Blacks begin

to embrace, but cultural significations as well. Even Black

audiences begin to adopt and want to see stereotypical images

of themselves. Herb Boyd in "African-American Images on

Television and in Film" concludes that Black people allow

these kinds of presentations of themselves. For Boyd, Black

people are so desperate to see anything that looks like them

on screen that they often embrace demeaning imagery. Black

people allow negative and degrading imagery because this is

all they will get to see of themselves. Boyd writes that this

is the basis for the popularity of a television show like

Martin. He also sees the appetites of many Black audiences

creating a market for movies that depict Black people as

"thieves, pushers, prostitutes, gold-diggers and buffoons"

(24-25). bell hooks addresses this acquiescence to

stereotypical imagery by Black audiences in Reel to Real.


Often unenlightened black and other nonwhite groups
who, like many whites, have been socially
conditioned to accept denigrating portraits of
black people are dissatisfied when they do not see
these familiar stereotypes on screen. (74)

While hooks refers to Blacks who are comfortable with one-

dimensional images as "unenlightened." It is important to

reiterate that they have chosen to deal with the onslaught of









such imagery in in one particular way. The "unenlightened"

ingest what they like and simply ignore what they don't. This

would explain why images of Black men as drug dealers and

Black women as sexual predators have been and remain

financially rewarding for Hollywood to present to Black

audiences. The same Black character who pushes drugs is often

a kind of anti-hero. This kind of anti-here sprang from the

Blaxploitation era of film production. Characters like these

took care of their mothers, looked out for young children in

the neighborhood, and planned to marry their ladies after one

last score. This anti-hero takes money, power, and respect

because they will never be given to him, and he cannot never

hope to earn them legitimately.

In the same vein, the heroine embraced by many Black

audiences was often hypersexual. She is typified in Pam

Grier's character of the 1970's, who used her body as a both

a physcial and sexual weapon. Today Black women in film and

television still use their bodies, but as pawns. They trade

sex for money and affection because their bodies are all they

own. As such, the Black audience's focus is on the fact that

the heroine manages to acquire these goods and on her

prerogative to see and use her body as she wishes.

While hooks' language seems elitist in evaluating the

responses of Black audiences to themselves on screen, she

does concede that if Black people want multi-dimensional

depictions of themselves, then the answer is not to demand

solely positive imagery, hooks says that:










Black audiences have wrong-mindedly believed that
the push for more "positive" images would
necessarily lead to diverse representations of
blackness. Yet the very insistence on positive
images automatically acts to constrict and limit
what can be created. (105)


Here hooks is referring to the "enlightened" Black audiences,

those who do not choose to welcome stereotypical images of

themselves. Yet even she, like most marginalized audiences

who ever attempt to watch film, adopts a particular way of

seeing what she wants and closing her eyes to what she

doesn't. According to hooks:


When I returned to films as a young woman, after a
long period of silence, I had developed an
oppositional gaze. Not only would I not be hurt by
the absence of black female presence, or the
insertion of violating representation, I
interrogated the work, cultivated a way to look
past race and gender for aspects of content, form
and language. (204)

hooks is dangerously close to doing what the "unenlightened"

audience does. She too understands the kind of gazing Black

audiences and indeed, most "other" audiences have to

undertake. She sees past Blackness as ugly, negative,

inferior or absent so that she can engage the rest of the

film.

Oftentimes for mainstream audiences, the challenge is

different. White audiences are not always bogged down in

cultural codes. When they watch a movie about a family in

Idaho, they do not usually ask where are the Black people. Or

if they watch a movie about a family in Idaho who have Black









neighbors, they do not ask themselves what are those Black

people doing in Idaho. Usually when they watch apocalyptic

and/or science fiction movies they don't have to wonder why

space aliens don't ever kidnap Blacks, or why there are no

Black people present at the end of the world. Nor do

mainstream audiences question why it seems that white single-

mothers in the movies like Michelle Phieffer and Sandra

Bullock, are heroic divorcees, whereas Halle Berry has to

play a single-mother who has never been married and who is

also a crack addict. Not only is Berry a crack addict but she

is a bad mother who leaves her baby in a dumpster for a white

woman to rescue.2 These are the kinds of questions that Black

audience are more often than not, consciously or not,

compelled to ask themselves.

While it is uncommon for mainstream film audiences and

critics to question the presentation of Blackness on screen,

it is not impossible. In Cinema and Spectatorship, Judith

Mayne spends an entire chapter examining the implications of

the Black presence in the films Field of Dreams and Ghost.

She studies the way in which white audiences receive these

two films wherein the pivotal characters, the characters who

advance the narrative, are Black (James Earl Jones and Whoopi

Goldberg, respectively). Mayne notes that the "negative

reviews of Field of Dreams,' see the James Earl Jones

character as out of place. In the case of Ghost "race is

rarely called to attention" (150). She contends that the


2Why do Fools Fall in Love, Hope Floats, Losing Isaiah









reviews of Ghost had very little comment about race, until

it came to reviews of the home video. Mayne quotes a review

by Ty Burr of the film Ghost, following its release on home

video. Burr comments on the racial stereotyping of the

Hispanic villain, and the use of Whoopi Goldberg as the

"loudmouth con artist who makes her living scamming

superstitious, eye-rolling black folk" (Mayne, 150). What is

most worthy of note is Mayne's comment about Burr's review.


Burr's review has as much to do with how well the
film stands up "with repeat viewings" as with how
well it works in a movie theater, and it is
interesting that the racist stereotypes should only
become evident when the film is seen more than
once. (150)

Mayne's contention is that Burr's negative review arises out

repeated viewings of the film when it was accessible on home

video. Burr had to watch the film repeatedly before he was

able to read the racial codes inherent within it. Mainstream

cinema audiences are not compelled to decipher racial codes,

negotiate film images of Black people in the same way, with

the same frequency, or intensity, as Black audiences. If

Black audiences are constantly forced to question the film

narrative and decode depictions of themselves, then the

questioning session intensifies when Whoopi Goldberg is the

star of the film.

Goldberg's status as a movie star carries with it

expectations. Because she is usually the "star" of the film,

it seems reasonable that she would be presented as a fully-

developed character. Yet, Goldberg is rarely in romantic









relationships in her films, and when she is, never is she

paired with a Black man. Neither is she allowed access to

Black children. Instead, she plays the same wise, witty,

tough, guardian-angel kind of character who does not need an

identity that would shape her as woman, Black, or Black

woman. The "lone (and lonely) ranger" quality in Goldberg

that appeals to mainstream audiences is the very thing that

makes her unpopular with Black audiences. Thus, for the most

part, Black audiences are unable to celebrate Goldberg and

her success because they do not recognize themselves in her.

Goldberg lives in filmic worlds where race and sex are only

passing issues, and perhaps this is one specific cinematic

code not readily negotiated by Black audiences.












Body Boundaries



The social and cultural body of the Black woman, like

all social and cultural presentations of the body, is

difficult at best to assess. To simply point out that she has

once again been stigmatized and stereotyped belabors the

point. Yet, to advance critique it is often necessary to

begin at the places where social and cultural

misrepresentation is still occurring. One of the areas where

the assessment of Goldberg as a Black woman and a successful

actress in Hollywood is most intriguing is in regards to her

sexuality. It is interesting to compare the way in which

Hollywood has presented Goldberg as a largely androgynous

being, while most of their other re-presentations of Black

women and sexuality revert back to the trope of her as sexual

savage.

The media still engages in the presentation of Black

women as wildly, abnormally sexual. These tropes originate

out of a need to control the Black woman's sexuality. One of

the places the Black woman is most readily available for

sexual consumption is in music videos. It is possible to

consume images of Black women, via music television, as the

over-sexed, "exotic primitive" on a daily basis. Whether she

is parading across the screen in a bathing suit or underwear,

draped across a bed, posed as different flavors of ice cream,









or performing a nineties version of the antediluvian

"forbidden dance," sexually over-emphasized images of the

Black woman are readily available. Audrey Edwards emphasizes

the power music videos have in semiotically structuring the

Black woman. She writes that "the videos are riddled with

stereotypes . the notion of the Black woman as sex

object--exotic, hot mamas ready to get it on at the drop of a

hat" (220).

From the slave quarters to urban projects, Black women

have been inculcated with depictions of themselves as

extraordinarily promiscuous. Music videos are only the latest

incarnation of Black women as sexual predators and savages. A

more classic example of Hollywood's ability to fetishize the

Black woman's body is found in the rash of Black movies from

the 1970s, commonly known as "Blaxploitation" films.

Although this work centers primarily around Goldberg and

Hollywood film's handling of her as a Black female star, it

is useful to trace some of the ways they have exhibited other

Black females in film. If the Black woman's first encounters

with Hollywood film were as mammies and tragic mulattos, and

the latest and most successful engagement is as Whoopi

Goldberg, then certainly the Blaxploitation era represented a

kind of filmic hiatus from the films featuring archetypal

mammies and mulattos.

If nothing else, that period in Hollywood where there
were actually two or three Black women starring in feature

films, further points to Hollywood's discomfort with the









Black woman's body. Women like Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson

reached momentary status as starlets. The difference however,

between their reign and Goldberg's is audience and

presentation. Goldberg is marketed toward mainstream film

audiences whereas Grier, Dobson, and the like made movies

targeted at Black audiences. Goldberg is constructed to be

laughed at and sometimes with, but never so as to be desired.

Blaxploitation movies featured Black actors and storylines

intended primarily for Black audiences. However, Hollywood

did not mind the added income from bored or curious members

of the mainstream audience who attended these movies.

Goldberg films usually feature a Black woman devoid of any

cultural or social semblances of Blackness. Blaxploitation

movies actually (supposedly) performed elements of Black

culture. The common thread between these two types of films

is Hollywood. They are how Hollywood chose to exhibit

Blackness then and how it chooses to exhibit it now.3

In her book, Black and White Media, Karen Ross addresses

Hollywood's sudden interest in producing "Black" movies in

the 1970's.









3 I want to acknowledge that Hollywood does currently produce an
occasional movie with a Black storyline. I am comparing
Blaxploitation with Goldberg movies because Blaxploitation
represented Hollywood's mass production period of such movies and
Goldberg is the most prolific Black actor in film to date.










In an ideas-bankrupt Hollywood at the beginning of
the 1970's, with white Americans leaving the cities
in droves, it was hardly surprising that Hollywood
looked to the success of Black produced films such
as Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song and Super Fly
and jumped on the bandwagon with alacrity. (18)


Hollywood saw an opportunity to make money from a previously

untapped audience. However, the Hollywood film industry is

first and foremost a business. Once it recovered the

mainstream audience, production of "Black" themed movies

stopped. The silver screen did not consistently exhibit Black

women in major roles again until Goldberg makes her debut in

the late 1980's. Perhaps in part, Hollywood's reception of

Goldberg is in part a backlash against the images they

marketed during the Blaxploitation period, and the images

that continue to be exhibited in the other facets of visual

media.


Image Is Everything


Patricia Hill Collins labels the intertwinings of gender

as biology and gender as sexuality, sexual politics (164).

Since this work is intensely concerned not only with

Goldberg's sexuality, but her race-gender and its

presentation on screen, the exploration of sexual politics as

it concerns Goldberg seems an adequate way of beginning

critique.

Hill Collins grounds an understanding of sexuality in

Foucaultian theory when she defines it as "socially









constructed through the sex/gender system on both the

personal level of individual consciousness and interpersonal

relationships and the social structural level of social

institutions" (165). Thus sexuality in this work, as in Hill

Collins, is an amalgam. It is inclusive of sex as biological

determinant and sex as an individual and social construct.

With this working definition in mind, it is possible to

investigate the way in which Hollywood film handles the body

of Whoopi Goldberg, and indeed the bodies of Black women in

general.

Because of her history, and her present, the Black

woman's body is loaded with sexual innuendo and connotations

unique to her position. According to Hill Collins Black women

are unique in the way in which they exhibit and the way in

which society sees them as exhibiting sexuality. Hill Collins

writes: "African-American women inhabit a sex/gender

hierarchy in which inequalities of their race and social

class have been sexualized" (165). Consequently a Black woman

on screen, a Black woman anywhere, does not bear the meanings

associated with being a woman, but those analogous to being a

"Black woman." In film and the media in general, to be a

Black woman means to be something less or something more than

simply being a woman. The something less could be less

feminine, even less human. The something more is usually

negative in that she is more promiscuous or more nuturing to

anyone outside of her own culture or family. The Black woman

is often presented as the extreme. She is never represented









as just a woman because just being a woman typically means

that she is white.

As I stated in the chapter on the mammy, one of the

reasons for Goldberg's phenomenal appeal to mainstream

audiences is the fact that she is simple to look at. She is

usually presented as one element of a person. Goldberg is

often a caricature of nurturing, wit, or charm and is easily

managed by mainstream audiences. Thus, not only does Goldberg

represent a way for mainstream audiences to encounter

Blackness without guilt, she does not threaten established

boundaries. Andrea Stuart writes that "in order to cross over

it seems that Goldberg has had to jettison the loaded sexual

exoticism usually associated with the black female performer,

as well as any potential political disruptiveness" (13).

Viewing Goldberg on screen does not require mainstream

audiences to confront the sexuality of, or their possible

sexual attraction to, a Black woman. Nor does their encounter

with Goldberg require that they renegotiate the socio-

economic and socio-political boundaries that are currently in

place. Thus, Hollywood has capitalized on Goldberg primarily

as a non-sexual being.

Mainstream audiences are comfortable with Goldberg

because she is non-sexual, even asexual in her presentation.

In a society that uses sex to sell everything from dentures

to dog food this sudden aversion to sexuality is suspect.

Jane Gaines writes in "White Privilege and Looking Relations:

Race and Gender in Feminist Film Theory" that the Black









woman's sexuality represents a "special threat" because "its

eruption stands for the aspirations of the Black race as a

whole" (203). Neither the camera nor the audience sees the

Black woman as a woman who happens to be Black, but as a

Black who is a woman. As such, any revelation of her as a

normal4 sexual being could denote her as a normal human being

and automatically call subordinate treatment of her (and

therefore all Black people) into question. Even Gaines'

description of the Black woman's sexuality as something that

will erupt hints at the discomfort that it arouses. Eruption

denotes something that has been under pressure, and perhaps

hidden, suddenly and violently coming to the surface. This

trepidation that the Black woman's sexuality causes is

further proof of mainstream cinema's fascination with

Goldberg. Mainstream audiences are not anxious when they

attend a Goldberg film. They know they are in for light-

hearted fare and not an explosion of Black female sexuality.

Usually when the Black woman is described in film as

exotic, it means that she is sexually savage. For a Goldberg

character, exotic takes on new meaning. It means that she has

waist-length dreadlocks as in Clara's Hart, or walks like a

man even in an evening gown in Jumpin' Jack Flash. It means

that many of her characters dress in baggy, mismatched

clothing and have masculine-sounding names like Terry, Eddie,

and Guinan. Whatever exotic means for Goldberg, it does not


4 Here I use normal in contrast to overt. The Black woman on screen
is often presented as overtly sexual, but images of her as having a
normal sex life, no more, no less than any one else, is rare.









mean sensual, sexual, or even feminine. According to Andrea

Stuart in "Making Whoopi,"


Cinematically she is not really constructed as a woman
at all--neither nurturer nor siren, the faithful drudge
of the antebellum South nor the funky chick born to walk
on the wild side of the city's mean streets. (12)


Stuart's analysis is useful in acknowledging the fact that

Goldberg has been deliberately removed from any of these

categories. Hollywood film has done such a good job of

effacing her sexuality, in all senses of the word, that even

Goldberg realizes that it is what has been removed from her

presentation that accounts in large part for her success.5

In an interview with Lea DeLaria for the Advocate in

1995, Goldberg talked about her lack of sexuality and its

affect on her career.

I don't have to be beautiful. I can be really big,
I can be wrinkley because it's all about the work.
It's not about "Oh, we put you in this movie
because you're really great to look at." (50)


Goldberg is well aware that mainstream audiences have been

able to accept her because she is not typically desirable.

She sees her lack of dependence on looks as a kind of

freedom. Yet, in an image-privileged society, to be

unconcerned with "looks" is to be concerned with a particular


5 I do not mean to propose here that Goldberg or any other actor must
be attractive or feminine in order to truly be considered an actor,
or that Goldberg is not a talented performer. I merely wish to point
out that a greal deal of her success, as with many other performers,
has to do with her physical appearance. One of the reasons Hollywood
and mainstream audiences embrace her is because she is not typically
attractive. She negates the image of the Black woman as Whore or
Jezebel, at least physically.









look. Goldberg is not free from the stereotypical

presentations usually reserved for Black women on screen, she

is rather held to a different set of standards. These

standards dictate that she not be sexually desirable or

politically confrontational.

This privileging of the non-sexual and Goldberg's

seeming acquiescence is not new in the Black woman's arsenal

of survival strategies. Goldberg belongs to a sisterhood of

Black women who have willingly subverted their sexuality in

order to survive and even thrive in this society. In

"African-American Women's History and The Metalanguage of

Race," Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham illuminates Darlene Clark

Hines' theory on "cultural dissemblance" (106). Higginbotham

writes:










Black women, especially those of the middle class,
reconstructed and represented their sexuality
through its absence--through silence, secrecy, and
invisibility. In so doing, they sought to combat
the pervasive negative images and stereotypes.
(106)

Cultural dissemblance was a tool Black women often

implemented to avoid sexual harassment. In order to protect

themselves from the advances of a society who saw them as

little more than whores they sought to become the opposite.

Many Black women were so compelled to combat the notion of

themselves as hypersexualized that they shunned sexuality

altogether. They used ultraconservative and even asexual

forms of dress and mannerisms to divert attention from

themselves as women. These kinds of measures were often

taught to young Black daughters by their mothers. Since, as

Hill Collins says, Black women "were denied male protection.

Under such conditions it [was] essential that Black mothers

teach their daughters skills that [would] "take them

anywhere" (126). Thus, cultural dissemblance became a skill

important to the survival and progression of the Black woman.

It has been essential to the success of Goldberg in Hollywood

film. She has been rewarded by Hollywood and mainstream

audiences for allowing herself to be purged of the most

egregious signs of femininity and sexuality.

Goldberg, like the Black audience, must practice some

selective reading in order to thrive in Hollywood. In the

interview with DeLaria she further articulates her place in

mainstream cinema. DeLaria compliments her on her ability to








do both comedy and drama as she compares Jumpin' Jack Flash

and Boys on the Side. Goldberg states:


There are not a lot of people who can, Lea, and
that's the key. That's why I'm still here. Because
regardless of how the powers that be feel about me,
there is one definite thing: I have the ability to
do both. (51)

Goldberg is extremely confident that it is her ability that

has endeared her to Hollywood film. While it is impossible to

deny her talent, it is also impossible to forget that

Hollywood filmmaking is a business, concerned more with

bottom lines than showcasing great talents. Goldberg's

negotiation of her own imagery becomes incredibly complex

with her next statement. While on the one hand she believes

that she is free from the aesthetic chains that bind the

majority of actors in the business, on the other she does

understand how important her image is. When the interviewer

asks Goldberg what the "powers that be" think of her,

Goldberg replies:


I can't think about that because then I would have
to hear the static of "Your nose is too big, your
ass is too big, you're too dark, you're too light,
your hair is too weird, your feet are too long.
(51)

Even the talent of the "dreaded one" cannot overcome the

visual privileging that is Hollywood. Even Goldberg has to

admit that while they do not require her to be yellow-

skinned or svelte, that she has not been set completely free

from a Hollywood aesthetic. Their is a place for her




Full Text
34
Trying to think about the representation of
whiteness as an ethnic category in mainstream film
is difficult, partly because white power secures
its dominance by seeming not to be anything in
particular, but also because, when whiteness qua
whiteness does come into focus, it is often
revealed as emptiness, absence, denial or even a
kind of death. (44)
Dyer engages the question of how "whiteness" is defined and
acknowledges that the difficulty in doing so is that
whiteness is it at once everything and nothing. Whiteness as
the normalizing and naturalizing factor in this culture
causes everything different from it to be evaluated against
it. In the recent past it was almost redundant to mention
"white" people, "white" culture and "white" history because
people, culture and history were white. This normalcy that
whiteness began to represent has not only worked to establish
its place as foundational but also causes a self-reflexive
definition to be difficult. If whiteness is the standard by
which everything else is judged then difference must exist
is necessaryso that whiteness can carry out its function.
Thus images of Blacks, like the mammy, become essential to a
reading of whiteness in film. Since whiteness is read as what
is normal and stableit is so normal and so stable that
difference must be present to keep it from fading away.
Cinema needs Goldberg and the personification of
characters like the mammy not only to help sustain it but as
a way to negotiate Blackness in a "white" film. Blackness is
treated on screen in ways that make it palatable to
mainstream audiences. Mainstream audiences are familiar with


35
images of Blackness as violence, as overt sex, and as sources
of super-nurturing.5 All of these presentations allow
whiteness to go on being white. Yet, no matter the particular
style of treatment, Blackness is almost always presented as
something to be vicariously consumed and or as something
whose rudimentary function is to serve. The result is a
chiastic relationship where Blackness then begins to affect
whiteness. Consequently there is a need to continue the
imagery of the mammy in film.
5 Here it necessary to comment on other ways Blackness is presented
on screen via Hollywood film. If Blackness is not presented as the
catalyst to white development, then it is seen as violent. It can be
suicidal, which means Black on Black crime or violence directed at a
white character, usually a white woman by a Black male. If Blackness
is female and she is not a mammy figure, then she is overtly sexual,
yeilding the jezebel/whore or the welfare queen. When Blackness is
presented in these ways, then the film is usually "Black" denoting a
Black storyline and a majority of Black characters. More often if it
is a white filmwhich is what this project examinesthen Blackness
is presented in the visage of the mammy.


139
History has become impossible for them. They're so
busy being innocents and skipping from adolescence
into old age. Their literature and art reveals this
great rent in the psyche, the spirit. It's a big
hole in the literature and art of the United
States. (179)
Although the "them" in Morrison's statement is a reference to
the white literati, the literature and art she refers too are
certainly the domain of mainstream cinema. Like the theory of
integration set forth in the films of Sidney Poitier, there
are gaping holes in this presentation of a Black woman's
place in postmodern society.
Perhaps the most significant problem with the promises
of integration were that they were in the end available only
to a few Black people. So that art really did imitate life
when Poitier was the only Black doctor in a film, or his
family was the only Black family to integrate a neighborhood.
Thus, the promises and benefits of integration were not true
for the majority of Black people. But, the most significant
problem with representations of Goldberg that present her as
a product of postmodernity is that it is true. If as Morrison
says, the postmodern leaves holes in history, then filmic
representations of Goldberg certainly do. That is why
mainstream cinema audiences love her and many Black audiences
do not. Cutting out the parts of history that do not appeal
to mainstream audiences, cutting out the parts of current
reality that do not appeal to them, is at the very heart of
entertainment via the film. Unfortunately, and oftentimes the


50
write articles for music magazines. She comes to be employed
by Ray Liotta's character Manny, because she is the only one
who has gotten a response from his daughter since her mother
died. Molly has stopped talking and of course it will require
the special attention of a Black woman before she regains her
voice. Corrina is able to do what the child's father,
grandparents and her father's potential girlfriend could not.
She helps Molly come to terms with her mother's death.
Like Clara's Hart the parent figure in the movie is so
busy he cannot provide adequate attention to the child.
Goldberg's character again has access to her community but is
not a complete part of it. Like the historical mammies, Clara
and Corrina float in and out of their community, recognized
and greeted, but still at the margins. Like Clara, Corrina is
able to expose her charge to the Black community. Molly gets
to frequent a Blues club, sing in the children's choir of a
Black church, and plait her hair. Molly begins to imitate
Corrina and even has fantasies of Corrina becoming her new
mother. All of this happens in the presence of her father who
seems oblivious to the goings on.
Unlike Clara's Hart, Corrina does have family in this
film. She even lives with her sister, brother-in-law, and
their children. The children become Molly's playmates, while
their mother becomes increasingly concerned for Corrina. She
warns Corrina after Manny buys her a gift, that he can only
want one thing from a Black woman. Corrina's sister also
reminds her that she needs to settle down with a nice man


191
easily identify with this insane, Black, female character.
They recognize nothing of themselves in which to ground
knowing a Vashti. As a result, the film fails at the box-
office and Goldberg's film career is threatened. Film history
is littered with the bodies of talented actors for whom
Hollywood could not find a marketing niche. This almost
describes the fate of Whoopi Goldberg, at least until she
stars in Clara's Hart.


168
infer that he has spent the night with her.5 Yet, what is also
glaringly apparent is that Marshack is gone. He has obviously
left while Rizzoli was in the shower, and he has left without
saying good-bye. This kind of finale to the missing love
scene works against it as a scene connoting intimacy. The
audience is welcomed to infer from his hasty departure that
Marshack is sorry he stayed, that is was a mistake, or that
he was simply trying to comfort Rizzoli.
The removal of the love scene itself and the subsequent
publicity it garnered also work against Goldberg's depiction
as a Black woman character with a love-interest. While it
may not be unusual for the woman to wake up in a Hollywood
film alone the morning after, it is unusual for the man to
have left while she was in the shower and without leaving
some kind of momento. The filmmakers miss an opportunity to
treat Goldberg just like any other Hollywood leading-lady by
making the motivation behind their affair a mystery. While
such a scenario would barely raise an eye in another movie,
the implications are far reaching in this one. If there is
one stereotypical image of the Black woman that rivals that
of the mammy in Hollywood Film, it is that of the Black
whore. When Marshack sleeps with Rizzoli and then leaves
without any communication between the two of them, it can
easily be read in the negative. I am not advocating that a
multidimensional depiction of a Black woman character would
5It is interesting to note that Rizzoli has begun to call Marshack by
his first name after their night together. He will continue to call
her Rizzoli throughout the movie.


141
and even self-effacement. Bogle writes in his assessment of
The Defiant Ones:
For, once they have been unchained, the good Poitier
comes to the rescue of Curtis, not out of necessity but
out of brotherly love. Again he sacrifices himself, this
time not with his death but his freedom, all for the
sake of his white friend. In this film, one of his
biggest hits, Poitier alienated a certain segment of the
audience. When he saved his honky brother, he was jeered
in ghetto theaters. Black audiences were consciously
aware for the first time of the great tomism inherent in
the Poitier character, indeed in the Poitier image
(182).
Again, what is most useful about Bogle's analysis is that he
points to a period in history and in Poitier's career when
Poitier is labeled a sell-out. Goldberg is no stranger to the
"sell-out" criticism. She is indeed alienated from elements
of the Black audience. The NAACP boycotted her first film,
The Color Purple. While much of the criticism surrounding The
Color Purple originally raged against Alice Walker and Steven
Spielberg, Goldberg became a target when she began to bash
back. The sell-out criticism directed at Goldberg was only
heightened by her subsequent movie roles. Her constant
portrayal of the nurturing Black woman, fixed in a white
world, has firmly entrenched her in the sell-out category
formany Blacks. In Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and
Bucks, Bogle refers to her as "the mighty nurtureran
updated mammywithout a life of her own" (298). He says that
Hollywood's insistence on treating Goldberg as the latest
rendition of the mammy has "removed her from the black
community" (298).


190
been a bad girl. The last shot is of Goldberg holding the
zebra-striped telephone, looking directly into the camera.
While The Telephone is not a successful film, it does
point to the difficulty Hollywood had casting Goldberg prior
to Clara's Hart. Once again we see a Black female character
who is cut off from family and community. However, in this
film the character is alienated from all people. Since we
know that her phone has been off for two months, we can
surmise that her husband has been gone for at least that
long. We are left to wonder about the "best friend" that we
hear her call. Vashti Blue seems to be the result of complete
separation from family, friends, community, and reality.
Vashti has created her own reality in lieu of facing life.
Vashti, like Eddie in Homer and Eddie, must pay for her
crime. While Eddie pays with her life, it is evident that
Vashti will pay with her sanity. It is almost impossible not
to feel sorry for this woman. As she listens to the sounds of
traffic accidents and sirens she seems utterly alone. The
magnitude of the city exacerbates her loneliness. Who will
care or even notice if the this woman degenerates into
insanity. No real friends or family appear in this film. Her
husband has left her without a word. Her lifeline has mutated
from family and/or community to the disconnected telephone.
When she cannot pay the phone bill her "family" fails her.
Vashti is a victim, a loner who eventually becomes
insane. Yet, she does not typify the mammy type which has
meant so much to Goldberg's film career. The audience cannot


81
neighbors, they do not ask themselves what are those Black
people doing in Idaho. Usually when they watch apocalyptic
and/or science fiction movies they don't have to wonder why
space aliens dont ever kidnap Blacks, or why there are no
Black people present at the end of the world. Nor do
mainstream audiences question why it seems that white single
mothers in the movies like Michelle Phieffer and Sandra
Bullock, are heroic divorcees, whereas Halle Berry has to
play a single-mother who has never been married and who is
also a crack addict. Not only is Berry a crack addict but she
is a bad mother who leaves her baby in a dumpster for a white
woman to rescue.2 These are the kinds of questions that Black
audience are more often than not, consciously or not,
compelled to ask themselves.
While it is uncommon for mainstream film audiences and
critics to question the presentation of Blackness on screen,
it is not impossible. In Cinema and Spectatorship, Judith
Mayne spends an entire chapter examining the implications of
the Black presence in the films Field of Dreams and Ghost.
She studies the way in which white audiences receive these
two films wherein the pivotal characters, the characters who
advance the narrative, are Black (James Earl Jones and Whoopi
Goldberg, respectively). Mayne notes that the "negative
reviews of Field of Dreams,' see the James Earl Jones
character as out of place. In the case of Ghost "race is
rarely called to attention" (150). She contends that the
2Why do Fools Fall in Love, Hope Floats, Losing Isaiah


52
are in need of Clara/Corrina's guidance when it comes to
these matter. However, in both movies this seemingly elevated
place the mammy figure has in the life of the children is
constantly under attack. In Clara's Hart, David's father is
constantly reminding anyone who will listen that Clara is not
David's mother and that their relationship has become too
interdependent. The same reality check occurs in Corrina,
Corrina as Manny reprimands Clara by reminding her that she
is not Molly's mother and has no right to make major
decisions concerning her. Again the Goldberg character's
status as catalyst for character development is just that.
Manny subsequently fires Corrina for making a decision about
Molly without consulting him. This relegates her once again
to servant status although she has been performing the role
of mother, and to a certain extent wife. The mammy's deep
spirituality is only honored and required as long as it does
not interfere with the white parents' ideology.
While the mother in Clara's Hart is aided in her
spiritual development by Clara, she only finds complete
fulfillment as the patient and lover of a psychologist. In
Corrina, Corrina, the father's source of spiritual connection
is Corrina. The film is a rarity in the Goldberg collection
as it features one of her few on screen romances. Corrina
gets to be touched and kissed by Molly's father. In the
process she touches not only his physical body, but his
spiritual self. The end of the film finds this declared
atheist praying for his and Corrina's "relationship" to be


179
herself. Eddie's condition also causes her to have very
little conscious. In order to support Homer and herself, she
robs gas stations and with little or no provocation and often
shoots the clerks. Yet, in the midst of their adventures on
the road Homer and Eddie manage to become good friends.
Because Homer has led a very sheltered life and is quite
innocent, Eddie makes it her business to educate him. She
teaches him to drive and takes him to a bordello so that he
can have his first sexual experience. What is significant
about this turn of events in the movie is that Eddie takes
Homer to a prostitute who also happens to be her cousin. When
she discovers that Homer is a virgin, Eddie takes a detour
from their journey and stops by her cousin's place of
employment. Her cousin Esther is an older, corpulent, Black
woman whose love scene with Homer borders on the ridiculous.
In fact, it is not a love scene at all but rather the two of
them dancing in their underwear. This even gives rise the to
the question of whether they have actually had sex.
It is obvious that the filmmakers want to waylay any
possibility of Homer having a real sexual attraction to
either of the Black women in this film. The audience is made
to feel as if Eddie has practically forced Homer to undergo
the procedure of losing his virginity. Her behavior is a bit
strange given that as close as Eddie and Homer grow in this
film there is never any indication that they are sexually
attracted to one another. The entrance of Esther as Eddie's
cousin is quite unnecessary unless Esther is the sexually


2
career that has spanned only fifteen, Whoopi Goldberg has
managed to star in almost 30 films (this figure does not
include supporting roles and cameos). I began to ponder the
mechanism of Hollywood. I wondered why Goldberg could and
did make so many films and why she rarely appeared in movies
with other Black people.
Given the lateness of the century and the length of time
Hollywood has had to master its techniques, it seems odd that
the Hollywood machine still fails to present complex and
multi-dimensional images of Black women in general and of
Goldberg in particular. I could only conclude that Black
women are still caricatures in American media. While at one
time the Black woman was only defined as the tragic mulatto,
the jezebel, the castrating matriarch, and the mammy, current
parodies have taken on even more detrimental connotations.
There has been a significant shift toward even more sexually
charged stereotypes that work to define Black women. The
castrating matriarch has been transformed into the welfare
queen. The jezebel is now a bitch and a ho.' Even the mammy
has moved away from the image of being desexualized because
she is emotionally the quintessential nurturer and physically
obese to desexualized because she is the only caricature
whose overt sexuality is not a question. Because the Black
woman can be daily (even hourly) consumed in any one of her
stereotypical capacities, she has in many ways come to
represent only these things in America. Goldberg, as a major
Hollywood actor, seems to be the most readily available


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
ABSTRACT V
INTRODUCTION 1
CHAPTERS
1 THE MAMMY AS METAPHOR: BLACK WOMEN
ON SILVER SCREENS 5
History 5
Chloe, Queenie, Beulah, and Delilah:
History, Not Hers 10
I Still Need Beulah to Peel Me a Grape 29
Harriet, Clara, Corrina, and Mary Clarence 36
2 THE TROPE OF THE LOCK 62
Gazing at Black Women's Bodies 62
Body Spaces 65
Body Boundaries 84
Image Is Everything 87
Sexual Feedom and Freedom from Sexuality 100
3 THE CROSSOVER FORMULA Ill
Matriarchs Ill
More or Less a Mother Ill
Always a Nurturer, but Never a Mother 121
Crossing Over and Selling Out 132
Sisters, Sista-Girls, and Girl Friends 142
iii


10
with an African/American heritage. For instance, there are
Black Americans of Jamaican, Haitian or Canadian descent. By
capitalizing Black and Blackness I want to move these terms
away from being words that solely trigger thoughts of skin
color toward words that denote culture. Additionally, I do
not capitalize white to also draw attention to it. Whiteness
is so often the normalizing factor that when one refers to
people, for example, they are automatically thought of as
white, while any other kind of people are clearly denoted by
an identifier like Black people, Chinese people etc. Even
more attention is drawn to the word white when the word Black
is capitalized. Rather than advancing any theoretical agenda,
I hope that these choices in punctuation will simply provoke
thought.
Chloe, Queenie, Beulah, and Delilah: Histories, Not Hers
In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins
contends that the Black woman has always had to negotiate
mythic identities. While the battle to defy or even reify
mythological identities is waged across the boardevery
group has a stereotype to combatBlack womanhood seems
peerless in its suffering. But the mammy is only one of the
Black woman's nemeses; they also include the equally
denigrating jezebel/whore and, of late, the welfare queen.
This point is emphasized by Hill-Collins when she writes that
"portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies,


101
no exception. While she may not be legs or breasts, she is
hands and feet and does very often become a heartyearning
to bleed for her white co-stars. This became especially true
when she was removed from the realm of heterosexuality
altogether.
Hollywood is able to capitalize on Goldberg's
asexual/masculine persona in the movie Boys on the Side. In
this film Goldberg is a lesbian. Yet, the audience only knows
that she is a lesbian because we are told. There are no
stereotypical physical or social markings that identify her
as such. Because Goldberg's sexuality is at best ambiguous in
any movie, audiences are not shocked or forced to negotiate
homo-eroticism in this movie. As a production for mainstream
cinema it is significant that Goldberg was the one chosen to
play this role. While there have been successful Hollywood
films that featured intimate relationships between women,
they were not the kinds of films that openly mentioned
lesbianism. Much has been written about films like Thelma and
Louise and Fried Green Tomatoes for the kind of intimacy that
is exhibited between its female protagonists. Boys on the
Side is different in that the star of the film is openly
lesbian. Such a movie aimed at mainstream audiences would
require a female star who would not negatively provoke the
audience. It required an actor who could present herself as a
lesbian while not alienating the film's mainstream audiences.
Goldberg becomes the obvious choice because her already


108
womanhood, but simply does not. Instead it takes the safe way
out and chooses to comment on the treatment of women in a
traditionally male dominated field. Although the character's
entire purpose for changing herself into a man stems as much
from racial bias as gender bias, race is hardly mentioned in
the film. The presence of Laurel's aging white assistant
fosters solidarity between the two women. They have been
slighted because of their sex. The assistant too, has been
overlooked in the corporate world controlled by white men.
Her age indicates that she began to climb the ladder before
it became fashionable for a few (white) "women" to have keys
to the executive wash room. But Laurels race and her
assistant's age are only peripheral considerations; what
binds them together in their fight against the system is
sisterhood.
Perhaps their solidarity would be more believable if
race were not so blatantly overlooked in the movie. No one
ever mentions that Laurel is Black, although race is by and
large the reason for her pretense. Even in the most poignant
scene concerning race, race is not mentioned. At the end of
the movie Robert Cutty is presented with an award
commemorating his business savvy and Laurel is forced to
appear in drag once more. At the podium in front of an
audience, Laurel unmasks and exposes her true identity. As
the crowd sits in stunned silence, two Black waiters begin
applauding Laurel. It is interesting that the only evidence
we see of other Black people in the movie is the presence of


17
to identify with whiteness, and shun their own culture and
kind. Harris continues with her appraisal by accenting the
rigid boundaries between the mammy and the other plantation
slaves.
Mammy's self-respect was lost in groveling before
and fawning upon her mistress, master, and young
white charges. Her loyalty became self-effacement
and her affection anticipated the exaggeration of
the minstrel tradition. Her piety and patience
worked more often than not in favor of the whites,
and her tyranny was most ruthless when it was
exercised over other Blacks. . .she also believed
in aping white manners . and believed herself
inferior to those for whom she worked. (36)
The author is brutal in her assessment of the mammy figure as
having sold out her own people. While Harris' accusations are
scathing, they are important for noting the vehemence with
which Black women critics attack the mammy. They are also
important because she draws her conclusions largely from
studying a particular Black American literature that takes up
the trope of the mammy. Thus she is reiterating the way Black
authors themselves see the mammy. Harris goes on to
conceptualize the mammy as a traitor among slaves and
eventually a traitor among early and middle 20th century
Blacks. Harris critiques Charles Chesnutt's Mammy Jane in
The Marrow of Tradition, Ann Petry's Lutie in The Street, and
the Opal Simmonds character in dem, by William Melvin Kelley.
Thus the conceptualization of the mammy figure is
manifold in this society. Many Black authors and critics see
the mammy as an apostate member of her race and the final and
triumphant result of internalized racism, while a writer like


124
Kiss Shot are the only Goldberg movies that feature her in
relationships with Black men.
Of the two movies her most disappointing relationship
takes place in The Long Walk Home. The Goldberg character
rarely appears on screen with her husband, and when she does
they do not share intimate moments or words. In one scene he
and Goldberg lie in bed together, discussing her first day
walking home from work. Rather than comfort or exhort one
another they turn away from one another and go to sleep. They
are so tired they can do little more than exchange
pleasantries. They are almost strangers as both assume their
own sides of the bed. They are a couple with three children,
yet they do not exchange more than a peck on the cheek
throughout the movie. At the end of the film, when Goldberg
is surrounded by an angry mob of white men, it is Sissy
Spacek who comes to her rescue and not her own husband. The
husband in this movie is little more than a prop. The
opportunity to look at a relationship between a Black man and
woman, even in this period piece is lost.
Kiss Shot does not fare much better in its reading.
Although it is the most extensive portrayal of Goldberg and a
Black man in a romantic relationship, it too ends up adhering
to a formulaic and surface portrayal of a Black couple.
Goldberg the waitress-turned-pool-hustler meets and falls in
love with a wealthy rogue. After losing to him in a pool game
and riding in his Porsche, Sarah finds herself in love. This
love is complicated by the fact that she is a parent and


80
Black audiences have wrong-mindedly believed that
the push for more "positive" images would
necessarily lead to diverse representations of
blackness. Yet the very insistence on positive
images automatically acts to constrict and limit
what can be created. (105)
Here hooks is referring to the "enlightened" Black audiences,
those who do not choose to welcome stereotypical images of
themselves. Yet even she, like most marginalized audiences
who ever attempt to watch film, adopts a particular way of
seeing what she wants and closing her eyes to what she
doesnt. According to hooks:
When I returned to films as a young woman, after a
long period of silence, I had developed an
oppositional gaze. Not only would I not be hurt by
the absence of black female presence, or the
insertion of violating representation, I
interrogated the work, cultivated a way to look
past race and gender for aspects of content, form
and language. (204)
hooks is dangerously close to doing what the "unenlightened"
audience does. She too understands the kind of gazing Black
audiences and indeed, most "other" audiences have to
undertake. She sees past Blackness as ugly, negative,
inferior or absent so that she can engage the rest of the
film.
Oftentimes for mainstream audiences, the challenge is
different. White audiences are not always bogged down in
cultural codes. When they watch a movie about a family in
Idaho, they do not usually ask where are the Black people. Or
if they watch a movie about a family in Idaho who have Black


125
Kevin has never had to shoulder any kind of responsibility.
The couple breaks up because Kevin is frightened by the
thought of taking on a ready-made family. In the end he and
Sarah do reunite, but only after he confesses his fears to
the daughter. Jenny in effect saves the day by relaying the
information to her mother. This reads as if the relationship
between Sarah and Kevin is not strong enough to endure real
conversation. We do see them spend time together, but most of
their talk revolves around pool and Kevin's money. The movie
concludes tidily, with Sarah, Kevin and Jenny racing off in
his sports car. While it is perhaps unfair to look to this
particular movie to provide a deep reflection on Black
relationships, it is unfortunately the only one of its kind.
The fact that it was a television movie perhaps
influences the limited portrayal of Sarah and Kevin's
relationship. For example, after a candlelight dinner at
Kevin's house, he and Sarah end the night by wading into the
jacuzzi. They enter the jacuzzi without removing any of their
clothing, not even stopping to removie their shoes, to
exchange their only kiss. They do not hold hands or speak
affectionately to one another, they spend the majority of the
their scenes together eating dinner and talking shop.
Goldberg is never presented in a sexual or even sensual
manner. In fact, when she shows up at Kevin's house uninvited
and another woman answers the door there is no mistaking the
implications. The woman answers the door in a short robe as
Kevin appears on the stairs without his shirt. In that


165
However, inspite of its hopeful moment this connection in
Fatal Beauty is only half-heartedly attempted.
Rizzoli is after Kroll, a respected business man, whose
sideline is peddling drugs. Not only is Kroll selling drugs,
but he is selling "Fatal Beauty" which is killing its users.
Mike Marshack is Kroll's security chief. Marshac asserts that
he only handles Kroll's legitimate business interests and
turns a blind-eye to the other half of the business. In order
to keep tabs on Rizzoli, Kroll assigns Marshack the task of
following her. In the midst of his duties Marshack finds
himself constantly saving Rizzoli's life. It is a mystery how
she ever survived before he came on the scene. Nevertheless,
as the two spend more and more time together their exchange
of raillery and witticisms becomes something more. In one
such exchange, Rizzoli invites Marshack into her apartment
for coffee. When she asks him how he likes it, he of course
says black. The atmosphere between the two of them changes
from civil to very friendly. When Rizzoli receives a phone
call telling her that three children are dead from consuming
Fatal Beauty, Marshack steps in to comfort her.
In a scene curiously reminiscent of Clara's Hart,
Rizzoli explains to Marshack why she sees it as her
responsibility to rid the streets of drugs. While he sits in
a chair she sits on her coffee table facing him. The camera
moves in for a close-up and a shot of their heads fill the
screen. Rizzoli begins by telling him how ugly she was as a
child and how drugs made her feel pretty and accepted. She


114
on screen, they are only interested in looking at Whoopi
Goldberg. They want to see Goldberg in movies where she is
removed from family, community and often history, because
movies are still the places this society goes to escape
realitynot embrace it.
While it is not necessary that Hollywood cinema present
Goldberg as a Black mother always or even often, it does seem
as if these kinds of characters should represent a larger
part of her repertoire given the extent of her work. It is
not that Goldberg never plays a mother to Black children, she
does. However, these kinds of roles are limited in scope and
number. Currently, she has only mothered Black children in
Ghosts of Mississippi, The Long Walk Home, and Kiss Shota
little-known television movie. Goldberg has also been the
mother of bi-racial children in Moonlight and Valentino and
Made in America.3 Both Ghosts of Mississippi and The Long Walk
Home have Goldberg playing Civil Rights era heroines in true
stories. In each instance, the larger narratives obscure her
relationships with her children. The television movie Kiss
Shot and the feature film Made in America are the only two
movies in her extensive film career wherein prolonged
dialogue and interaction takes place between a Goldberg
character and her children.
Of all her forays into motherhood Goldberg's historical
dramas are the most disappointing. The disappointment is at
3In Soap Dish when Goldberg plays sidekick to Sally Fields' lead, her
children are mentioned as "the twins." Neither these children nor a
husband, if there is one, appear on screen. Also she is the mother of
a son in Clara'a Bart, but he is dead and does not appear on screen.


51
(African-American) and have children. The impetus is that
Corrina will end up an old maid if she does not stop finding
fault with her suitors and prefering the company of her
employer. The movie is careful to paint a picture of Manny as
the obvious suitor for Corrina. Manny is the only one who
understands Corrina's love of music. Corrina's sister scolds
her for buying yet another music album, but it is the gift
from Manny. So that while they do not agree on God, cannot
live in the same neighborhood, or even dine out together
without causing a spectacle, they do love the same kind of
music. What more could a couple need to have in common. The
audiences is lead to believe that their mutual love of music
and Molly is enough to sustain them.
Of particular interest here is the parallelism in terms
of religion between Clara's Hart and Corrina, Corrina. One of
the defining characteristics of a mammy, according to Bogle,
is a strong sense of spirituality. In both movies there are
scenes where the white children go to church with the
Goldberg characters. David Hart partakes in his first
communion and Molly sings in a gospel choir. The final scene
of Corrina, Corrina finds Molly comforting her grandmother
at the loss of her grandfather by singing "This Little Light
of Mine." In both films the children's only exposure to
spirituality comes from the Goldberg characters. These
brushes with God prove invaluable to both children' s
progress. It is significant that their introduction to
spirituality does not come via their parents, who themselves


126
thirty-second scene, with the unnamed woman, there is more
sexual innuendo than in Goldberg's entire sequence of scenes
with Kevin. While I do not mean to imply that in order to
represent romance on screen that there must be sexually
explicit scenes, I do want to draw attention to the way
Goldberg is almost never shown in this way.
In most of her movies Goldberg is not romantically
paired with a man. When she is, he is almost always white.
Returning to the notion of fully developed female
characterizations, it is more than strange that Goldberg has
never had a significant Black male counterpart in any of her
big-screen films. In Corrina, Corrina; Moonlight and
Valentino, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Fatal Beauty, and Made in
America the men who manage to steal a few kisses or at least
a date with Goldberg are all white.
The Goldberg movie which most threatens to present her
as a sexual being on screen is Moonlight and Valentino. This
movie stars an ensemble cast (Goldberg, Elizabeth Perkins,
Gwyneth Paltrow and Kathleen Turner) and uses the life of
Rebecca (Elizabeth Perkins) to segue into exploring the lives
of the other three. The story begins with Rebecca on the
morning her husband has been killed. Goldberg is Sylvie
Rebecca best friend. While this is the film in Goldberg's
repertoire that most openly displays intimacy between her
character and a man, it is thwarted by Sylvies unusual
attraction to Rebecca.


137
daughter had a baby. Goldberg is the Black woman, with
dreadlocks and a Jewish name. She is pro-choice and anti
drugs. Goldberg has written a children's book, an
autobiography, and co-hosts the Hollywood Squares game show.
She is the everywoman who always manages to change adversity
into victory, an amalgamation of all that is cool and hotat
least for mainstream audiences. Mainstream cinema and the
media in general can point to Goldberg and say the American
dream is still possible; in this postmodern era Black people
can have their piece of the pie. Yet, this same media seems
to whisper as an aside, "but only one at a time please."4
Thus, Goldberg is a Black woman in American who has
risen from poverty to fame and fortune. Who can be more
postmodern than Goldberg (except maybe Oprah)? If, according
to Ben Agger in Cultural Studies as Critical Theory, the
postmodern is characterized as rejecting theories of linear
history, is discontinuous, a hodgepodge, an eclectic mix of
history, culture and everything in between, then surely the
poster child is Whoopi Goldberg (83-87). Surely she
represents, at least in the media and all its incarnations, a
postmodern woman.
Yet, critics like Toni Morrison warn against believing
the hype. For Morrison, the postmodern represents an
4 It is interesting to note here that in the 1988 film Colors,
starring Dennis Hopper and Sean Penn, a young Black gang member is
questioned about his decision to sell drugs. As the police
interrogate him and he is asked why he does not choose a different
lifestyle, the young man speculates that he could always be an actor,
and then asks if Hollywood is ready for two Eddie Murphys.


105
hypersexual Black female. To depict pale, blonde Mary-Louise
Parker with AIDS is to invigorate notions of the sexually
victimized white female. Moreover, as Robin recounts how she
became infected with AIDS, sympathy with her character only
grows. The tale of a lonely girl in New York City infected by
her boyfriend is bound to create empathy with the viewing
audience. Robin has not been a "bad girl" as would have to be
assumed if her character were played by a Black woman.
Instead, Robin is the victim of circumstance.
No matter the sub-genres of Boys on the Sidegirl-buddy
movie, Jack Kerouac on-the-road movie, ephemeral boundaries
between hetero and homosexual love movieit is still
primarily a movie uncomfortable with the Black woman's body.
Were it a film truly engaged in depicting a lesbian tale,
there might have been at least a kiss. Were it a film
interested in exploring the world of Black lesbians, there
would have been some backstory given to Jane. Instead she
just emerges as the awful lead singer in an awful band,
looking to start over in California. The film might even have
toyed with the idea of Janes loving a white woman who was
not suffering a fatal disease. She might have gotten a whole
healthy white woman who at least had the time to love her
back. Were it a movie about interracial female friendships,
perhaps Jane would not have had to fit solely into a white
world, to the exclusion of any family, community, friends, or
girl-friends who looked like her. It is a movie still so


148
latest rendition of the mammy figure, it is possible to see
something more at work in the beginning of her film career.
It is possible to trace in these early films an attempt to
create characters for Goldberg that reach beyond the mammy
figure. However, while it is possible to detect Hollywood's
effort, its failure is even more glaring. Although, they try
to present her in ways slightly more complex that the
quintessential mammyconvention, tradition, and box office
receipts make short work of their endeavors.
In Feminist in the Dark, Kathi Maio sums up Hollywood's
dilemma when it came to initially marketing Whoop Goldberg.
She writes:
The trouble was they [Hollywood] had no idea what
to do with her. Women comic actors of any
description have it very rough in movieland.
(Comedy has always been considered male turf). But
a funny black woman? And this one in particular.
For god's sake, the woman wears dreadlocks. If she
had a long-legged perfect figure, classic (i.e.
white) beauty, straightened hair, and a sultry
(i.e. sexually exploitable) femininity, the studio
execs would have known what to do. (78)
In the beginning of Goldberg's film career, particularly
given the reception of The Color Purple, Hollywood was indeed
perturbed and even wary about how to market Goldberg. As Maio
contends, Hollywood had many obstacles to overcome in order
to ensure Goldberg was a box office draw. First and foremost,
no matter how funny and talented she was, Goldberg was indeed
a Black woman. She was a Black woman who in no wise fit the
Hollywood formula for leading ladies. Not only was she a
Black-skinned, African American woman who wore her hair


56
is invited to her banker's son's birthday party, she
practically ruins the occasion because she does not want to
volunteer with the magician. When she first picks up Albert
from the airport she tries to assuage his fears by telling
him she is a alien from outer-space come to eat him. The
audience is further alerted to the kind of lessons Goldberg
will have to learn from the child through her conversation
with the airport employee assigned to safeguard Albert. After
lecturing Harriet about being late the woman introduces
Albert as the little magician to Harriet. She tells Harriet
that not only is he a magician but that his specialty is
turning the "ace of spades into the queen of hearts."
Immediately Goldberg is set up as the person who will need
saving from herself.
As the film progresses, the audience learns that Albert
has created an imaginary friend who will accompany him to
Harriet's house. Bogus rides in the back seat of the car and
stands at the end of the dinner table, dictating to Albert
what he should say to Harriet. Harriet's true test, her
decision to imagine, will culminate when she is asked to see
Bogus herself. When Harriet finally consents to see him she
is again a little girl who believes in dreams and fairy
tales. Goldberg and Bogus even dance together in an imitation
of Astaire and Rodgers. Harriet is no longer wearing her
asexual business attire but a flowing white gown and high
heels. As she spins in the middle of her living room she is
tranformed into her fantasy, a stand in for Ginger Rodgers.


18
Lillian Smith (a white-southern-female who benefited from the
tradition) waxes nostalgic about the feelings she had for her
old mammy. In Smith's novel, Killers of the Dream, a bold
assessment of the white South for the time, she critiques
white people's treatment of Blacks. In her assessment of her
mammy she admits to having feelings for her, but having to
deny them because truly caring for one's mammy was not
supposed to be publicly expressed. According to Smith:
I knew that my old nurse who had cared for me
through long months of illness, who had given me
refuge when a little sister took my place as the
baby of the family, who soothed me, fed me,
delighted me with their stories and games, let me
fall asleep on her deep warm breast, was not worthy
of the passionate love I felt for her but must be
given instead a half-smiled-at affection similar to
that which one feels for one's do. (28-29)
Whether intentionally or not, Smith romanticizes the plight
of her "old nurse." While Smith was partaking of her mammy's
stories and sleeping on her breast, and constantly reminding
herself that the mammy was not to be afforded the same
affection as a mother, the mammy was losing her identity. In
the novel Smith continues to criticize the way she was raised
as a proper southern lady, yet she still fails to see her
mammy as anything other than her own personal nurturer. Mammy
does not even garner a name, nor does the audience ever learn
whether mammy had her own family. Hence the mammy is
perceived quite differently by those whom she cared for and
by those members of her culture. The very nature of her
bipolar perception marks her as a powerful type in American


22
people. The source of inadequate housing, jobs, and
opportunities can be traced to inferior parenting.
Black people have long been aware of this brand of
inequity built into the system of cultural codes. The Black
community has long been aware of the unspoken tenet that
stated if Black children failed it was the parents and/or
community's fault and not the result of a racially biased
system. They knew this just as they "knew" the equally
malicious premise that Black women were really incapable of
adequately mothering their children. One of the first places
critics and theorists of African American culture began to
articulate and subsequently combat these issues was in the
pages of their fiction. In Toni Morrison's landmark novel,
The Bluest Eye, the author creates a portrait of a Black
woman who has forsaken her children and her selfhood, in
exchange for a life on the periphery of a white family. This
novel is particularly useful for examining the effects of
erasing Black selfhood. Pauline Breedlove has so embraced her
life as servant to a white family that she completely turns
her back on her own husband and children. Not only has
Pauline opted out of Blackness, but her daughter has been so
inundated with whiteness as rightness that she too longs for
it. While her mother longs to simply fade into the midst of
her white employers, Pecla longs for blue eyes. Pecla
thinks that when she obtains blue eyes her mother and the
rest of the world will suddenly love her. Yet both Pauline
and Pecla are mistaken in their assessments.


40
As the embodiment of those fantasies, Black people
have been expected to behave, respond and
experience in particular ways: we are 'obliged' to
play particular roles. In the case of most 'white'
authored fictional narratives this means being
confined to specific spheres of action. (176)
Perhaps the new "dark continent' is the screen. Film may
represent the latest space wherein the dominant culture can
carry out their fantasies against Blacks and other people of
color. By allowing only Whoopi Goldberg (someone who can
successfully carry off the mammy) into the eschelons reserved
for Hollywood stars, Hollywood indeed makes a statement
concerning when Blacks will be allowed centrality on the
silver screen.
Even when mainstream film critics recognize the mammy
quality inherent in Goldberg's characters, they tend to
scapegoat her talent rather than yield a full critique of
Goldberg as mammy. For instance, in Tania Modleski's Feminism
Without Women, she examines several movies where Black women
character's appear to further the narrative including Ghost
and Clara's Hart. Modleski says,
I must acknowledge, however, although it places me
in an uncomfortable position, that I personally
find the Goldberg character in the comedies both
attractive and empowering . and part of this
attraction for me lies in the way she represents a
liberating departure from the stifling conventions
of femininity. (133)
Just as Stuart sees Goldberg as representing a hiatus for
white audiences from thinking about their complicity in
prevailing race equations, Modleski reads Goldberg as a break


36
Harriet, Clara. Corrina, Mary Clarence
Very few of Goldberg's film have received adequate
academic criticism. While there are numerous film reviews,
the bulk of film criticism as it concerns Goldberg is limited
to her first role in The Color Purple, and Ghostthe movie
for which she won an Oscar. With that, the major commentary
about Ghost coming from Black critics (Bogle, hooks, Lola
Young) was that Goldberg was perpetuating the character of
the mammy. However, many mainstream commentaries saw
Goldberg's performance as phenomenal thus her procurement of
an Academy Award. Mainstream audiences love to love Whoopi
Goldberg. They find no inherent problem in the kind of roles
to which she has access. While Black audiences find
Goldberg's isolation from her community disheartening,
mainstream audiences seem to read this as liberation from the
confines of ethnicity. In "Making Whoopi," Andrea Stuart
writes:
Indeed, Goldberg's appeal, at least in film, lies
perhaps in the fact that she is unthreatening, even
relaxing. To manyblack and white alikeher films
are a delightful break from our society's endless
negotiations on the subject of race, time out, from
which we can return refreshed for the next round.
And perhaps, therefore, Goldberg is, in a strange
way, a hope for the future: a black performer whose
black skin is an empty sign, like that of her white
counterparts, that simply spells entertainment and
does not carry with it the baggage of oppression or
history. (13)


66
by tom-toms, cannibalism, intellectual deficiency,
fetishism, racial defects, slave-ships, and above
all else, above all: "Sho; good eatin'." (112)
Fann articulates the baggage that his skin alone as a
signifier contains. Fann is both self-conscious and socially
conscious of all the meanings expressed in his flesh. He pens
the above passage in response to the countless times a white
person had looked at him and exclaimed, "Look, a Negro!"
(112). This dictum not only makes him obvious but defines him
as well. Fann is not known to the people who name him; their
"recognition" occurs solely on the basis of his perceived
character based on his skin pigmentation. If this then is
some sort of truth and Blackness acts as a universal
exposition then any film can make use of this and play on
racist premises.
This meaning attached to Black skin is perhaps part of
the reason for the continued success of an actresses like
Goldberg. Since film is the very act of privileging the
visual, any subject which comes into contact with the camera
is submitted to intense scrutiny. One's clothes, hair, and
skin color all function as discourses. The camera's scrutiny
functions in collaboration with the viewer, but is infinitely
more powerful. Long after the original viewers are gone, film
remains tenacious and repeatable. Given this kind of potency,
it is important to look closely at films that feature
Goldberg. It is not accidental that she is the most prolific
actress in Hollywood, nor can Goldberg's success be credited


CHAPTER 4
MADWOMEN AND GOOD BUDDIES
Marketing Goldberg
In the late 1980's, directly following her portrayal of
Celie in The Color Purple, Hollywood found it difficult to
market Whoopi Goldberg. In fact their dilemma was threefold.
Goldberg was Black, a woman, and a comedienne. It was a
combination Hollywood did not traditionally welcomeunless
it was packaged as the mammy figure. While most of Goldberg's
characterizations do indeed represent some configuration of
the mammy figure, there are a string of her movies which vary
from that formulation enough to warrant their own category.
This chapter is titled "Madwomen and Goodbuddies"
because it explores the strange mix of characters Goldberg
portrayed before she found her niche as the 90's version of
the mammy figure. Jumpin' Jack Flash (1986), Fatal Beauty
(1987), Burglar (1987), The Telephone (1988), and Homer and
Eddie (1989) are particularly representative of Hollywood's
inability to create multidimensional representations of Black
women. Indeed, Hollywood's handling of Goldberg in these
instances exhibits a kind of confusion worth noting. While
Hollywood does eventually find a place for Goldberg as the
147


78
Given the media's continual bombardment of all audiences with
notions of beauty, complicity seems the easiest coping
mechanism.
It is not just the standards of beauty that Blacks begin
to embrace, but cultural significations as well. Even Black
audiences begin to adopt and want to see stereotypical images
of themselves. Herb Boyd in "African-American Images on
Television and in Film" concludes that Black people allow
these kinds of presentations of themselves. For Boyd, Black
people are so desperate to see anything that looks like them
on screen that they often embrace demeaning imagery. Black
people allow negative and degrading imagery because this is
all they will get to see of themselves. Boyd writes that this
is the basis for the popularity of a television show like
Martin. He also sees the appetites of many Black audiences
creating a market for movies that depict Black people as
"thieves, pushers, prostitutes, gold-diggers and buffoons"
(24-25). bell hooks addresses this acquiescence to
stereotypical imagery by Black audiences in Reel to Real.
Often unenlightened black and other nonwhite groups
who, like many whites, have been socially
conditioned to accept denigrating portraits of
black people are dissatisfied when they do not see
these familiar stereotypes on screen. (74)
While hooks refers to Blacks who are comfortable with one
dimensional images as "unenlightened." It is important to
reiterate that they have chosen to deal with the onslaught of


72
that Black audience's problem with Goldberg ( and Hollywood
film as a whole) can be condensed to the clothes they wear on
screen are missing a vital element in their analysis.
Black audiences are sophisticated in their ability to
analyze the way Blackness is being presented. Historically,
Black audiences have had their own bodies as training ground.
Their ability to read these kinds of discourses enables them
to draw conclusions when watching Hollywood cinema. Thus, it
is quite easy to conclude that Hollywood presents Blackness
to all audiences in ways that negate and/or control it.
Although the contention between Black audiences and
Whoopi Goldberg cannot be simply reduced to clothing, an
important aspect of this dissonance does hinge on appearance.
In Fear of the Dark, Lola Young maintains that,
given the inscription of Otherness on the black
body established through colonial and imperial
anthropological, medical, literary and photographic
discourse, it seems it was inevitable the cinema
would become instrumental in the attempted
demystification and control of black people. (50)
While film is an important element in the definition of all
people, it is particularly adept at framing people of color.
Therefore film becomes complicit both in the maintenance and
production of current social, political and economic
standards. Film produces meaning visually. Many Black
killing other Black men. Also, when I refer to Black movies I
intentionally leave out the Richard Pryor/Eddie Murphy/Chris
Rock/Chris Tucker kind of comedy. These movies, while featuring Black
leading men, are more crossover in their intent. All of the actors
mentioned above are or were paired with white actors to appeal to a
broader audience.


118
sets up and places bets on her pool games. Kiss Shot is one
of Goldberg's most interesting films because we see her, even
if briefly, as both a mother and a daughter. But the
excitement is short-lived when the film establishes in the
first few frames that Sarah is estranged from her parents. In
an attempt to procure money for her impending loan, Sarah
travels to see her parents for the first time since her
daughter has been born. Thirteen-year-old Jenny has never
seen her grandparents. As the story unfolds we learn that
Sarah's parents disowned her when she became pregnant with
Jenny in high school. So as not to mistake this Goldberg
character for an unwed mother, the film quickly reveals that
she and Jenny's father married, but never explains why he is
not present in the narrative. Thus, Jenny's father remains a
mystery and the audience is left to assume that he is dead or
has run off. We only know that he is the reason Sarah learned
to play pool. This lack of a father/husband does make room in
the story for romance, which is again a rare happening in a
Goldberg film. Yet, even when a Goldberg film seems as if it
will break out of its usual mold, the result is very often
deception.
Kiss Shot ends up following the formula that keeps it
from being a "Black movie." The Goldberg character does have
some connection to the Black community in this movie. She has
both parents and a daughter, but her real sources of social
interaction are her white friends. Once she loses her job at
an electronics company, Sarah returns to work for her white


21
her. After all, her only alternatives are the Whore/Welfare
Queen images.
The mammy is also powerful because she can define the
relationship Black women have with their children. For Hill-
Collins, "the mammy image is important because it aims to
shape Black women's behavior as mothers" (72). Society on the
whole sees the Black woman as bereft of maternal instincts.
In All the Women Are White, All the Men Are Black, But Some
of Us Are Brave, Alice Walker articulates the way Black
motherhood is often exhibited.
Perhaps it is the Black woman's children, whom the
white womanhaving more to offer her own children,
and certainly not having to offer them slavery or a
slave heritage or poverty or hatred, generally
speaking: segregated schools, slum neighborhoods,
the worst of everythingresents. For they must
always make her feel guilty. She fears knowing that
black women want the best for their children just
as she does. But she also knows Black Children are
to have less in this world so that her children,
white children, will have more. . Better then
to deny that the Black woman ... Is capable of
motherhood. Is a woman. (44)
While Walker speaks specifically about white women's notions
of Black motherhood, this interpretation is perhaps universal
within the dominant culture. Inherent within the mythology of
American culture is the premise that Black women are not only
unwilling to mother their own children, but lack the ability
to nurture. For Walker, this perceived fault in the Black
woman's mothering capabilities allows white society to use
the Black woman as a scapegoat. Society at large does not
have to bear any of the responsibility for the state of Black


43
relationship with the father is depicted as volatile perhaps
in order to deny any competition between father and son for
her affections. Even her contact with David's mother begins
to wane as Mrs. Hart becomes the patient/close friend of a
psychologist seeking to heal her inner-child. This leaves
Clara and David plenty of time to be alone.
One of the unique aspects of this movie is that Clara
though a new immigrant from Jamaica, does have friends in the
area. During her weekends off she takes a train into
Baltimore and visits old friends who have also come from
Jamaica. Yet the trope of the mammy is at work even though
Clara has Black friends. She is still an outsider within the
Black community. There is secret about Clara Mayfield that
causes her to be the subject of songs and the brunt of jokes.
It is this secret that David Hart sets out to discover.
Upon visiting with Clara in the city, David meets a
young Jamaican woman who threatens him with Clara's secret.
Of course this mysterious young woman coupled with the fact
that Clara carries around a small red suitcase which everyone
else is forbidden to touch only exacerbates David's
curiosity. Eventually David opens Clara's suitcase and
discovers a bundle of letters that have been sent back to her
unopened, seemingly by her husband. Clara's has only
mentioned her own family in passing. She says she had a son
whom she lost and that her husband works outside of Jamaica,
but that he will be joining her in American soon. David's
opening of the suitcase symbolizes his betrayal of Clara and


58
from the two piece suits she has worn throughout the film.
Her dress is meant as a signal that she has softened, has a
sense of humor, an imagination, has regained her own
spiritual approach to life. The bogus character addresses the
camera and bids the audience fairwell. The last shot is of
him finding another little boy who needs an imaginary friend.
Bogus is probably the most disappointing of the films
that blatantly use the mammy trope because like Corrina,
Corrina there is much untapped potential. In Bogus the white
parental force has been removed. Harriet is the sole guardian
of little Albert. Yet the majority of the film focuses on her
lack of maternal abilities as far as Albert is concerned, not
what she can provide.
The last two movies that this sections examines and
labels vehicles for Goldberg's mammying are Sister Act and
its sequel. Sister Act was a phenomenally successful movie
for Goldberg. This is the consummate role for her as mammy
because she brings her special brand of magic to a convent
full of nuns. As a Las Vegas showgirl running from her
mobster ex-boyfriend, she takes refuge in a nunnery. While
there this new "sister" brings a bit of life to the nuns. She
takes them to a bar, teaches them to sing and eventually gets
them a record deal. This is all in a days work for the mammy
of the nineties.
Again, Goldberg is removed from relationships in the
Black community. Although her backup singers and the police
officer who helps protect her are Black, they are clearly


85
or performing a nineties version of the antediluvian
"forbidden dance," sexually over-emphasized images of the
Black woman are readily available. Audrey Edwards emphasizes
the power music videos have in semiotically structuring the
Black woman. She writes that "the videos are riddled with
stereotypes . the notion of the Black woman as sex
objectexotic, hot mamas ready to get it on at the drop of a
hat" (220).
From the slave quarters to urban projects, Black women
have been inculcated with depictions of themselves as
extraordinarily promiscuous. Music videos are only the latest
incarnation of Black women as sexual predators and savages. A
more classic example of Hollywood's ability to fetishize the
Black woman's body is found in the rash of Black movies from
the 1970s, commonly known as "Blaxploitation" films.
Although this work centers primarily around Goldberg and
Hollywood film's handling of her as a Black female star, it
is useful to trace some of the ways they have exhibited other
Black females in film. If the Black woman's first encounters
with Hollywood film were as mammies and tragic mulattos, and
the latest and most successful engagement is as Whoopi
Goldberg, then certainly the Blaxploitation era represented a
kind of filmic hiatus from the films featuring archetypal
mammies and mulattos.
If nothing else, that period in Hollywood where there
were actually two or three Black women starring in feature
films, further points to Hollywood's discomfort with the


84
Body Boundaries
The social and cultural body of the Black woman, like
all social and cultural presentations of the body, is
difficult at best to assess. To simply point out that she has
once again been stigmatized and stereotyped belabors the
point. Yet, to advance critique it is often necessary to
begin at the places where social and cultural
misrepresentation is still occurring. One of the areas where
the assessment of Goldberg as a Black woman and a successful
actress in Hollywood is most intriguing is in regards to her
sexuality. It is interesting to compare the way in which
Hollywood has presented Goldberg as a largely androgynous
being, while most of their other re-presentations of Black
women and sexuality revert back to the trope of her as sexual
savage.
The media still engages in the presentation of Black
women as wildly, abnormally sexual. These tropes originate
out of a need to control the Black woman's sexuality. One of
the places the Black woman is most readily available for
sexual consumption is in music videos. It is possible to
consume images of Black women, via music televison, as the
over-sexed, "exotic primitive" on a daily basis. Whether she
is parading across the screen in a bathing suit or underwear,
draped across a bed, posed as different flavors of ice cream,


82
reviews of Ghost had very little comment about race, until
it came to reviews of the home video. Mayne quotes a review
by Ty Burr of the film Ghost, following its release on home
video. Burr comments on the racial stereotyping of the
Hispanic villain, and the use of Whoopi Goldberg as the
"loudmouth con artist who makes her living scamming
superstitious, eye-rolling black folk" (Mayne, 150). What is
most worthy of note is Mayne's comment about Burr's review.
Burr's review has as much to do with how well the
film stands up "with repeat viewings" as with how
well it works in a movie theater, and it is
interesting that the racist stereotypes should only
become evident when the film is seen more than
once. (150)
Mayne's contention is that Burr's negative review arises out
repeated viewings of the film when it was accessible on home
video. Burr had to watch the film repeatedly before he was
able to read the racial codes inherent within it. Mainstream
cinema audiences are not compelled to decipher racial codes,
negotiate film images of Black people in the same way, with
the same frequency, or intensity, as Black audiences. If
Black audiences are constantly forced to question the film
narrative and decode depictions of themselves, then the
questioning session intensifies when Whoopi Goldberg is the
star of the film.
Goldberg's status as a movie star carries with it
expectations. Because she is usually the "star" of the film,
it seems reasonable that she would be presented as a fully-
developed character. Yet, Goldberg is rarely in romantic


29
I Still Need Beulah to Peel Me a Grape
It is possible to turn on the television and consume
images of Black women as video 'hos and welfare queens quite
readily. The presence of Black women on the television
screen has escalated in recent years with the advent of music
videos and talk shows. Yet, these kinds of vehicles still
present very one-dimensional caricatures of Black women.
However, it is the nurturer, the mammy, who still reigns in
Hollywood cinema. Yet, the mammy figure does not always make
her appearance in the traditional way. She is not just the
elderly black woman in charge of white children or a white
household, the mammy is much more mutable than that. The
mammy, whatever her current physical manifestation is a
supernurturer. Super is used here in the sense that it takes
the form of an over-extended kind of nurturing. It is a
nurturing that goes over and above what is adequate. This
kind of nurturing represents the only comfortable way
Blackness has been, and evidently can still be, negotiated on
screen. Thus the most high profile Black actress in Hollywood
is consistently presented in vehicles where her primary
purpose is to nurture the white characters.3 Yet, this enigma
is not inherent solely in Goldberg's work. Often when
3 Goldberg does not always mammy in the traditional way in every
movie. There are some movies in which she plays mad, or highly
eccentric characterswhich is another prolific use of Blackness in
mainstream cinema. In short, Blackness is also acceptable if it is
mad. Mad Blackness can end up nurturing whiteness just as well. This
is discussed further in Chapter Four.


110
she was an Eastern society girl who had a child out of
wedlock and was disowned by her family. Josephine
Monaghan gave the child to her sister to care for and
came out West, taking on the identity of man sometime
during her journey (524).
Like Laurel Ayers, the character of little Jo begins dressing
like a man in order to succeed in her career. She acquires
first a good job and then ends up owning her own sheep ranch.
Jo is able to support herself and send money back to her
child. Another reason for Jo's decision to assume a male
identity is for protection. As a woman traveling alone in the
West, Jo is easy prey for rapists. Laurel too needs the
protection of a man. In order to cater to her wealthy
clientele (most of whom are male) Laurel must be legitimated
by a man. Laurel must assume the role of mouthpiece, while
her clients rest assured that Robert Cutty is really the one
running the company. Modleski surmises that "Jo's sexual fall
and subsequent banishment from her high-society family would
have led her straight into prostitution had she not struck on
the idea of disguising herself as a man" (530). The Goldberg
character's reasoning is near the same. Both the characters
of Laurel and Little Jo are compelled to become men to avoid
economic, social and sexual discrimination. However, Laurel
must also add race in her equation.


132
down. Even in her own community, Corrina is already seen as
strange and becomes even more of an outcast when she begins
to spend her free time with Manny and Molly. Thus, while
there are references to and involvement with the Black
community in this movie, an appearance by the Black community
is unimportant to the main narrative.
Crossing Over and Selling Out
Hollywood has devised a formula for creating and
maintaining crossover stars. The most important element in
their methodology is to extract the star from social and
cultural entanglements. This allows the mainstream audience
to view the actor only in surroundings that are familiar and
comfortable to them. Mainstream cinema audiences are not
invited to draw new conclusions about Black people in America
if they never get to see more than one at a time in a film.
Mainstream audiences do not have to question or even engage
the status quo when they attend the theater. They are not
urged to make queries about the lives of Black women or men,
mothers or wives, husbands or children as a result of viewing
the typical Hollywood film. Mainstream audiences are not
really asked to examine interracial relationships in this
society even after attending a Goldberg film in which she is
featured in one. Removing Goldberg from the Black community
completely or making her the outcast in the Black community,


88
constructed through the sex/gender system on both the
personal level of individual consciousness and interpersonal
relationships and the social structural level of social
institutions" (165). Thus sexuality in this work, as in Hill
Collins, is an amalgam. It is inclusive of sex as biological
determinant and sex as an individual and social construct.
With this working definition in mind, it is possible to
investigate the way in which Hollywood film handles the body
of Whoopi Goldberg, and indeed the bodies of Black women in
general.
Because of her history, and her present, the Black
woman's body is loaded with sexual innuendo and connotations
unique to her position. According to Hill Collins Black women
are unique in the way in which they exhibit and the way in
which society sees them as exhibiting sexuality. Hill Collins
writes: "African-American women inhabit a sex/gender
hierarchy in which inequalities of their race and social
class have been sexualized" (165). Consequently a Black woman
on screen, a Black woman anywhere, does not bear the meanings
associated with being a woman, but those analogous to being a
"Black woman." In film and the media in general, to be a
Black woman means to be something less or something more than
simply being a woman. The something less could be less
feminine, even less human. The something more is usually
negative in that she is more promiscuous or more nuturing to
anyone outiside of her own culture or family. The Black woman
is often presented as the extreme. She is never represented


150
Hollywood's quandary came the likes of Terri Doolittle, Rita
Rizzoli, Bernie Rhodenbarr and Vashti Blue all whom wound up
insane, in a lot of trouble, or in the role of "sidekick.
Good Buddies
In the summer of 1998 Hollywood marked another milestone
in the production of the "Black/White/Good-Buddy/Sidekick"
movie with its fourth installation of Lethal Weapon. Lethal
Weapon like 48 Hours and Another 48 Hours, represented a
profitable and acceptable way of handling Black and white
characters on screen. Usually the Good Buddy/Sidekick formula
is invoked when a movie has to be made around a Black
comedian. In order to alleviate inter-racial romance concerns
and to avoid making a "Black movie," a white protagonist is
added to the mix. Chemistry between the Black actor and the
white actor is important. The audience must believe that they
hate each other so much that they really like each other or
that their appreciation for one another stems from a mutual
respect for the way they perform their duties. No matter the
intricacies of their relationships the audience must believe
that if it were a perfect world this is the way Black and
white men and women should or could relate to one another.
From Richard Pryor to Eddie Murphy this formula has
worked in Hollywood. It even continues to work today in a new
and improved multicultural form. Witness the success of the
"Good-Buddy/Sidekick" movie Rush Hour starring the young,


173
in order to be inconspicuous in this neighbor. In order to
legitimize her access to one of the homes, she dresses as a
maid. She does not dress as like a jogger or a business
woman, or even a delivery truck driver. None of these
characters would look out of place in such an opulent
neighborhood unless, of course, they were Black. She even
manages elude the owner of the house upon his return. She
screams hysterically and pretends she has seen a real thief
leaving the house. As the heavily padded Goldberg screams and
her eyes bulge, it is impossible not to think of the mammy
and as the buffoon. But her dissemblance saves her from the
angry owner who runs past her chasing the imaginary criminal.
One of the interesting aspects concerning this movie is
way in which the corrupt policeman treats Bernie. Here again
is a white man intent on beating-up the Goldberg character.
Ray not only threatens Bernie with a return to prison but
attacks her physically. In the midst of their fist fight, we
learn that she was the state prison boxing champion. Bernie
ends up breaking the man's nose. There is a constant emphasis
on the Goldberg character as masculine/androgynous. Unlike
Jumpin Jack Flash or Fatal Beauty where the Goldberg
characters exhibited at least some interest in the opposite
sex there is no hint of such proclivities in this movie.
"Bernie" is quite androgynous even down to her nickname.
Perhaps the deliberate focus on Goldberg as a masculine-
woman allows her character to be treated so roughly without
fearing any concern from the audience. By the end of the


180
expressed half of Eddie. It is possible to see Eddie's taking
Homer to her cousin as Eddie's only sexual access to Homer.
Eddie has sex with Homer vicariously through his relationship
with her cousin. Thus the sexual relationship between Homer
and Esther is presented as inept and comical in order to
dispense with any reading of it as permanent and, thereby,
threatening. There is little chance that the audience will
view this particular sexual relationship as a loving,
romantic union.
Murder introduces another turn of events that comment on
Homer's experience with Esther. Eddie robs a store and kills
the owner to get the money to pay for Homer's time with
Esther. While the whole premise of the movie is that Eddie is
crazy, it is indeed odd that she had rather kill that just
have sex with Eddie herself. With the exception of Fatal
Beauty, Goldberg is usually casts as asexual. Even when she
is crazy and her potential partner is mentally challenged the
filmmakers choose to have her commit murder rather than sleep
with a man. However, they do allow white Homer to sleep with
a Black Esther because she is a prostitute, she poses no
problem. This film seems to say that it is perfectly okay for
a Black woman to be friends with a white man as long as she
is too crazy to be considered his love-interest. However, the
white male character can indeed sleep with a Black female
character but she can in no way threaten him in terms of
establishing a relationship outside of the physical.


9
contemporary enemy. For them, the mammy is not only alive,
but doing exceptionally well. She is still as powerful an
image at the turn of this century as she was at the turn of
the nineteenth century.
Once the history of the mammy is traced in this chapter,
it will be possible to understand the strength of her visual
imagery when she has been used as a weapon against Black
women, and why Goldberg is viewed as acquiescing in the plot.
Next I examine the implications of a contemporary cinema
which continues to prefer images of Black women that are one
dimensional caricatures. Lastly, I critique several of
Goldberg's movie roles that have been accused of perpetuating
the images associated with the mammy. These movies include
Clara's Hart, Corrina, Corrina, Sister Act I/II, and Bogus.
Throughout the work, I capitalize Black and Blackness in
order to draw attention to Blackness as a culture and not
just a skin color. Just as African American, Native American,
Indian and Chinese are capitalized, I treat Black or
Blackness in the same way. I believe that white Americans,
and often Black Americans themselves, sometimes view Black
people as white people that have failed at being white. Black
people are not white people who didn't get white skin. They
should not be penalized for not acting or thinking like the
majority. Black Americans are a unique and different
conglomerate of cultures and skin colorsjust like white
people. I use the term Black instead of African American,
because not all Black people can identify themselves solely


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46
with her son, not because he is dead or did wrong, but
because the wonderful David has finally come to take his
place. She even receives the comfort that was not forthcoming
from her husband, as evidenced by the letters he returned to
her, at the hands of David. Once again, the white family has
proven itself preferable to the Black family.
It is important to note that stereotypes of Black men
as beasts are confirmed. Clara's son not only rapes a young
woman, but also his own mother committing the ultimate
violation between a mother and son. Thus, it is the white
child David who is able to provide Clara with a proper son.
It is ironic that Clara ends up saving David from Dora
whereas she did not save Dora from her own son. Clara has
carried around a red suit case containing letters as evidence
of her rejection by her husband. David opens the suitcase and
exposes the secrets and eventually is able to comfort Clara
in lieu of a husband who was unwilling. Thus the mammy is
justified in her pursuit of the white family, in her pursuit
of a white son/man. David is able to do single-handedly what
Claras son and husband were not.
Yet this tender moment between David and Clara cannot
last. The white child cannot truly belong to her. A break
must occur in their relationship to ensure that Clara does
not really usurp the places held by a white mother/woman.
David's reaction to the news that Clara will not continue to
care for him after his parents divorce, serves as the
breaking point in their relationship. After all the two have


136
age" (175). He contends that there were three reasons for
Poitier's success. Firstly, was Poitier's ability to
communicate the precepts of integration that both Black and
white audiences could accept. Next, Poitier's success could
be traced to his characterizations, which Bogle says were
really caricatures. Like Goldberg's adaptation of the mammy,
Poitier was still playing the tom, albeit with style and
class. The last reason Bogle gives for Poitier's success is
his incredible talent (175-179). The criticisms of Goldberg
as a popular actress are virtually the same. However,
assessments of Poitier must take into account the films
wherein he is father, husband and love interests, what is
noteworthy about comparisons between Poitier and Goldberg is
that Poitier does move from a career built upon cross-over
work to more multidimensional characterizations. Although
Poitier has recently begun to act again, most criticism of
his work is done in retrospect. It remains to be seen where
Goldberg's future pictures will take her.
If Poitier was the symbol of integration, then Goldberg
is definitely a symbol of postmodernpolyphony at its best.
Goldberg, both on and off screen, has come to represent what
the Black woman should be in Americaat least for mainstream
audiences. In her personal life, she is the epitome of
"welfare to work." The story of her returning a welfare check
because she had begun to make money from her acting has been
retold countless times. She is the single-mother and former
drug addict who successfully coped when her own 15-year-old


79
such imagery in in one particular way. The "unenlightened"
ingest what they like and simply ignore what they don't. This
would explain why images of Black men as drug dealers and
Black women as sexual predators have been and remain
financially rewarding for Hollywood to present to Black
audiences. The same Black character who pushes drugs is often
a kind of anti-hero. This kind of anti-here sprang from the
Blaxploitation era of film production. Characters like these
took care of their mothers, looked out for young children in
the neighborhood, and planned to marry their ladies after one
last score. This anti-hero takes money, power, and respect
because they will never be given to him, and he cannot never
hope to earn them legitimately.
In the same vein, the heroine embraced by many Black
audiences was often hypersexual. She is typified in Pam
Grier's character of the 1970's, who used her body as a both
a physcial and sexual weapon. Today Black women in film and
television still use their bodies, but as pawns. They trade
sex for money and affection because their bodies are all they
own. As such, the Black audience's focus is on the fact that
the heroine manages to acquire these goods and on her
prerogative to see and use her body as she wishes.
While hooks' language seems elitist in evaluating the
responses of Black audiences to themselves on screen, she
does concede that if Black people want multi-dimensional
depictions of themselves, then the answer is not to demand
solely positive imagery, hooks says that:


28
hip. She represents one of the first ways that dominant
society manipulated the black woman's imagery for its
benefit. Inherent within the negation of the black woman's
maternal instincts is a relief from the guilt by whites for
treating blacks as they do. If Black people don't love their
children then they don't need good jobs or nice homes or
welfare to assist them.
The mammy became an archetype like the Black man as
rapist or the white woman as flowering femininity. The
ideology of the mammy was fashioned to uphold the institution
of slavery, justify its needs and misdeeds. Within the
African American community the notion of the mammy represents
self-hatred and internalized racism at its best. The mammy is
a reminder that much of what slavery was designed to do was
successful. This imagery remains potent and popular in
contemporary society. When Black critics and theorists
acknowledge Goldberg, then it is usually as the latest
transformation of the mammy.


97
The connotations surrounding this idea of the
entertainer are complex. Because this is a Whoopi Goldberg
film, there must be some sort of comedic spin to the scene so
that she is not mistaken for illegitimate entertainment. She
must appear clown-like in appearance and not attractive or
desirable, so she is kept in her proper place. Goldberg must
not be mistaken for anyone's date because that would present
her as alluring to the male guests who are of course white.
Neither can she be mistaken for a high-priced call girl
because that is not in keeping with profitable presentations
of Whoopi Goldberg.
According to Mae C. King, this aversion to presenting
Goldberg as a sexual being is linked directly to the
maintenance of social, political, and economic hierarchies.
She writes "the depreciated sex image is intended to protect
white males against momentary passion, compassion, or
compunction that might result from his physical contact with
black females" (17). If the large-body types of Hattie
McDaniel and Louise Beavers were convenient to their
presentation and were used to remove them from the confines
of feminine attractiveness, then in like manner Hollywood
capitalizes on Goldberg's asexual and comedic appearance.
Goldberg often dresses as if she were ashamed of her
body in her movies. In Clara's Hart, Clara (Goldberg) slaps
David's (Neil Patrick Harris) hand when during a foot massage
his hand travels too near her knee. The character reacts so
violently at what is clearly meant to represent a naive


12
Almost without exception, the women of these
islands, who have Negro blood in their veins, are
prostitutes. It is a hopeless task to endeavor to
elevate a people whose women are strumpets....
Their personal habits are so filthy, that I
suspected that venereal disease was wide-spread
among them. (532)
Wilkeson, writing for what was, at the time, a preeminent
newspaper, affirms not only his, but much of society's belief
that Black women were uncivilized and primitive. Comments
like these were not limited to journalistic tracts but were
widely accepted. Much of this type of folklore was used to
make Black women easily accessible to white men. For, if the
Black woman was all sexual appetite it would be impossible to
rape her; if she were all sexual appetite it would be
impossible to hurt her by selling away her children and/or
her "husband." If she were nothing but raw lust and
unrestrained passion it was not likely one could physically
work her too hard. Thus the mythology comprising the Black
whore stereotype, along with all the others, was invaluable
in maintaining patriarchal, socio-economic and gender
divisions and hierarchies.
A further extension of the Black whore is the Welfare
Queen. The notion of the Welfare Queen is so firmly cemented
within the popular imagery of the Black woman that it becomes
unnecessary to even add "black" before the term as an
signifier. If the Black woman spends all of her time in bed
then it is inevitable that she ends up with a multitude of
children for which she is incapable of caring. In the


152
of her characters' names is in keeping with the way Hollywood
wished audiences to perceive her. Even at this early stage in
her film career Hollywood capitalizes on Goldberg's
androgynous look in order to divert any thoughts of this
Black woman being a "woman" on screen. The movie making
machine does not want its audiences attracted to Goldberg as
a woman, but rather as a comedienne. They want the audience
to see past her femininity and all the implications it might
conjure on screen and just see her as someone or something
funny. Likewise, the androgynization of Goldberg not only
prevents the audience from seeing her as desirable, but may
also prevent the other characters (male and female) in the
narrative from finding her physically attractive.
In Jumpin' Jack Flash one of Terri's acquaintances from
work, a sexy blonde, is always trying to get her to go out.
The contrast is apparent immediately as this character
(played by Carol Kane) is constantly sharing tales of her
latest sexual conquests with Terri. We know that Terri has no
boyfriends because when we see her at home she is alone,
watching old black and white love stories on television. The
audience understands immediately that the white Blonde is the
one who gets the guys and the funny looking little Black
woman doesn't. This is in keeping with the movie's attempts
to define Terri out of desirability. It is easy to see Carol
Kane as desirable. She embodies all the signifiers. She comes
to work in make-up, heels and tight dresses. Terri comes to


142
Thus, the cross-over formula seems to eventually end
with the Black audience feeling as if their Black stars have
sold-out. Indeed, there is no other way it can end. In the
cross-over formula there will always be films in which either
the black or the white audience has to be sacrificed. Since
Hollywood is in the business of making movies that make
money, they will of course cater to the majority audience.
Sisters, Sista-Girls and Girl-Friends
One of the surprise cross-over films of the 1995 film
season was Waiting to Exhale. The surprise lay not only in
the fact that the film earned in excess of $250 million
dollars, but that it centered on the friendships and love
lives of four Black women (Wakhisi, 28). The film was a
cross-over hit in that while it targeted primarily Black
audiences (Black women in particular), it caught the
attention and the wallets of white female audiences. Yet,
even with the phenomenal success of Waiting to Exhale,
Hollywood was not eager to follow up this success with a
string of movies featuring relationships between Black women.
Hollywood did develop another of Terri McMillan's novels. The
woman who penned the book Waiting to Exhale, also authored
How Stella Got Her Grove Back. How Stella Got Her Groove Back
debuted in the late summer of 1998 and starred Angela Bassett
as Stella, and Whoopi Goldberg as her best friend. This
seemed to be a phenomenal development in the career of


6
The mammy has resurfaced again and again in American
film, from Birth of a Nation to both screen versions of
Imitation of Life. Whether lacing Miss Scarlett's bodice or
peeling grapes for Mae West, the mammy figure has several
defining psychological characteristics. The mammy usually
exhibits a memorable screen presence (she is either extremely
witty or a buffoon), is nurturing and self-sacrificing, is
highly spiritual, and is necessarily disconnected from her
ethnic community. Perhaps the modern Black actor who is most
often associated with this stereotype and whose screen
personas embody these images most readily is Whoopi Goldberg.
In Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies and Bucks,
he compares Goldberg to Hattie McDanielthe quintessential
mammy figure (331). In "Denying her place: Hattie McDaniel's
Surprising Acts," Stephen Bourne points out that the only two
Black women to have won Academy Awards are Hattie McDaniel
and Whoopi Goldberg (30). There is much criticism of
Goldberg's tendency to be cast in roles that mimic
"mammying." She is usually the only black character of
narrative importance and ends up helping to guide her white
cast mates through some great dilemma. This chapter hopes to
draw attention to the way in which the cinematic images of
Whoopi Goldberg have been and remain splintered and over
dramatized caricatures. It will also point to cinema's
traditional process of defining black women in fragmented
ways as parallel to the way they are defined in society; and
to the fact that society (and cinema as an extension of it)


193
are not overly interested in negotiating images of Black
people where the realities of this present society are called
into question. A film is still the place to go to escape
reality. Whoopi Goldberg is the one Black actor mainstream
audiences are sure won't make them traverse their filmic
comfort zones.
However, Hollywood is not able to categorize Goldberg as
easily or readily as it has some of its past Black comedic
stars. Afterall, they have to consider Goldberg's gender and
all the connotations a Black woman's body bears.
It is not until the success of Clara's Hart, with its
revitalization of the mammy figure, that Hollywood is able to
find Goldberg's niche. Clara's Hart sets a precedent and
creates a place for Goldberg in Hollywood cinema. Although
the theme of Goldberg's films are different, at the heart of
them is Goldberg as the good guy/girl, savior, facillitator
and nurturer. The significance of these roles is that
Goldberg becomes the most contracted Black actor in
Hollywood. She even surpasses many white Hollywood superstars
in terms of salary, notoriety, and the sheer volume of her
work. No other Black actor in Hollywood has reached the
status that Goldberg has attained. Yet, the foundation of her
phenomenal career is built on the mammy figure. Hollywood
filmmakers find ways for Goldberg to play her over and over
again. On the surface, the very fact of Goldberg's success
seems to say that Hollywood is finally a land of opportunity
for Blacks. But sadly, that is not what her success denotes.


CHAPTER 2
THE TROPE OF THE LOCK
Gazing at Black Women's Bodies
And now, something even more stupid, she's running
around with goddamn blue contact lenses in her
eyes, telling everybody that she has blue eyes. And
that's sick ... to me. I hope people realize,
that the media realize, that she's not a
spokesperson for black people, especially when
you're running around with motherfucking blue
contact lenses telling everybody that your eyes are
blue.
Spike Lee
Harper's Magazine 1987
Hollywood has found it difficult at best to depict
multi-dimensional representations of Black women. Hollywood,
and films in general, have been guilty of either presenting
her as overtly sexed, or they have desexed the Black woman
completely. Their idea of negotiating the loaded meanings
inherent within the Black female body is to try and subvert
her racial connotations or revert to simple and archetypal
presentations. However, it is always with questions of her
sexuality that Hollywood seems to have the most trouble.
This chapter "looks" at Whoopi Goldberg (and Black Women in
general) and her relationship to the camera as well as her
relationships with and to her audiences. This chapter also
explores the physical presentation of Goldberg, aspects of
62


182
waits. Her only company is an empty liquor bottle. Linda asks
Eddie if she has been cured of the brain tumor that sent her
to the institution and Eddie says yes. In the course of their
brief conversation, Eddie absolves her mother of any guilt.
The mother can die knowing Eddie doesn't blame her for
sending Eddie to an institution.
This is the only Goldberg vehicle wherein her character
interacts with a mother. The two have little to say to one
another, but it is apparent that life has been difficult forb
both of them. It is also ironic that Eddie is the one in the
institution while her "sane" but apothetic mother awaits
death. As the mother and daughter hover at the grave site
they are the reflection of the other. This is especially true
when Eddie reveals to Homer that she has broken out of the
institution because they told her she would soon die. Eddie's
tumor is growing and the results are terminal. Thus, she has
come back to tell her mother good-bye, but her mother has
already left on her own journey. When Eddie wants to stay and
be held by her mother, Linda screams for her to leave. Linda
also shouts to Homer that he take care of her little girl,
then she covers her head and returns to her vigil.
The cemetery scene is strange as is most of this movie.
Like the addition of Eddie's cousin the prostitute, it seems
out of place. Nothing has changed as a result of Eddie's
seeing her mother. Superficially, the conversation Eddie has
with her mother is only minimally informative. We do learn a
little about Eddie and understand her character a bit more


74
as white are afraid. They express concern that it will be
someone of color who exposes their secret. Such cultural
detective work can almost be second nature to people of
colorin this case Black audiences. It is virtually inherent
in them to look at the screen (and at life) in a way that
asks "what did they mean by that?" As a result, many Black
people look defensively at themselves on screen. Black
audiences are often engaged in critique when they watch film,
and it is different from the kind of critique implemented by
mainstream audiences.
Christian Metz writes in "Language and Cinema" that film
is a "pluricodic medium." He contends that while film has no
"master code," it can be read as the result of an
intermingling of "specific cinematic codes," (codes that
appear only in the cinema) and "non-specific codes" which are
shared with languages other than the cinema (Stam, Burgoyne,
Flitterman-Lewis, 48). Many Black audiences are adept at
reading non-specific codes mainly because Blackness as a
signifier is often universal in its application. The
treatment of Blackness in film often traverses class,
language, culture etc. While mainstream audiences may be
unaware of (or refuse to be aware of) the implications of
constantly presenting Goldberg as the only Black person or
the masculine Black woman in her films, Black audiences
almost compulsively read this kind of coding. The ability to
evaluate racial coding has historically been a survival
strategy.


128
as she realizes she is the one who does not want the marriage
to work. Even in this movie, where she actually has a husband
and children, as in The Long Walk Home, there are inhibitions
against Goldberg displaying femininity or intimacy with the
husband characters, whether they are Black or white. Thus,
even when the film calls for Goldberg to have a husband she
is still not allowed to demonstrate an abundance of intimacy
or femininity. These already strict standards governing
Goldberg become even more rigid when her male compere is
Black. On the whole it seems appropriate for a Goldberg
character to appear as overly nurturing whether to white
children or white friends but she must stop short of
appearing feminine or sexual, especially in relationships
with Black men.
Moonlight and Valentino is prescriptive in that Goldberg
is not really allowed to have a relationship with her on
screen husband, but it is unique in its presentation of her
relationship with Rebecca. Sylvie has no problems exhibiting
her femininity, displaying her emotions, creating and
maintaining intimacy with Rebecca. In fact, this movie, more
so than Boys On The Side, seems to be the medium in which
Goldberg performs homosociality if not homosexuality.
Sylvie's attraction to Rebecca is glaringly evident in the
film. Her interest in Rebecca seems in opposition to her
relationship with her husband. It is Rebecca she embraces and
Rebecca she talks to about her feelings. It is also Rebecca
whom she takes to a neighbor's house so that they can sit on


92
look. Goldberg is not free from the stereotypical
presentations usually reserved for Black women on screen, she
is rather held to a different set of standards. These
standards dictate that she not be sexually desirable or
politically confrontational.
This privileging of the non-sexual and Goldberg's
seeming acquiescence is not new in the Black woman's arsenal
of survival strategies. Goldberg belongs to a sisterhood of
Black women who have willingly subverted their sexuality in
order to survive and even thrive in this society. In
"African-American Women's History and The Metalanguage of
Race," Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham illuminates Darlene Clark
Hines' theory on "cultural dissemblance" (106). Higginbotham
writes:


99
We see her morph from a driven business woman to a surrogate
mother. At the end of the film, after dancing Ginger Rogers
to Bogus' Fred Astaire, a softening of her character is
indicated by long floral dresses and a floppy, straw hat.
Although the evening gown in this scene is not sequined and
she gets to wear her own hair, the scene still has a
overwhelming sense of the comedic. Goldberg and DePardieu
simply look funny/odd impersonating Rogers and Astaire.
Like Fatal Beauty, Made in America is not only important
for the way Goldberg is presented physically, but for the
introduction of an interracial relationship. While in Fatal
Beauty, the audience is left to assume that Goldberg and Sam
Shepard have consummated their relationship, Made in America
allows no more than a bungled attempt at intimacy. In both of
these scenarios the chemistry between Goldberg and her
leading men is dampened by the constant bickering. In Fatal
Beauty, she is intent on arresting the man for which Sam
Elliot works. As a police detective chasing drug lords, there
is little time for Goldberg and Shepard to engage in romance.
In her film with Ted Danson, hopes are high for the on screen
romance given her real-life involvement with the actor at
the time. But, true to Goldberg formula, even this off-screen
romance is not allowed fruition on screen. In both of these
films the leading man is only allowed to rush to Goldberg's
side as she lays in the hospital. A roof falls on her in
Fatal Beauty and in Made in America, she is hit by a car
while on her bicycle. In each case the body is conveniently


117
Thus this story obscures the mother-daughter
relationship as well, and focuses instead on their adjustment
to and subsequent meeting with the doaner dad. Because Zora
is a honor student, about to graduate from high school the
only tension between mother and daughter is the circumstance
of Zora's birth. When emotions do rise to the surface, for
instance when Zora's "father" rejects her or when Zora
becomes jealous of his (Hal's) interest in her mother, Sarah
and Zora do not talk. In both instances, Sarah addresses the
situation with Hal and not with Zora. While there is nothing
inherently negative in the relationship between Sarah and
Zora, it is not presented as a deep and multi-dimensional
relationship. Even in this movie the Goldberg character is
not overtly nurturing or even motherly toward her own child.
This only appears strange given the tendency by mainstream
cinema producers to cast Goldberg in movies where nurturing
is her strong suit. It is worth noting that Goldberg seems
filmicly more capable of nurturing her white peers and/or
their children, than her own.
Of these films where Goldberg plays a mother, perhaps
the more interesting is the movie Kiss Shot. It is one of the
two Goldberg movies where the Goldberg character herself
actually has a mother on screen. In this 1989 made-for-
television movie, Goldberg is a single-mother turned pool
hustler to make ends meet. Sarah Collins is struggling to
meet a balloon payment on her house when she loses her job.
Her only recourse is to become partners with a bookie who


7
benefits from the act of definition. As society defines Black
women, it simultaneously constructs itself. This will lead to
a reading of Goldberg's imagery as the apotheosis of the
mammy figure.
While she is contemporary cinema's most prolific,
financially successful and well-known black actress, there is
relatively little scholarly criticism that engages the
character and characterizations of Whoopi Goldberg. In what
is perhaps the definitive work on African Americans in
Hollywood cinema, Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mammies,
Mulattoes, and Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in
American Films, Goldberg garners perhaps a page. Most of that
page is spent describing Goldberg as the latest mammy figure.
She fares even worse in bell hooks' latest effort at film
criticism, Reel to Real, hooks sees Goldberg's Corrina,
Corrina as Goldberg's "break from her usual racist, sexist
role as mammy or ho" (74). But even if a substantial portion
of Goldberg's phenomenal body of work can be criticized for
its perpetuation of the mammy figure, the sheer magnitude,
and solitude, of her status in Hollywood deserves adequate
critique.
As we enter into the next century, much of film
criticism, at least from an African American perspective
still levels charges of racism and racist sexism at Hollywood
and the media in general. Yet Goldberg's very presence and
power, in terms of marketability, in the movie industry
seems to circumvent such allegations. After all here is a


49
do, and that is leave the hard questions unanswered. The
movie does not address why David and Clara seem resigned to
the fact that their friendship is at best a memory at the end
of the movie. As David leaves, it is obvious that they will
not continue their relationship. Clara even tells David that
if he never sees her again, he will always have a special
place in her heart. Mainstream audiences are content with
David's long overdue apology and enthused by the fact that he
is now appears to be a man. However he is a man who has no
room in his life for a Black woman. Clara has done her job by
helping David come to fruition and now she must find others
to nurture. It is significant that David does not find Clara
remarried, reunited or with a family of her own. She is in
the children's ward of a hospital, teaching white children
Jamaican songs. Clara is still in the business of
nurturing/healing other people's children.
The other obvious mammy movie is 1994's Corrina,
Corrina. This movie has Goldberg as a maid once again. This
time her protgs is a little white girl who has lost her
mother. The surprising aspect about this movie is that
Goldberg's character gets to have a romantic relationship
with the girl's father. Yet, what seems a major departure
from the mammy role ends up taking the audience on a
deceptively circular ride.
Corrina Washington is an African-American college
graduate who cannot get a job. In order to survive
financially, she must take a job as a maid. Her dream is to


94
do both comedy and drama as she compares Jumpin Jack Flash
and Boys on the Side. Goldberg states:
There are not a lot of people who can, Lea, and
that's the key. That's why I'm still here. Because
regardless of how the powers that be feel about me,
there is one definite thing: I have the ability to
do both. (51)
Goldberg is extremely confident that it is her ability that
has endeared her to Hollywood film. While it is impossible to
deny her talent, it is also impossible to forget that
Hollywood filmmaking is a business, concerned more with
bottom lines than showcasing great talents. Goldberg's
negotiation of her own imagery becomes incredibly complex
with her next statement. While on the one hand she believes
that she is free from the aesthetic chains that bind the
majority of actors in the business, on the other she does
understand how important her image is. When the interviewer
asks Goldberg what the "powers that be" think of her,
Goldberg replies:
I cant think about that because then I would have
to hear the static of "Your nose is too big, your
ass is too big, you're too dark, you're too light,
your hair is too weird, your feet are too long.
(51)
Even the talent of the "dreaded one" cannot overcome the
visual privileging that is Hollywood. Even Goldberg has to
admit that while they do not require her to be yellow
skinned or svelte, that she has not been set completely free
from a Hollywood aesthetic. Their is a place for her


121
Black. By now Black audiences have long realized that to see
Goldberg in a movie trailer is not to expect a movie about,
for, or even with other Black people. While Black audiences
are disappointed, they are not surprised. They understand
that Goldberg was never constructed as a Black woman on
screen, but rather as a Black woman whose Blackness is
defined, refined, contained, and utilized as a margin for
whiteness.2
Always a Nurturer, Never a Mother
In his essay, "Cultural Theory and Cinematic
Representation," Stuart Hall contends that identity must be
thought of as "a production which is never complete, always
in process and constituted within, not outside of
representation" (221). Yet, the very nature of film as a
producer of identity is to hold it captive. Film is bi
lingual: it speaks verbally and its images speak. The images
in particular must draw from a set of codes already at work
in society. When individual and societal identity changes
then so must the codes. Hollywood cinema and the product it
delivers to its audiences has changed as the audience
changed, but only minimally. The kind of verbal language used
2 In October of 1995 I was listening to the highest-rated, Black-
hosted radio show in the countrythe Tom Joyner Morning show. He was
criticizing Goldberg's latest release at the timeMoonlight and
Valentino. Joyner and all of his co-hosts agreed that the producers
should not have bothered to give the movie a title but instead called
it "Whoopi and White People #3, indicating the cookie-cutter quality
of her movies.


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Tarshia Stanley hails originally from North Carolina.
She received her Bacherlor's Degree in English from Duke
University in 1991. She matriculated to the University of
Florida in 1992 as a McKnight Doctoral Fellow. Tarshia
received her Master of Arts Degree in 1996 and the Doctor of
Philosophy in 1999.
199


69
television add one or two Blacks and create images of multi
racial utopias.
Robert Stam in "Bakhtin, Polyphony and Ethnic/Racial
Representation," calls this kind of visual representation
"ethnic harmony." He writes:
One detects images of ethnic utopia on the "Oprah
Winfrey Show," in soft-drink commercials, in public
service announcement, and in the happily integrated
and multiethnic big-city Eyewitness news shows.
(261)
Goldberg's movies and Stam's examples illustrate a multi
cultural fantasy. As she is often the single Black person in
her films, white audiences are able to "experience" a small
item of Blackness and avoid the excess Black baggage. They
receive a scaled down version of the Black woman. For
mainstream audiences, Blackness is deveined, declawed with
only a Black shell remaining, bell hooks reiterates this
thought in Reel to Real. She writes that, "white folks
wanting to see and "enjoy" images of black folks on the
screen is often in no way related to a desire to know real
black people" (10). Thus, Goldberg's popularity cannot be
summarily thought of as evidence of mainstream cinema
audiences' desire to both see and know Black people.
Consequently, while Goldberg is readily received by
mainstream audiences, she is often rejected by Black
audiences. Black audiences do not see mainstream cinema's
acceptance of Goldberg as a triumphevidence that film and
society are evolving. Black audiences often reject Goldberg


163
Rizzoli is either threatened physically or sexually
throughout this movie by white men. Even in the final scene
when she finally confronts one of the major drug dealers the
emphasis is on the criminal. She shoots the man until she
runs out of bullets. Instead of dying he continues to advance
toward her hurling insults all the while. Although she is the
one who represents the law, somehow Rizzoli becomes the
hunted, the one whose life is in danger. When her gun is
empty the drug dealer rips open his shirt to expose a bullet
proof vest. He then tells the "bitch" that he is going to
kill her. In the macho style typical throughout the movie,
Rizzoli explains that she does not like being called a bitch
and fires at him with her extra gun.
While it is true that the character Goldberg plays is a
police detective and can expect hazard in her line of work,
the supporting characters in this movie seem to get
particular pleasure out of expressing a need to subdue her
both psychologically and sexually. They also seem to get some
kind of pre-game excitement by explaining to her exactly what
they will do beforehand. This kind of treatment was also
apparent with Terri in Jumpin' Jack Flash. Terri is dragged
down the street in a telephone booth, has to jump from a
moving taxi, is shot with a tranquilizer gun, has her dress
torn from her body by a paper shredder, is thrown into a
river, barely escapes having her fingers severed with an
electric saw, and has to bite the testicles of a man who has


24
white life. Pauline's desire is not about herself as a Black
woman achieving a similar way of life as her employers but
rather becoming, if not one of these people, then joyfully
guilty by association. Pauline fantasizes about being white,
not about having the same economic opportunities as white
people. In one of the most haunting passages in the novel,
Pauline recollects the time she would spend at the movies.
She arrives early and sits in a darkened movie theater and
feels real excitement when the black screen suddenly turns to
silver. The theater is one of the first places Pauline begins
not only to abandon her sense of reality, but to lose her
sense of self-worth as a Black woman. Pauline recalls her
forays to the movies as the only time she acquired pleasure.
Then the screen would light up, and I'd move right
on in them pictures. White men taking such good
care of they women, and they all dressed up in big
clean houses with the bathtubs right in the same
room with the toilet. Them pictures gave me a lot
of pleasure, but it made coming home hard, and
looking at Cholly hard. (97)
Pauline Breedlove has done what all psychologically
distraught mammies do, she has come to believe that whiteness
equals masculinity, femininity, and moral station. Instead of
questioning the nuances of a movie, or even a society, where
a man's ability to take care of his family is associated with
his skin-color and beauty is defined as looking like Jean
Harlow, Pauline internalizes what she sees and judges herself
and her husband to be lacking. This self-hatred eventually
turns to hatred for her husband and her children as well. She


60
competing for attention. So that a relationship between them
never fully materializes. Again while mainstream audiences
are apparently happy, many Black movie goers are left
wondering if Goldberg will ever be relieved of her duties as
a mammy.
Sister Act I and II again adhere to the formula denoting
the appropriation of the mammy. In each of these films, like
the ones mentioned previously, the characters Goldberg's
protrays are able to endear themselves to audiences because
they follow a formula. This formula allows the Black woman to
appear in the role of a nurturer/servent/helper/catalyst and
never in a way that forces alternate and perhaps unfamiliar
and uncomfortable readings of her. Goldberg seems to be the
most successful Black actress via visibility and
marketability in Hollywood because she is easily consumed by
her crossover audience. The roles she plays are in keeping
with the preferred societal view of Black women overall.
Black women occupy limited media spaces loaded with
monumental socio-political connotations. Goldberg is rarely
seen as a Black mother to Black children, and never seen in
relationships with Black men because that would require a
full and complex depiction of her, thus a full and complex
reception. Goldberg is successful in the realm where she is,
because the mammy is both what Hollywood and their audiences
choose to want.
While there are several other movies, like Ghost, Soap
Dish, Boys on the Side, and Moonlight and Valentino where


106
uneasy with all the connotations inherent in the Black
woman's body.
In Fear of the Dark: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the
Cinema, Lola Young surmises that:
Avoiding issues raised by interracial sexual
relationships and maintaining a distance from any
activity which may be interpreted as interracial
intimacy is one of the manifestations of a strategy
of aversion. This can be identified as a consistent
feature of films made by white people: there is a
constant refusal to relate intimately to black
people's knowledge and experiences, despite
presentations to the contrary. (25)
The fact that Jane is in love with Robin and that Robin has
AIDS illumines how little Hollywood cinema is willing to
deviate from its formula where Goldberg is concerned. Any
real attempts at intimacy between the two are shut down, and
Jane (Goldberg) is confined to "looking" at Robin and
"singing" not speaking her love. Rather than open up the
possibilities of intimacy, same-sex intimacy, and interracial
intimacy, the film reverts to status quo. Goldberg becomes
the supernurturer again. Jane even tries to set Robin (the
woman Jane loves) up with a mutual male friend because Robin
misses having sex. She even remains in Arizona with Robin and
cares for her until her death. While the audience is told
stories from Robin's past, shown pictures from her childhood,
returns with her to a childhood vacation spot and even meets
her mother, we know nothing of Janeexcept that she can not
sing. Once again, the Goldberg character is cut off from any


116
teaches her to iron and takes her to the park. When it comes
to Goldberg's own children, she shows them little emotion.
She snaps at the children and is even too stoic to
acknowledge the Christmas gift they give her. Even when her
young son is beaten by white boys for protecting his sister,
the Goldberg character is relatively unresponsive. While we
see her go to painstaking lengths to get her young white
charge a Christmas present, we see no such gift-giving to her
own children.
Goldberg as the mother to a Black child fares only
slightly better in Made in America. In this movie, there is a
relationship between Sarah and her daughter Zora, although
they seem at times to be more like sisters than mother and
daughter. In Made in America, Zora finds out that she was
conceived as a result of a sperm donation. Sarah has led the
girl to believe that her father (Sarah's husband) died just
prior to Zora's birth. The plot begins to thicken as Zora
learns that her biological father was not only an anonymous
sperm doner, but is a white man. What better way to subvert
the depiction of Goldberg as a mother or even as someone's
lover. Not only is her child conceived outside of the
confines of at least a physical relationship, Zora is
practically manufactured in a lab. The conception, like the
storyline, is neat and sterile. Additionally, the fact that
the doner is a white man only belabors the point. Hollywood
film seems adamant against presenting Goldberg with a Black
lover.


as jezebels, tragic mulattos, matriarchs, and mammies. Yet,
Hollywood continues to promote Goldberg and her persona as
supernurturer. Because of the place she already occupies and
will occupy in film history, it is imperative that her
contribution to film be examined critically. This
dissertation examines her roles in films that capitalize on
the body presence of a Black woman, but which empty her of
all cultural significance. Also taken to task are depictions
of her as the desexed or asexual odd woman whose major
function in her films is to further the narrative of a white
character. Given Goldberg's phenomenal talent it is difficult
to label her roles stereotypical and caricature driven. Yet,
the evidence to support just such a hypothesis is
overwhelming.
vi


86
Black woman's body. Women like Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson
reached momentary status as starlets. The difference however,
between their reign and Goldberg's is audience and
presentation. Goldberg is marketed toward mainstream film
audiences whereas Grier, Dobson, and the like made movies
targeted at Black audiences. Goldberg is constructed to be
laughed at and sometimes with, but never so as to be desired.
Blaxploitation movies featured Black actors and storylines
intended primarily for Black audiences. However, Hollywood
did not mind the added income from bored or curious members
of the mainstream audience who attended these movies.
Goldberg films usually feature a Black woman devoid of any
cultural or social semblances of Blackness. Blaxploitation
movies actually (supposedly) performed elements of Black
culture. The common thread between these two types of films
is Hollywood. They are how Hollywood chose to exhibit
Blackness then and how it chooses to exhibit it now.3
In her book, Black and White Media, Karen Ross addresses
Hollywood's sudden interest in producing "Black" movies in
the 1970's.
3 I want to acknowledge that Hollywood does currently produce an
occasional movie with a Black storyline. I am comparing
Blaxploitation with Goldberg movies because Blaxploitation
represented Hollywood's mass production period of such movies and
Goldberg is the most prolific Black actor in film to date.


134
In film after film, Goldberg is defined exclusively
by her occupation, even when she's a cat burglar.
There's no family, no spouse. No personal
relationship to bring out fuller dimensions. As a
consequence, her dark skin and dreadlocks and
occasional language style are the sole African-
American features she brings into her films. (49)
Thus not only does the cross-over formula call for isolation
from the actor's cultural and social background, but it often
privileges the occupation. The characters become what they do
instead of who they are. Again, this allows the mainstream
audiences to remain in their comfort zones. They are not
normally called upon to understand a Goldberg character
beyond her role as friend and/or outside of her occupation.
Aside from expanding the definition of the cross-over
formula the Kelly article also traces a bit of the history of
the cross-over star.3
The racial isolation of Goldberg's roles parallels
that seen in the career of another African-American
actor who was at one time both the highest paid and
the most popular Black actor, Sidney Poitier. (49)
Indeed, there are many similarities between the careers of
Goldberg and Poitier. For instance, the unpredictable success
of their movies. Because they were limited in the kinds of
roles they could play, Goldberg restricted to her role as
nurturer and Poitier to his as the noble Black man, it was
3 While the Kelly essay points to Sidney Portier as the predecessor
of Goldberg in terms of cross-over stars, I include Richard Pryor and
Eddie Murphy as well. While neither Pryor nor Murphy have the number
of films that typifies Goldberg, nor were they ever deemed dramatic
actors, I see them as definite beneficiaries/victims of Hollywood's
cross-over strategies because of similarity between the kinds of
roles they were offered and the kinds of roles available for Whoopi
Goldberg.


Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the
Graduate School of the University of Florida
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ICONO-CLASH: WHOOPI GOLDBERG AND THE (RE)PRESENTATION
OF BLACK WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD FILM
By
Tarshia Lorraine Stanley
August 1999
Chairman: Mark A. Reid
Major Department: English
This dissertation examines the filmic work of Whoopi
Goldberg. Goldberg is the most prolific Black actor in
Hollywood film. This dissertation looks at the reasons for
and ramifications of her success. Mainstream or Hollywood
film constructs images of Whoopi Goldberg that are palatable
for its audiences. Often these constructions of Goldberg hark
back to the mammy figure. It is possible to theorize the
attitude of Hollywood film and mainstream audiences toward
Black women, given the way they consume their most celebrated
Black star.
It is no secret that Hollywood has more often than not
worked to perpetuate images of Black women born out of racial
stereotypes and tensions. Critics such as Donald Bogle, bell
hooks, Clyde Taylor and Jacqueline Bobo constantly call
Hollywood to task for its continued depiction of Black women
v


135
difficult to tell if their movies would be hits (Kelly, 49).
Another similarity between their careers was their need to
gain some control over the roles they were being offered.
Poitier became a director before fading from the movie screen
for more than a decade and Goldberg has done everything from
becoming a talk show host (who has not?) to creating her own
company called One Ho Productions.
Yet another parallel between their careers is
Hollywood's aversion to casting them opposite Black, romantic
co-stars, and then its endorsement of a flirtation with
inter-racial relationships. Two of Poitier's most famous
films were Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967), and A Patch
of Blue (1965), follow the same well-traveled road as
Goldberg's. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is more a treatise
on race relations than the story of a Black man and white
woman who love each other and decide to marry. A Patch of
Blue stars Poitier in love with a blind white woman and needs
no further explanation. Like the Goldberg movies of the
present, Poitier as a sexual being is all but eliminated.
While Portier did star in a few films wherein his love
interest is Black, his better-known works do not pair him
with Black women.
Perhaps the thing that is most familiar regarding the
careers of these two cross-over stars is how Hollywood's
handling of them reflects the social relations of their
times. In Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks, Donald
Bogle refers to Poitier as the "hero for the integrationist


93
Black women, especially those of the middle class,
reconstructed and represented their sexuality
through its absencethrough silence, secrecy, and
invisibility. In so doing, they sought to combat
the pervasive negative images and stereotypes.
(106)
Cultural dissemblance was a tool Black women often
implemented to avoid sexual harassment. In order to protect
themselves from the advances of a society who saw them as
little more than whores they sought to become the opposite.
Many Black women were so compelled to combat the notion of
themselves as hypersexualized that they shunned sexuality
altogether. They used ultraconservative and even asexual
forms of dress and mannerisms to divert attention from
themselves as women. These kinds of measures were often
taught to young Black daughters by their mothers. Since, as
Hill Collins says, Black women "were denied male protection.
Under such conditions it [was] essential that Black mothers
teach their daughters skills that [would] "take them
anywhere" (126). Thus, cultural dissemblance became a skill
important to the survival and progression of the Black woman.
It has been essential to the success of Goldberg in Hollywood
film. She has been rewarded by Hollywood and mainstream
audiences for allowing herself to be purged of the most
egregious signs of femininity and sexuality.
Goldberg, like the Black audience, must practice some
selective reading in order to thrive in Hollywood. In the
interview with DeLaria she further articulates her place in
mainstream cinema. DeLaria compliments her on her ability to


ICONO-CLASH: WHOOPI GOLDBERG AND THE (RE)PRESENTATION
OF BLACK WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD FILM
By
TARSHIA LORRAINE STANLEY
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1999


11
matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas has been
essential to the political economy of domination that
fosters Black women's oppression" (67-68).
It is no secret that antebellum society began defining
the Black woman in ways which would edify/justify their
appropriation of her body, her labor and her family. As a
result of this need powerful myths about Black women were
used from the Middle Passage to the auction block and found
fertile soil in the cotton and cane fields. Her humanity was
de-emphasized while her sexual appetites and fecundity were
exaulted. The most readily available and widespread myth was
that of the Black whore/breeder woman. She was a completely
carnal creature incapable of reason and morality. This
mythical Black woman's wantonness coupled with her ability to
procreate gave reason enough to control and subjugate her. In
The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom: 1750-1925, Herbert
G. Gutman quotes New York Sun reporter Frank Wilkeson. Upon
visiting St. Helena Island, South Carolina, just after
emancipation, Wilkeson wrote that his prior notions about
Black women had been confirmed.


129
this couple's porch and covet "a slice of their marriage."
It is Sylvie and Rebecca who argue during the movie and then
embrace and make up. All of the things that Sylvie shares
with Rebecca are the things that should belong to Paul.
Sylvie's fascination with Rebecca becomes even more evident
when Sylvie says that she wishes Rebecca could jump into
Paul's body when they are having sex. This statement is
strange indeed, even for characters who are as close as these
two are supposed to be. The implications of this statement
are far ranging. Sylvie is in essence wishing that Rebecca
could be her husband. Sylvie is implying that Rebecca
understands and could be more intimate with her than even her
husband. This works to frustrate Sylvie's representation as a
wife. In sum, this Goldberg character and indeed, no other
Goldberg characterization can successfully be the other half
of a heterosexual relationshipof any hue. This kind of
portrayal would allow her access to dimensions she has
previously been denied by mainstream cinema producers and
audiences alike. Sylvie's affinity for her female friend's
company rather than her husband's prevents the character from
breaching the boundaries established for Goldberg.
No matter the specific movie, Goldberg is touted first
and foremost as a crossover star. The formula that has
endeared her to the hearts of mainstream cinema audiences and
to the financial statements of Hollywood cinema producers has
been to remove her not only from the Black community, but to
keep her interaction with the opposite sex to the bare


103
But Some of Us are Brave: Blackness, Lesbianism and the
Visible," Ann Pellegrini maintains that Goldberg's presence
in Boys works to affirm notions of Blackness as sexually
different/deviant. She writes:
Where and how can you tell the difference between
female homosociality and female homosexuality?
This, I want to suggest, is the work Jane's
blackness does. Of the three female friends, Jane
is the only lesbian character named as such; she is
also the only woman of color. Her blackness visibly
marks out the difference between the lesbian and
the straight woman she loves and who may even love
her in return, just "not in that way." (90)
Pellegrini sees Jane's Blackness, her lone, sole Black
presence in the film as a visible signifier for lesbianism.
There are certainly few if any other visible signifiers of
lesbianism in the film. Instead of the Goldberg character
being emptied of any sexual or racial connotations as is
usual in her films, in Boys, Blackness is suddenly
resuscitated in terms of sexual markers. The result is that
the image of Goldberg as a Black woman is still being
manipulated in this film. In this case, it is not Blackness
that is being made more palatable for the audience but rather
homosexuality. Whereas Goldberg's presence as a Black person
and as a woman would normally be emptied of its potency in
order keep the audience comfortable, here Blackness is
allowed to substitute/prostitute for homosexuality. Goldberg
as a Black woman becomes synonymous with sexual practices
different from the "norm." Thus, the audience does not end


164
a gun to her head, all in the course of a two hour movie.
This is hardly typical treatment for a Hollywood leading
lady. For the Goldberg films prior to her role in Clara's
Hart, this kind of treatment seems par for the course. There
is an aggression toward these characters that seems abnormal
for a female lead in a Hollywood Film. It is as if Hollywood
filmmakers are trying to capitalize on Goldberg's androgyny
by making her the recipient of so many fist fights, and
diminish her ethnicity either by making it the subject of
hackneyed jokes or ignoring it altogether. Thus, it is
possible to see a pattern emerging in these early Goldberg
movies. This pattern is a jumble of racists, sexists,
misogynistic stereotypes. Hollywood is not sure if they want
Goldberg to be the androgynous strange woman forever falling
into mayhem, or a knockoff of the jezebel. Whatever is going
on in the mind of the filmmaking machine at this point, it is
still not sure what to do with Goldberg. Perhaps this is why
Fatal Beauty contains her most controversial romance to date.
Following The Color Purple, Whoopi Goldberg did not star
in any Hollywood films wherein her significant interest was a
Black man. Rizzoli's relationship with Marshack (Sam Elliot)
would seem the only opportunity to stretch a Goldberg
characterization into one depicting a love relationship.4
4I am aware of Goldberg's role in 1998's How Stella Got Her Groove
Back. Yet, even in this film, while Delilah (Goldberg) is in the
company of Black men, they are peripheral characters. They are the
brunt of jokes between Stella and her and not taken seriously.


120
making movies with Black comic stars intended to draw
mainstream audiences. He writes:
Paramount had a problem. How was it possible to use
him [Eddie Murphy], without making the dreaded
"Black movie?" For in Hollywood's eyes, and perhaps
in the audience's, if Foley had a love interest,
the movie would become ghettoized. (16)
The formula that has worked best for Hollywood is to avoid
making a "Black movie." A Black movie by Hollywood standards
seems to be any in which its Black lead has any ties to the
Black community. This has been the methodology they have
adopted when using Goldberg, and it has been successful.
Ellis goes on to expand the theory of avoiding the
ghettotization of a movie when the lead actor is Black. He
recalls the patterns set forth in movies with Eddie Murphy
and Richard Pryor as a strangely convenient commingling of
Black lead actors with white co-stars. Ellis says that "Stir
Crazy, 48 Hours, Silver Streak, and Trading Places were the
obvious precedents. In all of these films, the effect of the
Black lead's color was diluted by mixing him with a white
companion." The same is done continually in movies featuring
Goldberg. So that mainstream audiences will not perceive any
of her movies as "Black," she is most often the only Black
person in her movies. As an added measure, usually all
references to her as Black are stricken from the record. It
is almost as if mainstream audiences are coaxed into even
forgetting that she is Black in her movies. She is often
coded as quirky and weird, even wise and sage, but never as


159
would be logical for Terri to be infatuated with the
mysterious Jack. In fact, Terri is set up throughout the
movie to fall for Jack. For example, the audience is allowed
to hear Jack's voice throughout the movie. We assume that we
are hearing what Terri thinks his voice must be like. This is
confirmed when she arrives at his apartment and checks his
answering machine. Jack's voice is deep, musical, masculine,
British, it makes Terri and the audience wonder what Jack
must look like. The mystery is heightened by the fact that
when Terri does enter his apartment there are no pictures of
Jack himself. Jack's sense of humor and the desperateness of
his situation comes across not only in his and Terri's
computer banter, but in his voice. Any audience versed in the
Hollywood Film style knows that there should be some kind of
romantic encounter between Terri and Jack.
The anticipation of this encounter is exacerbated and
alleviated by the computer itself. Because Terri and Jack can
only communicate via cyberspace the anticipation levels are
high, yet the movie is off-the-hook in terms of presenting
the couple together. There are no kisses or even hand-holding
scenes because Terri and Jack are conveniently on two
different continents.
As the buffoon was a convenient way of presenting and
containing Blackness, particularly in terms of sexuality, in
early Hollywood Film it was inevitable that contemporary
Hollywood would try and adapt such a reading to Whoopi
Goldberg. The results were less than favorable and


47
shared, after Clara has stood in as his mother when his
mother was unable/unwilling, David hurts Clara in the one way
he knows he can. As Clara is explaining to David that she
loves him even though they will no longer be together, he
retaliates by saying "you'll just be a nigger in the end."
David resorts to racial slurs in order to hurt Clara because
she will no longer be at his disposal, he will no longer own
her.
David's calling Clara a nigger is the first sign of
racial tension between their characters. Throughout the film
David reacts to Clara and her culture by imitating it. He
imitates the way she talks, the way she worships at church.
Each event he experiences with Clara is new and wonderful to
him. He lives for the first time, vicariously, through Clara.
Declaring that she turned out to be just a nigger implies
that David thought Clara was exceptional. In his mind she was
somehow different from other Black people because he was able
to care for her. In essence, he brands her with his words,
pushes her back down to the status of mammy. Because she has
refused him his request (coming with he and his mother), he
has no more use for her. As Clara leaves, David does not say
good-bye to her and she is again carrying her red suitcase.
The movie does not end here however, but must redeem
David's character and allay any notion of racism. A young man
is seen walking into a hospital at the end of the movie. We
see that it is David Hart and he is both diegetically and in
reality a year or perhaps more older. He is much taller and


184
of her flight. Eddie is trying to get home, to her mother
because she needs help. She needs help coping and perhaps
help dying. When she arrives her mother cannot give her this
help because she is also mentally incapacitated. In most
Goldberg movies, her character experiences this type of
isolation. Usually this isolation is ignored or utilized for
the advancement of the white characters. However, her
separation here will kill her just as Linda's separation has
her sitting on her grave stone waiting to die.
The movie makers have an opportunity to explore a
dynamic characterization of a Black woman when they introduce
Goldberg as an escaped mental patient. Representing a Black
woman as insanein the way that they present Goldberg
evokes both historical and cultural history that can alienate
a Black audience. It is and has been widely accepted
mythology among Black people that Blacks do not "go crazy."
Black people have historically seen their survival of slavery
as evidence that they are too strong mentally to "break
down." Other factors that have traditionally accounted for
Black people's mental tenacity is that they cannot afford
(financially) to break down or do not have the time. While
this kind of lore still permeates many Black psyches, Black
fiction (along with reality) begs to differ. Yet, even when
Black women do break down in fiction, the community is seen
as the answer to their re-membering. For instance, in Toni
Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters, Toni Morrison's Beloved, and
Gloria Naylor's Mama Day, (just to name a few) all of the


176
All of these early Goldberg movies exhibit some form of
discord when it comes to presenting ideas of ethnicity and
femininity. Burglar is unique in that it performs this
uneasiness even more so in its handling of race. While on the
one hand the movie pokes fun at notions of difference by the
very act of foregrounding them, on the other it has important
moments when it reverts back to stereotypical interpretations
of Blackness. From the opening scene that shows Goldberg
heavily padded about the breasts and hips to the dentist' s
(Leslie Ann Warren) accusation that Bernie must have killed
her ex-husband because, afterall, Bernie is a "Black woman,"
convention rises up to haunt the movie. Thus, it would seem
that just when one can make a case for Burglar's handling of
race as insightful it, like the other films, opts for the
easy racial stereotype.


I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
R. Brandon Kershner
Professor of English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
/~>3Wn
Ronald Foreman
Associate Professor of
English
I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Kimberl^Einery
Assistant ProJ
English
sor of


171
not change the meaning of how the audience might interpret
the relationship between the characters on screen. But,
usually, the leading-lady would not be a Black woman who has
constantly been referred to as a "nigger" and a "bitch"
throughout the movie. The lack of definitiveness in the
script and on the part of the filmmakers permits the
opportunity for clich. Fatal Beauty leaves the
interpretation of the romantic relationship to the audience.
The difficulty with this is that without specific prompting
from the movie itself, audiences will more than likely revert
to reading a Black woman with a white male on screen in the
way in which they are most familiar.6 The most familiar image
of the Black woman who is involved with a white male is that
she is a prostitute, particularly promiscuous, or in some
form or fashion his property. This "Keptwoman" interpretation
is supported in the scene when Marshack buys Rizzoli a dress.
He visits her in the hospital after she is recovering from
having a roof fall on her. Marshack offers her a five-
thousand dollar dress Given this kind of scene, the
audience perceives Goldberg and the characters she plays as
unimportant.
6An example of the usual assumptions made about Black women is
evident in a scene from Jumpin'Jack Flash. Terri Doolittle has just
witnessed the murder of one of the British agents. When she tries to
tell the police about it, they assume that a Black out alone at night
is a prostitute, and they discount her story.


16
Popular literature and film have always portrayed being
a mammy from the dominant society's perspective. It is a
good, even desirable position. Trudier Harris cites a 1938
essay by Jessie Parkhurst denoting the attributes of
mammyhood.
If she did not live in the big house, she lived
nearby; she dressed well, was not usually punished
or sold, and could cultivate an intimacy with the
master that none of the other slaves dared. "She
was considered self-respecting, independent, loyal,
forward, gentle, captious, affectionate, true,
strong, just . trustworthy, faithful ..."
(35-360)
White people saw mammies in this way because this is what
they needed mammies to be. African American women are wounded
by such a depiction because it erased the selfhood of Black
women during slavery and denied their individual autonomy.
While the point can be made that slavery effaced all of
the slaves' individuality, the image of the mammy is not only
about effacement. It is about embracing white culture as that
which has the right/is right as opposed to Blackness. In From
Mammies to Militants: Domestics in Black American Literature,
Trudier Harris asserts that because the mammy's position
afforded her access to the inner workings of the plantation
house and intimate knowledge of the plantation family, the
mammy began to "see whites as the models for everything good
and right, while black was ugly and undesirable" (36). The
contention is that such close association with the source of
Black people's oppression and their relatively privileged
position at the top of the slaver hierarchy, caused mammies


70
because for them, exhibiting a Black woman on screen involves
more than the presence of the physical symbols. To present a
Black woman on screen would mean to present a multi
dimensional characterization, not a stereotypical caricature.
The images of Goldberg that make her accessible to
mainstream audiences are often the very things that make it
difficult for her to be embraced by Black audiences. In
"Making Whoopi," Andrea Stuart points to Goldberg's dress as
the major point of contention between her and Black
audiences. According to Stuart this tension between Goldberg
and the Black community is about her appearance.
The sartorial has been one of the few mechanisms
for negotiating social hierarchies within black
communities, so it is no surprise that the person
who has appeared on the list of America's worst-
dressed women more times than virtually any other
actor should provoke her community's ire. (12)
Stuart is attempting to make simple an incredibly complex
relationship. The members of the Black community who have a
problem with Goldberg are not necessarily interested in how
she dresses in her films; rather they are concerned about the
reasons she is so popular in Hollywood film. Black audiences
seem to innately understand that Hollywood is both a
reflection of society and a producer of popular culture. They
understand that mainstream audiences, who are comprised
mostly of the dominant culture, watch on the screen what they
are comfortable thinking. Black audiences realize that
Goldberg's popularity is in part a reflection of the dominant
culture's mindset concering Black people on the whole. Black


23
Pauline Breedlove desires the order and regulation, the
cleanliness and calm, the affluence and abundance she sees as
belonging to and inherent within the white family. She
concludes that by becoming a fervently zealous and therefore
indispensable servant, she somehow becomes a legitimate part
of the white family. For Pauline, interacting with the family
on a daily basis even in minuscule ways makes her worthy of
themmakes her one of them. Morrison writes:
Power praise and luxury were hers in this
household. They even gave her what she had never
hada nicknamePolly. It was her pleasure to
stand in her kitchen at the end of the day and
survey her handiwork. (101)
Eventually, Pauline cannot find fulfillment or happiness in
her own family or her own culture. She can only experience
joy as the servant of her white family. Pauline sanctions an
intimacy between herself and her employers that she
discourages within her own family. Both her husband and her
children refer to Pauline as Mrs. Breedlove. Yet, she is
pleased that the white family has abbreviated her name,
changed her name, to suit themselves. In a sense she has
acquiesced to their re-naming her Polly. Her sense of self,
her sense of identity can only be found via interaction with,
re-naming by, the white family.
Perhaps Pauline could be offered redemption if it were
the lifestyle, the things of the white family she craved.
However, Pauline does not covet the white lifestyle for
herself and or her family, but desires to become a part the


160
contributed to the melange of characterizations in the early
stages of Goldberg's career. It would take several attempts
before Hollywood stumbled upon just the right mix of mammy
and buffoon in order to sell Whoopi Goldberg.
On the heels of Jumpin' Jack Flash came 1987's Fatal
Beauty. In a number of ways Fatal Beauty demonstrates most
straight-forwardly Hollywood's inability to negotiate a full
representation of a Black female character on screen.
Goldberg appears this time as Detective Rita Rizzoli. Rizzoli
is a narcotics specialist ala Miami Vice. Thus, she spends
much of her time undercover trying to take drug dealers off
the streets. While it would seem that presenting a Black
woman as a police detective instead of the drug user or
pusher is evidence of multidimensional characterization, this
movie, like all of these early films, falls short. Fatal
Beauty is uneven and perhaps manic in its presentation of
Rizzoli. One the one hand she is positively presented as a
much decorated police detective, on the other the love scene
between Goldberg and Sam Elliot has been cut in order to
avoid offending audiences. This kind of double-handedness is
evident throughout this film.
In Fatal Beauty, the movie makers cannot decide if they
intend to subvert stereotypical renderings of Black women or
perpetuate them. For instance, the first time we see Rizzoli
she is striding down the street dressed as a hooker. Her red
wig and yellow mini-dress are almost neon signs. She is even
more of a spectacle than the "real" prostitutes she passes on


140
material that is cut out is composed of the socio-cultural
experiences of Black America.
Sidney Poitier was representative of integration during
the 50's and 60's. During that era both Black and white
audiences believed that if Black Americans could have
legitimate access to power then King's dream could become
reality. However, instead of universal legitimate access, a
few Blacks were allowed limited access. The fact that Poitier
was the most prominent among a handful of Black male stars
allowed roles in Hollywood at that time is an embodiment of
this limited access. Whoopi Goldberg is certainly a
reflection of these postmodern times. On the surface all
seems well, she is rich, famous and respected. Underneath,
she has become rich, famous, and respected primarily by
reviving the mammy figure.
Another similarity between the careers of Goldberg and
Poitier is that they suffered in one form or another the fate
of all cross-over stars. At points in their careers their
Black audiences perceived them as not only crossing over, but
selling out. The turning point came in Poitier's career with
his 1958 film The Defiant Ones. In it, he and Tony Curtis are
convicts who have escaped prison but who remain handcuffed to
one another. Donald Bogle points to a disturbing trend that
reached its climax in The Defiant Ones. The Poitier
characterizations which had come to represent brotherly love,
had begun to slip over into those depicting self-sacrifice


4 MADWOMEN AND GOOD BUDDIES
147
Marketing Goldberg 147
Good Buddies 150
Spy, Detective, Burglar 172
Mad About My Buddy 177
CONCLUSION 192
REFERENCES 195
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 199
f
iv


61
Goldberg definitely engages in the role of mammy for the
white characters; they are discussed later. The films
mentioned in this Chapter are among Goldberg's most blatant
attempts at nurturing the white characters and follow the
most traditional manifestations of the mammy. The criticism
that labels Whoopi Goldberg an actress whose success comes
primarily from playing roles that mimic mammying are true.
Even at this point in history, the film industry is still
most likely to create roles for Black women, or one Black
woman, wherein her major purpose is to nurture white
characters.


20
presence or practice of the mammy as an endorsement of her.
For Black women who internalize the imagery of the mammy, it
will successfully keep them in their places, as constituted
by the dominant society. As for the dominant society, they
remain comfortable in their power positioning when they only
have to meet the Black woman in her role as mammy.
Hill-Collins assesses a reality of African American
women's lives that is difficult to articulate. African
American women occupy the lowest rung of the economic, social
and political totem pole. It is still a surprise when a Black
woman is elected into office or is allowed into corporate
boardrooms. It is no surprise that Black women still earn
less than Black men or white women or that they still have to
battle stereotypes labeling them mammies. Hill-Collins is
just one of many Womanist/Black Feminist theorists to see the
real and imagined lives of Black women being shaped by the
unequal and powerful images of her built into the American
system. The mammy image, and all that she represents, implies
that the Black woman's status in this society is at best
ingrained structurally and at worst her own fault, but
certainly the best she can hope to achieve. Consequently the
most an average African American woman who successfully
internalizes such imagery can hope for is to receive
employment in the home, business or office building of a
white person. She may take care of children, clean the office
building or even file papers but she must realize that this
is her designated place in society. This is what best suits


26
among her Black peers who view hues of Blackness in
gradations of acceptability. Pecla is a dark-skinned, short-
haired child in a world where those things indicate
unattractiveness. She has no loving support system at home to
combat the intra-racial stereotyping that occurs. Thus Pecla
assumes that blue eyes will make her acceptable. Blue eyes
not only represent a physical embodiment of whiteness but a
"white" outlook. If Pecla could begin to see the world as
white people saw it, she could take on their perception of
reality. Again the purpose is to assume a white identity, in
lieu of a Black one which is automatically equated with
anguish, lack and everything awful. Pecla lies in bed and
prays for blue eyes while her parents fight.
It had occurred to Pecla some time ago that if her
eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew
the sightif those eyes of hers were different,
that is to say beautiful, she herself would be
different. ... If she looked different,
beautiful, maybe Cholly would be different, and
Mrs. Breedlove too. Maybe they'd say, "Why, look at
pretty-eyed Pecla. We mustn't do bad things in
front of those pretty eyes." (40)
Pecla, like Pauline, sees escape and dissociation from
Blackness as the only solution.
Even at the end novel, when Pecla pays far too much for
her blue eyes, Pauline makes no effort to rescue her own
child. Pauline goes on being the mammy in its most historic
and psychological sense. She continues to be surrogate-mother
to her white charges, while her own family dies,
disintegrates and slips into madness. For Pauline and


75
Black Women as Cultural Readers is Jacqueline Bobo's
study of Black women and their reading of non-specific filmic
codes in Spielberg's The Color Purple and Julie Dash's
Daughters of the Dust. She interviews a group of
Black women from varying social, political and economic
groups. What she finds is a wealth of reflection and
rumination on how Black women are presented in these films.
She finds that while Black audiences do go to films for
visual pleasure, diagetic construction often intrudes upon
and interrupts that pleasure. Take for example these very
different assessments of The Color Purple. According to Bobo:
One of the women expressed a feeling that was
similar to one of the predominant criticisms by
mainstream reviewersthat the novel was more
"gritty," and Spielberg obscured its message by
making the film look too nice. . [The woman
says] "I thought, Damn, this man [Spielberg] is
trying to say, "Oh, look, they had a rough life,
but wasnt it pretty." I mean, look at all the
purple flowers. ... He romanticized it all the
way throughand the music, it was that
stereotypical old white romanticized music. (95)
None of the women Bobo interviewed were film critics, yet
this woman, like all the women, were able to read the
material in quite complex terms. While this woman was not
particularly pleased with the images she saw re-presenting
Black people in The Color Purple, another interviewee thought
the prettiness of the film helped to soften the brutal
reality of the text. Bobo writes:


27
subsequently for Pecla, the only way to deal with being
Black is to reject it.
It seems ironic that the same mammy icon that is so
inept at nurturing her own children, could then turn around
and successfully nurture the children of her white owners.
Again this points to the contradictions in slavery, racism,
and the production of the mammy figure herself. In the slave
infrastructure the same mammy who could and did abandon her
own children at least emotionally and spiritually was able to
fashion motherly instincts from nothing, and then lavish them
upon white children. This is one of the most painful aspects
of the mammy figure. It is not the denigrated physical
characteristics that defined her or the fact that she was
slave labor, but that she could abandon her own precious
Black children in favor of the secondhand-mothering of white
children which made the mammy the bane of African American
culture. Yet this glorification of the mothering of white
children and the derisive depiction of Black mothers
mothering Black children was necessary to create and sustain
the myth of the mammy. This embracing of all that is white,
even at the expense of one's selfhood and progeny, marks the
Black women as guiltyjust as her accusers said. The hurt is
only magnified when the mammy's accusers are other Black
women. This fact becomes extremely important when examining
Goldberg's role as a contemporary mammy figure.
Thus the mammy figure is more than a big, dark-skinned
Black woman with a rag on her head and white babies on her


44
his crossing into manhood. The red suitcase like a scarlet
letter, not only contains the remains of Clara's family, but
her shame. Clara has spent the majority of the movie doling
out wisdom and advice, sharing her anecdotes and raising
David. The letters in the suitcase tell of her own failure as
a wife and mother to her own family. Her husband will not
accept her letters because he blames her for what happened to
their son. It is clear that Clara also blames herself.
During Clara and David's final jaunt into the city, the
Jamaican girl Dora and Clara collide. Dora tries to tell
David what happened to Clara's son and in so doing grabs
David and holds him by his hair. Clara responds by telling
her to take her hands off her boy. Dora taunts Clara by
telling her she has no boy, that her boy died, and a fight
ensues. After returning to Clara's apartment David learns the
whole of Clara's secret. The audience understands why she is
an outsider among her own people and why she had so
vehemently declared David "her boy." The scene wherein Clara
reveals her secret to David is among the most poignant in the
movie. They are seated a table with David on the left and
Clara on the right. The camera remains on David's face as
Clara shares with him her awful pain. Clara's son who was in
some way mentally challenged, raped the young girl Dora. When
Clara confronted her son about it, he then attacked and raped
his mother. The tale ends with her son Ralphy having
committed suicide by throwing himself off a cliff. During the
entirety of this heart-wrenching story the camera remains the


197
Kelly, Ernece B. "Parallel Careers: Goldberg and Poitier."
Crisis (1992): 49.
King, Mae C. "The Politics of Sexual Stereotypes." The Black
Scholar 73.4 (1973): 12-23.
Maio, Kathi. Feminist in the Dark. Freedom, CA: The
Crossing Press, 1988.
Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis
and the Cinema, tr. Celia Britton et al. Bloomington:
Indiana UP, 1982.
Modleski, Tania. Feminism Without Women. New York:
Routledge, 1991.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the
Literary Imagination. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1992.
Pellegrini, Ann. "Women On Top, Boys on the Side, But Some
of Us are Brave: Blackness, Lesbianism and the
Visible." College Literature. 24.1 (1997): 84-95.
Ross, Karen. Black and White Media: Black Images in
Popular Film and Television. Cambridge, MA: Polity
Press, 1996.
Smith, Lillian. Killers of the Dream. New York: Norton, 1978;
orig. ed. 1949.
Stam, Robert. "Bahktin, Polyphony and Ethnic/Racial
Representation." Unspeakable Images: Ethnicity and
the American Cinema ed. Chicago: U Illinois P. 1991.
Stam, Robert, Robert Burgoyne, Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, eds.
New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics: Post-Structuralism
and Beyond. London: Routledge, 1992.
Stuart, Andrea. "Making Whoopi." Sight and Sound 3(2):12-
13. 1993.
Wakhisi, Tsitsi D. "Black Economic Gaines in Tinsel Town."
Crisis February/March (1996): 28.
Walker, Alice. All the Women are White, All the Blacks are
Men, But Some of Us Are Brave. Hull, Gloria T.,
Patricia Bell Scott, and Barbara Smith, eds. New York:
Feminist Press, 1982.


154
Embassy, but out of place presenting herself as a desirable
woman. Terri has borrowed the blue evening gown from Cynthia
and it is clear that what works for Cynthia (for white women)
does not work for Terri (for Black women). Terri's blue
eyeshadow, red lipstick and blonde hair mimic Cynthia. Yet
for Cynthia they are signs of desireability, for Terri they
are further evidence of her inability to be desirable. In
fact, not only do the trappings of white beauty not work on
Terri, she looks like a clown for even trying. It is not only
the ownership of beauty and desirability that are at stake
here, but issues of access as well. The fact that Terri has
to borrow Cynthia's dress and mimic her stylistically to
attend a party at an embassy speaks to this power relations.
Terri must parody white beauty in order to gain access
to echelons of power as well provinces of feminine beauty and
desirability. However, since Terri fails at appropriating
white beauty (as most physically Black women must) she
becomes a spectacle. Adorning Terri's blue gown is the
Walkman belted around her waist. Terri then morphs from the
unattractive and out-of-place woman to the Diana Ross
impersonator. She goes from being unacceptable to acceptable
because she is there to provide entertainment. The dress,
wig, and awful makeup now become the accouterments of the
entertainer and thereby acceptable. Yet, the fact that the
Black woman can only enter the British Embassy as the
entertainment cannot go unacknowledged. Once she tells
embassy personnel that she is there to perform, she has no


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This work is dedicated to my Lord and Savior, Jesus
Christ. Without the mercy and grace He has shown me, there
would be no degree. I am grateful for His guidance and
provision during this long journey.
This degree has been paid in full. Every time my mothers
changed somebody else's baby or cleaned someone else's floor,
they paid for it. Every time my uncles loaded a truck, topped
tobacco, or ushered one of their brothers into prison or into
an emergency room, they paid for it. Every time my sisters were
called something other than their names, they paid for it.
Every nail my grandfathers hammered into crossties on the
railroad, every box car of coal, every bullet in WWII and
Vietnam paid for it. Every word my family couldn't read, every
opportunity they never had, every blow unfairly dealt, and
every drop of blood that fell from an old wooden cross, all
went to buy me what this dissertation represents.
Every time I left my baby sitting in front of the
television or on someone else's knee, she paid for it. Thus,
special recognition, love, and gratitude to Thai Catherine
Dolores Matthews. I carried her when I first began graduate
school, but she eventually came to carry me.
li


25
looks at Cholly and the children and is overwhelmed by their
Blacknesstherefore their incredible lack of whiteness.
Pauline then participates in white life in what she
believes is the only way possible for her and for people like
her. Pauline partakes of beauty and family in the only way
she believes she can. She becomes the perfect servant, the
perfection of the mythical mammy, complete with a disdain for
her own children. In her assessment of The Bluest Eye Trudier
Harris writes, "Pauline Breedlove identifies completely with
the white world and takes excessive, self-deprecating pride
in childrearing, cooking, and cleaning for it" (39).
Pauline's characterization is a classic example of the mammy
figure. The mammy is no longer a job description or a
position but becomes a state-of-mind. She is representative
of the mammy in her worse traditional sense. This character
is so inculcated with the legitimacy of her white family,
that she rejects anything that is not them, including her own
family and her identity as a Black wife and mother. In the
end, she confuses intimacy with whiteness with access to it.
Pauline Breedlove is the quintessential mammy because the
mammy is the purest evidence of the internalization of anti-
Black racism.
This curse becomes generational when Pecla Breedlove
adopts yet another form of self-effacement. Pecla reacts not
only to rejection from her mother, but rejection from her
Black community. Not only is Pecla having to negotiate her
identity in the face of a mother who rejects Blackness, but


41
from conventional femininity. Both methodologies rely on a
festive/fictive readings of Goldberg to further their causes.
They forego looking at race and womanhood from a perspective
that allows Goldberg to be the only Black woman on screen or
the only Black person in the movie. Because Goldberg is still
the latest embodiment of the mammy, there is little room for
a liberating reading of her either in terms of race or
gender.
Clara 's Hart is the 1988 movie starring Goldberg and
Neil Patrick Harris. Goldberg is a Jamaican maid hired to
take care of young David Hart. David has just suffered the
loss of his baby sister and is continually ignored by parents
on the brink of divorce. David is left to his own devices in
suburban Maryland until the arrival of Clara Mayfield (Whoopi
Goldberg). Clara has already worked her special brand of
"black magic" on David's mother, hence her new job. While
recuperating in Jamaica from the death of her baby, Mrs. Hart
is restored to life herself by Clara. Mrs. Hart has spent
days in her ocean side bungalow, with the shades drawn,
alternating between the bathtub and bed until Clara arrives
to clean the room. Clara does immediately what Mr. Hart, whom
is present but invisible in Jamaica, cannot do. Before she
leaves Mrs. Hart has cried in her arms and offered Clara a
job. Upon arriving at the Hart house Clara again begins to
breathe life into this dead family. She not only invigorates
Mrs. Hart and David, but her constant fights with Mr. Hart
even bring him to life.


170
her or return her kiss. In the final scene, over which the
credits role, we see a pink Mustang being driven by a white
man with a Black woman sitting in the passenger seat. This is
obviously the same car that Rizzoli has driven throughout the
movie. It seems as if the two are finally together again only
we cannot be sure who is truly in the car.
There is a behind-the-head shot which moves to an aerial
shot of the car. The audience never sees the two passengers
faces, and we can only assume that they are Rizzoli and
Marshack. There are many missed opportunities to assure the
audience of the legitimacy of their relationship in this
film. Given the decision to cut their love scene, the
audience is never really sure about the nature of their
commitment. It is reminiscent of Corrina, Corrina in that
there are more questions left unanswered than answered. While
it is not necessary that the characters declare their love
for one another or even hold hands, it doesn't seem too much
to depict a medium-close-up shot of them as they drive off
into the night. Usually such a shot in a Hollywood film
insures the audience that the protagonists do indeed continue
their romance after the film ends.
Summarily, there is undeniable chemistry between Sam
Elliot and Whoopi Goldberg which the filmmakers seem all too
happy to verbally explore. Yet, when it comes to physically
depicting Goldberg in a romantic situation the attempt
falters. There is too much ambiguity in the relationship
between Rizzoli and Marshack. Usually, such innuendo would


CHAPTER 1
THE MAMMY AS METAPHOR: BLACK WOMEN ON SILVER SCREENS
History
Cinematic depictions of the Black woman have rarely
presented her as a full characterization worthy of critical
attention. She has seemingly only existed to further the
development of the major characters in a film. This has
resulted in the black woman becoming hyperfragmented. She is
shown as little more than a caricature, with little
opportunity to be developed fully. According to Gloria J.
Gibson-Hudson,
the black woman, as presented within mainstream
cinema, is a one-dimensional depiction. Black
women are shown as sex objects, passive victims,
and as "other" in relation to males (black and
white) and white females. . Consequently,
these representations limit the probability
of an audience seeing black women as figures
of resistance or empowerment. (25)
Typical images of the black woman lack multiple and complex
meanings. Among the most prevalent of these one-dimensional
renderings are the tragic mulatto, the sapphire, the
matriarch, and of course the mammy (Bogle 9). Of these
caricatures none has been more apparent or successful than
that of the mammy.
5


38
is in a place (or at a movie) that reaffirms their viability.
This resting place is definitely not at a Whoopi Goldberg
movie.
Goldberg's skin like the skin of other Blacks is far
from empty as a signifier. It is the Black skin's loaded
connotation that makes it possible for white skin to be an
"empty sign." One of the inferences of Black skin is
precisely that it "spells entertainment." Stuart, like many
mainstream audiences, presumes that because Goldberg is
palatable for them, that she is also navigable for Black
audiences. According to Donald Bogle, the "cultural
rootlessness" exhibited in Goldberg's films serves to
alienate her from Black audiences (297). So, what white
audiences view as a race break and as "refreshing"
characterizations of Goldberg, Black audiences tend to view
as a convenient absence and a deliberate and debilitating
reshaping of Blackness to make it negotiable for mainstream
film audiences. Perhaps Goldberg represents the way white
audiences feel Blackness ought to beamiable, humorous, non
threatening and ready to facilitate.
In Jacqueline Bobo's Black Women as Cultural Readers,
she explores the responses of Black women to the ways they
are presented on screen. She quotes Julie Dash, the director
of Daughters of the Dust, "As a black woman," states Julie
Dash, "you take for granted that you are never going to see
certain momentscertain private momentson screen" (161).
Julie Dash is articulating the frustration that Black women


30
Blackness is presented on Hollywood screen's it is made more
palatable because it's sole function is to further the white
narrative.
The way Blackness is presented on screen is of course
comparable to the way it is used in literature. In Playing in
the Dark, Whiteness and the Literary Imagination, Toni
Morrison examines the ways in which the African presence
serves as a "surrogate and enabler" for whiteness (51).4
Morrison says that authors like Mark Twain, Saul Bellow, and
Willa Cather construct Blackness in their work to buoy
whiteness. American literature in general either denies the
existence of an African presence, or fills the trope of
Blackness with negative meanings that make the trope of
whiteness all the more positive and stableall the more
"white." Although Morrison's critique is aimed at literary
practices, some of the same tenets hold true for film.
Blackness if often seen as negative so that the white
characterization can be valorized. Morrison further defines
familiar stereotypes of Blacks in literature such as nurses,
rescuers and catalyst. In film, these same tropes are
utilized as acceptable and necessary ways to present Black
characters. This kind of practice is so inherent in
literature and film that it becomes almost invisible to the
audience. Mainstream cinema audiences are comfortable with
4 Morrison uses the term Africanist to represent the "denotative and
connotative blackness that African peoples have come to signify, as
well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings, and
misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these peoples"
(6).


45
entire time on the young white actor. We see the play of his
emotions and how he is handling Claras revelation. After a
brief cut to a frame that includes them both, we again see
only the boy's reaction to the story, not Clara's telling.
This is significant in relegating her once again to the
position of mammy. While the movie has seemingly revolved
around Goldberg's character, at the most crucial moment in
the film she is simply a voice off-screen providing fodder
for the young white male's consumption.
Once David learns Clara's secret there is a change that
takes place in him. Clara's attention, love and finally her
revelation is the catalyst he needs to enter manhood. David,
who has struggled the entire movie with his status as a
pushover, suddenly challenges his school's bully to a race in
the swimming pool. With his father watching, David emerges
from the pool triumphant having finally won the respect of
his father and his peers. None of this takes place however,
until David learns Clara's secret. It is as if he needed to
take the one last piece of her that was solely hers. The
transformation that takes place in David is not only the
result of his taking her secret, but also of his taking the
place of both Clara's son and her husband. He becomes the men
in her life. David comforts Clara and reassures her that what
happened was not her fault, he is successful because he has
become "her boy." The mammy is reinforced here again as one
of her characteristics is the abandonment of her own family
in favor of a white one. Clara seemingly gives up the bond


169
automatically rule out depicting her involvement in a one
night stand. I am saying however, that given the frequency
with which Black women are depicted as prostitutes,
projecting such an image does have implications. In short,
leaving the Goldberg character alone in that way can readily
imply that their affair meant very little to Marshack. The
fact that he is white and that she is Black only adds to the
implication. Interracial relationships are rare on screen and
rarer still are those depicting white men and Black women. In
fact, the only visual medium in which such imagery usually
abounds is in any mimicking the antebellum period in
America's history. Thus, filmmakers whether they aware of it
or not, whether they intend to or not, evoke certain
historical memories when they attempt intimate relationships
between white men and Black women on screen. The fact that
there is little evidence of genuine affection between Rizzoli
and Marshack only augments these historical memories.
Even the Rizzoli character herself thinks that Marshack
has only used her. When she first sees him again after their
night together, even though he is once again saving her life,
she punches him in the face. Yet, he saves her life once more
before the movie ends. Perhaps the filmmakers attempt to
assuage our fear when, at the end of the film, Rizzoli kisses
Marshack. It is evident that Marshack is going to jail after
recovering from his bullet wound. Rizzoli declares that she
will be waiting for him when he gets out. He is conveniently
wounded so that all he can do is lie there, he cannot embrace


157
such a culture in America, while this culture materialized
out of force and subsequent economic and social
stratifications, the fact remains that Blackness is more than
pigmentation. Thus it becomes the socio-economic and
psychological structuring, as well as melanin count, that
determines Blackness. Again, the reason why Goldberg does not
appeal to many Black people is that she is only Black-skinned
in her films' and not Black culturally, politically,
historically or even socially.
This can certainly be said of the character Terri
Doolittle. When Jumpin' Jack Flash opens the first thing that
the audience sees is an indepth camera sweep of Terri's
apartment. The camera roams around the modest and cluttered
dwelling hesitating when it comes to the books she reads and
the movies she watches. The opening scene is constructed so
that we get to know something about Terri mentally before
seeing her physically. The audience is introduced to Terri
via movie posters. We know that she is fascinated with
Classical (meaning very white) Hollywood Film. Her walls are
covered with movie posters from Metropolis, Attack of the 50
Foot Woman, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Her floor is
littered with paperback mystery novels like The Night She
Died and Passage to Murder. Before the audience ever sees
Terri they somehow know her already.
The opening shot continues with Terri peaking out from
under a bed covered with clothing and blankets. She gets out
of bed in penguin slippers, red-checked pajamas, a black


181
Eddie kills twice in the movie and does not display
remorse for her crimes. She only becomes distressed when
Homer threatens to leave her and subsequently promises not to
kill again.. However, this is an impossible promise if Eddie
is killing because she is mentally imbalanced. Yet, despite
her mental instabilities Eddie has enough wit to paint the
car they are traveling in and change the license plates. She
is well aware that the police will be looking for them.
Nevertheless, Eddie manages to keep her promise to Homer and
does not kill anyone else.
Homer and Eddie is unique in that we see more of a
Goldberg character's family than in most of the other films.
On their way to Oregon to see Homer's parents, Eddie decides
to stop in Oakland and see her own mother. Instead of going
to a home or a work place, Eddie stops at a bar to look for
the mother whom she has not seen in ten years. Eddie asks a
patron where her mother can be found and is directed to the
local cemetery. Eddie and Homer search the dark graveyard
looking for her mother's headstone. They do find the
headstone but they also find her mother sitting on it.
It is obvious that Eddie expected to find her mother
dead but is pleased to find her among the living. Linda is a
broken, old-woman, who herself seems to have slipped into
insanity. She sits in a graveyard on top of her own head
stone waiting to die. She has marked the stone with her name
and the dates June 18, 1929 to June 18, 1989. The woman is
sure that she will die on her birthday, so she sits and


63
femininity and sexuality as they apply, and what this conveys
about those who reject, accept or produce her image.
Cinematically, as well as socially and politically,
sex(uality) and Black women have always been a volatile
combination. In order to examine Goldberg's screen image as a
woman and as a Black person, it is necessary to examine how
Hollywood has imbued her with or stripped her of sexual and
feminine qualities.
Much of early feminist film theory takes as its point of
critical departure an analysis of the "male gaze." Critique
and discussions have focused on the way in which this
omnipotent male gaze objectifies woman. Jane Gaines marks
Laura Mulvey's "Visual Representation and Narrative Cinema,"
as one of the first essays to demonstrate from which "the
feminist commitment to revealing the patriarchal assumptions
behind cinematic language" (199). Mulvey's emphasis on the
"woman as image," "spectacle," and her "to-be-looked-at-ness"
summons images of woman caught within a bright, white light
that emanate from the patriarchal psyche, via the
camera(750). Once loosed, this metaphorical light impales the
woman in its flood, simultaneously defining, fragmenting and
fetishizing her. However, this construct assumes that
"women" are white, as it does not take into consideration
what happens to the Black woman's body within the patriarchal
gaze.
As white women are occupied critiquing their way out of
the trajectory of the objectifying gaze,Black women are left


143
Goldberg. Goldberg has shared little screen time with other
Black women, particularly where they are her close friends.
While the story centers around the character of Stella,
Delilah (the Goldberg character) provides the comedy. What is
interesting about the decision to cast Goldberg in the role
of Delilah is that she has limited screen appearance. Delilah
dies midway through the movie. In addition, because this
screen play is drawn from a novel it is interesting to see
how the character of Delilah mutated from page to screen. In
McMillian's novel Delilah is a successful art gallery owner
who is happily married. In the film, she is (in typical
Goldberg fashion) a loud, strange-looking window dresser.
Delilah meets Stella in Jamaica and the women set out to
have a good time. While Stella meets and has a torrid affair
with a 20-year-old-boy, Delilah manages to attract two
retired football players whose playing days are long over.
While it seems that we will indeed see a Goldberg character
in a romantic relationship, or at least in a fling with a
Black male character, we are again disappointed. The most
Delilah allows the Black man she is seeing to do is kiss her
feet. While there are numerous love scenes between Stella and
her young man, the only person Goldberg gets into bed with is
Stella. They lay in bed fully clothed and discuss men and old
times both in Jamaica and in New York. However in New York
they are both lying in Delilah's hospital bed.
Thus, even in Jamaica, on a weekend getaway with her
girl friend, Goldberg is not allowed to have a relationship.


145
There are perhaps many reasons why Goldberg was chosen
to portray Delilah in this film. Among the reasons are of
course her phenomenal talent. However, the one of the most
important reasons would have to be her cross-over appeal.
Since Hollywood is first and foremost a business, their
primary interest would be to promote How Stella Got Her
Groove Back to as wide an audience as possible. While the
movie's primary audience would be Black, adding Goldberg to
this mix would insure at the least an interest by mainstream
cinema audiences. Therefore cinematic depictions of her, even
in a "Black" film, would have to be consistent with what
mainstream audiences are accustomed to seeing. Thus, Goldberg
and Bassett's on-screen relationship is humorous but not
deeply personal and intimate. Goldberg's romantic endeavor
while she is in Jamaica is little more than time spent
laughing at and running from amorous clowns.
Hollywood has not been interested in presenting the
strong and often invaluable relationships Black women have
with one another. Like her male counterparts in her films,
Goldberg's friends are almost exclusively white. She has
literally had only one sister since The Color Purple, and in
Corrina, Corrina her and her sister's relationship is
characterized by the tension Corrina's choice of male friends
produces. How Stella Got Her Groove Back seemed to be a
departure from the nearly 40 feature films in which she has
no significant relationship with another Black woman. Yet,
even this film fails to satisfy. Goldberg's presence in How


189
performing all of the guests at her imaginary dinner party,
Vashti's only other significant performance is talking on the
telephone. Vashti speaks to the police department, the video
store, the telephone company, and her girlfriend. She plays
the tape of all of her received messages so her girlfriend
can determine if one of the unidentified callers is indeed
Vashti's husband. Vashti tells the friend that her husband
left because he could not handle Vashti's success. At the end
of the film, a representative from the telephone company
arrives to pick up her phone. Vashti becomes erratic and
pleads with the man not to take her phone. She tells him that
the phone is her lifeline. At that, the man explodes with
laughter and tells her that she is crazy. He tells her that
her telephone service has been disconnected for two months,
he is only there to pick up the telephone unit. This is
absurd given the fact that the audience has been listening to
Vashti's almost two-hour long telephone conversations. At
this moment, the audience realizes that everything they have
assumed about Vashti is false. We conclude that she must
indeed be crazy. Our suspicions are confirmed when, in a fit
of rage and desperation, Vashti stabs the man who tries to
take her phone. The man grabs his chest and falls to the
floor. His last line is also the question the audience wants
to ask: "You would kill me for a telephone?" After the man
dies Vashti sits down and dials the phone. She talks to the
same officer she supposedly talked to earlier in the evening.
She tells the officer to come to her house because she has


14
Invariably, the mammy remains, and is as effective in
defining the way dominant society thinks about Black women,
as are the "black ho" who is consumed daily in music videos
and talk shows, and the Welfare Queen stereotype which is
bandied strategically about on the evening news.
Again, the genesis of the mammy figure comes directly
from American slavery mythology. None of these mythical
identities created during Slavery were meant to accurately
reflect who the Black woman really was, but were rather
generated out of neccessity. The mammy figure grew largely
out of a need slave owners had to create surrogate
mothers/nurturers for their legal and out-of-wedlock
children. Not only were these black women expected and
encouraged to care for their white charges at the expense of
their own families, but at the expense of their
individuality. According to Trudier Harris, the Black serving
woman's role became more important than she was herself; "she
should cook, clean, take care of the childrenand be
invisible or self-effacing" (11-12). Herein lies the crux of
the Black woman's problem with the image of the mammy and
indeed, with all of the stereotypes that make up popular
notions of Black womanhood. The uses of these stereotypes
cause the Black woman to cease to exist as anything but her
type in the eyes of dominant society, and eventually in her
own eyes. The Whore, the Queen, and the Mammy are just that.
chemically relaxed hair. The new hairstyle does not alleviate the
traditional meaning behind the Black woman on this pancake box.


73
audiences are visual experts, because they themselves have
been subject to constant inspection and examination. They are
acutely aware of Blackness as a visible discourse.
Lola Young contends that it is not possible to simply
present a Black person on screen. The very presence or lack
of Black people in a film speaks.
The question of imagestheir construction and
their histories and the meanings which accrue to
themis central to a discussion of any visual
text. When it comes to carrying out work which
involves representations of black people, the
analysis of images has a heightened political
inflection, since representations of black people
are always deemed to 'mean' something, to be laden
with symbolism in regard to 'race' in racially
stratified societies. (7)
Once again, this is evidence of how saturated Blackness is
with meaning. It is almost impossible for the mere presence
of Blackness not to mean anything. Black audiences are more
aware of this than perhaps mainstream audiences. Black
audiences are acutely aware of anything that looks like them
(or not) on screen. The very nature of racial categories and
hierarchies makes many members of Black audiences adept at
reading their own imagery.
A great example of the ability of Blacks to police their
own imagery is apparent in movies and novels that involve the
tragic mulatto and their "passing" as white. Often the
enemies of these characters are other mulattos or other
Blacks. In Nella Larsen's Quicksand and Passing, and both the
novel and screen versions of Imitation of Life, as well as
Alex Haley's Queen, the light-skinned women who are passing


194
Mainstream audiences are still not interested in engaging
multidimensional depictions of Black women or Black people in
general.


15
They do not love, feel, wish, believe or do any of the other
things commonly associated with one who possesses personhood.
While it was important that the Whore and the Queen be
incapable of bonding with their children, it was even more so
with the Mammy. After all, unlike her sister Whores and
Queens, the mammy had no sexual appetite. She was at the
opposite end of the spectrum when it came to sex and
sexuality. The void this negation of sexuality left in her
caricature had to be filled with motherly instincts, but only
for the master's childrennever her own. Again the Black
woman is forced to mutate and is reconstructed to fit the
needs of the slavemaster. He removes a few of his
superbreeders from the confines of their denotations (mammies
have no sexual appetites, they exist only to nurture) and
endows them with the ability to be supernurturersbut only
for his children. Harris writes:
Features inherent in the job made it necessary for
the black mammy to deny her own family in order to
rear generation after generation of whites who
would, ironically, grow up to oppress blacks yet
further. (35)
It is the denial of herself and her own family which causes
black women critics, in particular, to react so vehemently to
the mammy figure. While the mammy bathes, feeds, and coddles
her white charges, where are her own children? While she is
mammy for Miss Anne and Miss Anne's children and perhaps even
Miss Anne's grandchildren, what has become of her own family,
her own children, her life?


185
protagonist overcome or combat insanity by returning to their
communities.
This is not the case with Eddie in Homer and Eddie.
There is neither a solution to, nor a cure for, Eddie's brain
tumor. She is not connected to a Black community or a Black
tradition of nurturing that can collectively heal her.
Perhaps this is why it is a brain tumor and not just that she
is "insane." There can be no redemption for Eddie because it
might lead to a deeper relationship between the Goldberg
character and the audience, and a deeper relationship between
Eddie and Homer. Having Eddie live would also lead to
questions about her paying for her crimes. Goldberg plays the
good guy in her films and is usually not antagonistic. It
must be a brain tumor so that the audience resigns itself to
Eddie's death beforehand. The audience can excuse her
committing cold-blooded murder because she is sick and she is
going to die anyway. Thus, miscegenation is never a threat
and retribution for Eddie's crimes is never an issue. Nor is
the audience forced into a relationship with Goldberg that
they have never experienced. In short, Goldberg is crazy
because she is sick and that's permissible for the audience.
While Homer and Eddie does not allow Eddie to find
solace in her family or community, the filmmakers do
introduce an element of salvation in the story. When Eddie
kills the second gas station attendent Homer makes her go to
church and confess. Homer says to her, "You kill everybody.
Ask God to forgive you." Homer threatens to leave Eddie if


175
lenses during the same period when Spike Lee and her many
other critics rail at her for doing so. So Bernie Rhodenbarr
spends the entirety of the film in bright blue contact lenses
and no one in the diagetic space ever mentions them. Another
way in which racial difference in this film is flouted is the
character Carl played by Bobcat Goldthwaite. Carl, the dog
groomer, is Bernie best friend. When he is taken down to
police headquarters and questioned as to Bernie's
whereabouts, his response is perhaps the most unique in the
history of interrogation scenes. As the police question Carl,
he screams: "I know why you're doing this to me. It's because
I am a black man in a white man's world." What is quite
humorous and most intriguing about his statement is that Carl
is not Black, as the police quickly inform him. His statement
is indeed a hit at both law enforcement and Black men. The
blatant way in which Carl deems the police to treat Black men
unfairly is replete with hidden meaning. The Goldthwaite
character could indeed be making a bold statement about the
inequalities inherent in law enforcement as it pertains to
Black men, or he could be leveling the charge that every
Black man questioned by the police uses race to infer unfair
treatment. Yet another twist on his declaration could be that
the white male is only protesting being treated like a Black
man. Whatever the intention of this particular scene it
forces the audience to reconsider the signifiers we've build
into race.


68
women, but are emptied of their potency. Goldberg is
physically a Black woman but is often stripped of family,
community, politics, voice, personal sexuality and anything
that positions her socially and culturally as Black, female,
and human. This is precisely why Hollywood finds itself
enamored of her. Hollywood performs a slight of hand, in this
case a camera trick. It takes Blackness as a signifier and
provides it with meaning by working in opposition to some
stereotypes, like that of undue sexuality. Yet Hollywood
embraces others, like the supernurturing Black mammy. This
multiplication of some types and negation of others
culminates in a palatable adaptation of Blackness. Whoopi
Goldberg is mainstream cinema's idea of the acceptable Black
woman. She is usually clever, witty, friendly, unassuming and
maternal. She does not conjure up images of a jezebel but
rather the faithful servant/friend, who rarely has a child or
a man of her own. In fact, this is an important part of her
appeal. She lacks connection to any Black community.
Mainstream film audiences are comfortable knowing
Goldberg and letting only a few like her into their space.
One of the results of presenting the lone Black in a sea of
whiteness is that whiteness does not have to abandon its
confort zone. Much of the mainstream film audience rarely has
to deal with the reality of socio-political and economic
imbalances based on race. They get to continue in their
relative oblivion when they attend films or watch television.
This lack of concern becomes patronage when film and


90
woman's sexuality represents a "special threat" because "its
eruption stands for the aspirations of the Black race as a
whole" (203). Neither the camera nor the audience sees the
Black woman as a woman who happens to be Black, but as a
Black who is a woman. As such, any revelation of her as a
normal4 sexual being could denote her as a normal human being
and automatically call subordinate treatment of her (and
therefore all Black people) into question. Even Gaines
description of the Black womans sexuality as something that
will erupt hints at the discomfort that it arouses. Eruption
denotes something that has been under pressure, and perhaps
hidden, suddenly and violently coming to the surface. This
trepidation that the Black woman's sexuality causes is
further proof of mainstream cinema's fascination with
Goldberg. Mainstream audiences are not anxious when they
attend a Goldberg film. They know they are in for light
hearted fare and not an explosion of Black female sexuality.
Usually when the Black woman is described in film as
exotic, it means that she is sexually savage. For a Goldberg
character, exotic takes on new meaning. It means that she has
waist-length dreadlocks as in Clara's Hart, or walks like a
man even in an evening gown in Jumpin' Jack Flash. It means
that many of her characters dress in baggy, mismatched
clothing and have masculine-sounding names like Terry, Eddie,
and Guinan. Whatever exotic means for Goldberg, it does not
4 Here I use normal in contrast to overt. The Black woman on screen
is often presented as overtly sexual, but images of her as having a
normal sex life, no more, no less than any one else, is rare.


112
and/or friend of a Black woman, and concludes that the lack
of these kinds of characterizations signal Hollywood's
utilization of the cross-over formula.
More or Less a Mother
Motherhood in the Black community, as in any community,
is complex and multi-dimensional. In the Black community
there are birth mothers, other-mothers, community mothers,
God-mothers, and Muh-Dears, just to name a few. The mother-
daughter relationship is as heterogeneous as the relationship
between Black mothers and their sons. All of these
relationships have endured archetypal presentations by both
mainstream cinema producers, and even Black film directors,
that is when they are explored at all. Thus the lack of Black
mothers among the multitude of characters that Goldberg plays
reads as a glaring omission. This oversight becomes even more
obvious when read against her ability to mother white
children (Corrina, Corrina; Clara's Heart, Bogus, The Long
Walk Home).
Although Herman Gray is speaking specifically about
television in Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for
Blackness, much of what he says is relevant to film study.
Gray maintains:


8
woman who is, at least physically, readily identifiable as a
Black woman receiving top billing in Hollywood. She is
certainly not one of the tragic mulattos embodied by Fredi
Washington or Dorothy Dandridge. Neither is she a supersexed
action heroine like Pam Grier (of black exploitation fame).
In roughly 30 feature films, Goldberg has received star
billing. Yet Black film critics, moviegoers, Feminist and
Womanist critics alike continue to be dissatisfied with the
kind of vehicles in which Goldberg has achieved her success.
Whenever Goldberg is addressed in serious film
scholarship, she is labeled a mammy figure. The kinds of
roles she has received lock her firmly into a stereotype long
used by the dominant society, and even Black people
themselves, to define Black women. While Goldberg's response
has often been that at least she is working, and while white
America's response has been to give her an Oscar and the
latest People's Choice Award for favorite entertainer, many
Blacks continue to be outraged, even wounded by the double
meaning of Goldberg's success.
In order to understand the significance of labeling
Goldberg a mammy, it is first necessary to trace the
conception and use of this term and image that is, perhaps,
just as loaded as the word nigger. The scholarship on the
imagery of the mammy, particularly when it is generated by
Black women, is tainted with not only disdain, but pain. When
writers like Trudier Harris, Patricia Hill Collins and bell
hooks engage the mammy, she is not a historical concept but a


91
mean sensual, sexual, or even feminine. According to Andrea
Stuart in "Making Whoopi,"
Cinematically she is not really constructed as a woman
at allneither nurturer nor siren, the faithful drudge
of the antebellum South nor the funky chick born to walk
on the wild side of the city's mean streets. (12)
Stuart's analysis is useful in acknowledging the fact that
Goldberg has been deliberately removed from any of these
categories. Hollywood film has done such a good job of
effacing her sexuality, in all senses of the word, that even
Goldberg realizes that it is what has been removed from her
presentation that accounts in large part for her success.5
In an interview with Lea DeLaria for the Advocate in
1995, Goldberg talked about her lack of sexuality and its
affect on her career.
I don't have to be beautiful. I can be really big,
I can be wrinkley because it's all about the work.
It's not about "Oh, we put you in this movie
because you're really great to look at." (50)
Goldberg is well aware that mainstream audiences have been
able to accept her because she is not typically desirable.
She sees her lack of dependence on looks as a kind of
freedom. Yet, in an image-privileged society, to be
unconcerned with "looks" is to be concerned with a particular
5 I do not mean to propose here that Goldberg or any other actor must
be attractive or feminine in order to truly be considered an actor,
or that Goldberg is not a talented performer. I merely wish to point
out that a greal deal of her success, as with many other performers,
has to do with her physical appearance. One of the reasons Hollywood
and mainstream audiences embrace her is because she is not typically
attractive. She negates the image of the Black woman as Whore or
Jezebel, at least physically.


102
asexual and masculine persona is easily translated for the
film's purposes.
Not only is Goldberg's body presence easily adapted to
the role of Jane in Boys, the audience is never presented
with anything openly homosexual. Boys is careful not to play
on the audiences' probable discomfort with stereotypes of the
passive-femme kind of lesbian or the swaggering bull-dyke.
What they see is Goldberg acting in the manner she usually
does. They see her looking, hinting and make innuendoes, but
she does this in many of her films. The movie is an
acceptable offering to mainstream audiences because
lesbianism is haltingly presented as women's friendships and
never as passion or physical love between women. Yet, if the
movie only tentatively toys with the notion of lesbianism it
most emphatically calls into question ideas about race and
deviant aspects of sexuality.
As an actor whose femininity and sexuality is not often
foregrounded in a movie, it is significant that she is cast
as a lesbian in Boys on the Side. The significance lies not
only in the fact that the vehicle which finally allows her to
be a sexual entity, calls for her to be homosexual, but in
the fact that it is a Black woman in this role. According to
Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham in the "Metalanguage of Race,"
"race impregnates the simplest of meanings we take for
granted" (95). As such, casting a Black woman as the star of
a movie in which she is openly lesbian, and the only Black
person, means something. In "Women on Top, Boys on the Side


42
Clara's patois laden speech and her long dread locks
stand in direct contrast to the Hart's upper-class suburban
world. She implements changes in their routines, the food
they eat, and even decrees when it is time for Mrs. Hart to
dismantle the dead baby's nursery. Yet, it is the changes
that are wrought in David which are the focal point of the
movie. Of course, David does not like Clara at first, which
sets up the tug-of-war they must endure to get to know one
another. David is not used to adult attention, unless it is
in the negative. He has grown accustomed to spending his time
trying to be helpful to his mother and athletic for his
father in order that they might pay him some attention.
If the identifying characteristics of a mammy include
the nurturing of white children and alienation from one's own
community, then Clara's Hart is the perfect vehicle. Yet, not
only is Clara Mayfield David Hart's mammy, her body becomes
the space he uses to work through his own awakening desires
and assent into manhood. She is his primary source of nurture
and his first love, and he in exchange becomes her surrogate
son.
After a rocky start Clara and David eventually become
the best of friends. Their relationship moves even beyond the
typical servant/young charge relationship as Clara begins to
take him with her even on her weekends off. Clara becomes
very much the mythical wise-Black-mother kind of character.
The only person in house immune to her charms is the father
and even he cannot fire Clarathough he tries. Clara's


113
In order for television to achieve its workthat
is, to make meaning and produce pleasureit has to
draw upon and operate on the basis of a kind of
generalized societal common sense about the terms
of society and people's social location to it. The
social ground and the cultural terms on which it
works depend on assumptions about experience,
knowledge, familiarity, and the accessibility of
viewers to these assumptions. (9)
Just as television relies on the social and cultural codes
that have already been established to speak to its audience
so obviously does film. Just as film reproduces cultural and
social codings in order to communicate, so too all social
interaction depends upon some previous foundation for
meaning, and some agreed upon method of excavating and
exchanging meaning. As with any actor, Goldberg is important
to the process of creating and reifying both specific and
non-specific codic language on screen. However, Goldberg is
particularly important because of her popularity with
mainstream cinema audiences. In many ways mainstream cinema
audiences' perception of Black women is affected by their
perception of Goldberg. Not only do mainstream cinema
audiences like to see her in roles where she is disconnected
from any cultural or familial identity, they never get to see
her any other way. Thus, the decision not to represent her as
a mother to Black children signals the unwillingness and/or
inability of mainstream filmmakers and their audiences to
see Blackness as anything but an aside. To put it simply,
mainstream audiences do not seem to be interested in
"looking" at a Black woman or a Black family or Black people


4
being reduced to stereotypes in this culture. Black women
have had to articulate a theory of themselves in the wake of
a brutal history of being women in America. The importance
and power of popular culture as a whole is discussed in hopes
of elucidating the reciprocative relationship between
mainstream cinema audiences and the Hollywood movie-making
machine which operates in defining Black women in the media.


127
Sylvie is a potter in an unnamed New England town,
married to a white man. We first see Sylvie dressed in
Birkenstocks and white socks, with her locked hair pulled
into pony tails, saying good-bye to her three children. She
points to them one by one and tells them that she loves them,
but hesitates when it comes to her husband. As Rebecca deals
with the death of her husband, Sylvie is experiencing the
death of her own marriage. She constantly runs to Rebecca for
comfort as she believes Paul is withdrawing from her
emotionally. This constant need for reassurance from Rebecca
is in opposition to Goldberg's usual portrayal of the mammy
figure. But true to Hollywood form, by the end of the movie
the character of Sylvie has recovered enough to usher the
other women in the movie into an emotional healing ritual.
The most peculiar aspect of this movie is the
relationship (or the lack thereof) between Sylvie and her
husband. Sylvie spends much of the movie lamenting the
pending breakup of her marriage. Rebecca's stepmother
(Kathleen Turner) even treats Sylvie and Paul to a romantic
getaway that is supposed to save their marriage, but Sylvie
does not enjoy being with her husband. The segment depicting
Sylvie and Paul at the hotel is the most provocative of
Goldberg's scenes with a male counterpart. Goldberg is
dressed in a short silk pajama set and her husband is in the
process of painting her body. Paul kisses her body
passionately and looks for her to return his embrace. Sylvie
turns off completely. Sylvie ends his display of affection


192
CONCLUSION
Whoopi Goldberg has been able to play an abundant and
wide range of characters, at least on the surface. She has
portrayed everything from a computer programmer caught up in
international espionage to a Black Lesbian and a white man.
Whatever her role, Goldberg is always the slightly masculine,
largely androgynous, character who maintains a safe distance
from any exhibition of culture, family, or sexuality. Even
when culture, family and sexuality are at the very heart of a
movie. Hollywood is careful not to deviate from the formula
that has allowed them to endear Goldberg to the hearts of
mainstream cinema audiences. The foundation of Goldberg's
success has been her usefulness for making Blackness
palatable for mainstream film audiences.
Whenever Hollywood has allowed a Black actor to inhabit
the eschelons of stardom, they manage to utilize the cross
over formula. The reigning queen of cross-over, for the
moment, is Whoopi Goldberg. Goldberg is rarely, if at all,
presented in films where she mothers Black children, is
involved in relationships with Black men, or is in
significant friendships with other Black women. The way she
is and is not presented on film is directly relational to how
she will be perceived by her audience. Mainstream audiences



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PAGE 208

/' f VLJ 81,9(56,7< 2) )/25,'$


I certify that I have read this study and that in my
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality,
as a disseration for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Associate Professor of
Nursing
This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate
Faculty of the Department of English in the College of
Liberal Arts and Sciences and to the Graduate School and
was accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for
the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
August 1999
Dean, Graduate School


109
the waiters. Perhaps this explains Laurel's reasons for
masquerading as a white man and not a Black one. The scene
seems to say that the only legitimate place for Blacks in the
corporate world is as servants.6 Any other access they gain
must result from deception and denial. Laurel must deny both
her race and her gender and delude both her clients and
herself in order to succeed.
Tania Modleski elucidates the causes and consequences of
cross-dressing in "A Woman's Gotta Do . What a Man's
Gotta Do? Cross-Dressing in the Western." She critiques the
movie The Ballad of Little Jo, the plot of which illumines
the true story of Josephine Monaghan. Modleski writes that:
6 Just as the character Terry could only gain access to the British
Embassy in Jumpin Jack Flash as an entertainer, the same is true
here, though the categories have been enlarged from entertainers to
servants. Additionally, it is interesting that even in pretending to
be Robert Cutty, the Laurel character is still performing for and
entertaining the room full of white people.


174
movie Bernie has found the real murderer and he tries to stab
her with an ice pick. Not long after this he tries to drown
her. When his drowning attempt fails they resort to fighting
it out like real men. Certainly there is a discernable
pattern in her early film roles that shows a blatant
disregard, and perhaps even a fetish, for the physical abuse
of the Goldberg character. The fact that she always fights
back seems to give the abusive men in these movies even more
reason to hit her. Or, it is, perhaps, Goldberg's androgynous
persona that gives the filmmakers enough reason to present
her in such scenarios? No matter the reasoning behind her
numerous fist-fights and the many ceilings and shelves that
fall on her, no matter how many times she jumps from a moving
car or is dragged down the street in a phone booth, there
appears a definite wish to physically assault her.
As I stated previously, the fact that Bernie is Black is
handled a bit differently in this movie than in the other two
mentioned. In Jumpin' Jack Flash the fact that Terri is Black
is so meticulously ignored, it is nearly erased (at least as
much as is possible in film). In Fatal Beauty, Rizzoli's
ethnicity is at constant issue. She is the brunt of every old
joke and stereotypical image. Burglar is different in that it
does not avoid issues of race, nor seemingly evoke racist
ideology. Instead Burglar attempts to foreground issues of
race and even make fun of them. For example, it is apparent
that Goldberg has blue contact lenses throughout the movie.
While this seems a small matter, she wears blue contact


172
Spy, Detective, Burglar
Hollywood's next attempt to cast Goldberg in a movie
resulted in 1987's Burglar. Burglar demonstrates that same
strangeness and ambiguity in the presentation of her
character, as well as the same need to verbally abuse her.
What is different about this movie is the way in which her
ethnicity is addressed. Blackness is less of a marker for
difference and more an opportunity to make fun of that
difference.
Bernie Rhodenbarr is a convicted cat burglar who does
not see recidivism as an option. However, Bernie is
blackmailed by a corrupt police detective into returning to
her life of crime. He has enough evidence against her from a
previous burglary to send her back to jail. In order to pay
the detective his hush money, Bernie sees one last robbery as
her only recourse. Yet, as Hollywood would have it Bernie's
intended victim is murdered while she hides in his closet.
The police then suspect Bernie of not only robbery but murder
as well. Thus Burglar is the tale of how Bernie goes about
proving her innocence while running from the entire San
Francisco Police Department.
The movie opens with a shot of a Black maid getting off
a bus in a wealthy neighborhood. Bernie has disguised herself
as a maid in order to enter a rich man's home and rob it. It
is noteworthy that Bernie chooses to cloak herself as a maid


123
With few exceptions, Goldberg's career has been
made on her talent for playing desexualized clowns,
non-threatening black fantasy women who can appeal
to a mass white audience and her improbable
impersonation of a nun. But perhaps part of
Goldberg's appeal may be precisely that her
characterizations provide a comforting respite from
the constant negotiations about race which other
films featuring black performers require, since her
ethnicity is never a controversial issue. (24)
Ross confirms the premise that Goldberg's career has been
built on the fact that her ethnicity is never
confrontational. It never demands that mainstream cinema
audiences be held accountable for race relations in this
society, but rather sells and sells again the filmic myth of
ethnic harmony. Mainstream audiences are secure both in their
seats and in their identity when attending a Goldberg film.
If Goldberg is rarely seen in movies where she mothers
Black children, then her appearances opposite a Black male
are almost nonexistent. So too are her on-screen
relationships with Black women. The same is not true however
of her in romantic relationships with white men. Corrina,
Corrina; Made in America, Fatal Beauty, and Moonlight and
Valentino all feature Goldberg in romantic relationships with
white counterparts. Even Jumpin' Jack Flash features Goldberg
with a white romantic interest, although their interaction
takes place mostly on-line. In Corrina, Corrina and Clara's
Hart she is married to Black men but they are in absentia. In
Eddie, Sarafina, Made in America, and Ghosts of Mississippi,
her Black husbands are dead. Thus, The Long Walk Home and


31
images of Black people as nurturers and enablers, not with
fully developed characterizations. Hence, it behooves the
film industry to continue to perpetuate the image of the
mammy because that is what their audiences are familiar and
comfortable with seeing. Mainstream audiences are comfortable
seeing what they have always seen and with viewing Blackness
as the peripheral character even when she/he is central to
the narravtive. White audiences are content to see Blackness
serving to further the life or development of white
characters, with it prompting and saving them in setbacks and
in sickness. The result is a cycle that is rarely challenged,
the circle remains unbroken. Even when there is evidence that
some elements of mainstream audiences can and do watch so-
called "Black" movies, for instance the cross-over success
Waiting to Exhale, the movie industry still does not deviate
from its formula.
Yet, even with all the trouble the movie industry has
with presenting Blackness on screen there remains a need to
do so. Implicit in literature and film which attempt to
include some formation of Blackness is a kind of closeted
duality. The very creation of the mammy caricature and film's
willingness to perpetuate the image implies a double
consciousness in terms of race on the part of the dominant
society. Morrison writes:


71
audiences are then apt to assume, based on the demand for
Goldberg in film, that it entertains the dominant society to
see a Black woman disconnected from her community, childless,
loveless, void of sexuality, and ever willing to serve as
friend, nurturer and even savior to her white contemporaries.
While Goldberg is Hollywood's favorite Black actress,
she is by no means the only Black person allowed to act in
Hollywood. Periodically, Hollywood is even fond of making
"Black" movies. By Black here I refer to the rash of "gangsta
flicks" produced by major Hollywood studios in the early
1990's, whose content and target audience was Black. Also,
Hollywood began in the later half of this century to produce
a rash of "Black" comedies whose themes include how to have a
good time, how to date more women, and how to steal and not
get caughtFriday, How to Be a Player, and I Got the Hook
Up, etc. The Black community can also draw conclusions about
the fact that these kinds of films are produced for Black
audiences, virtually to the exclusion of any other kind of
film thematically. While mainstream audiences enjoy amiable
encounters with Blackness via Whoopi Goldberg, Black
audiences are left to films depicting shootouts and Black
comedians turned actors. The film fare for Black audiences
still primarily consists of Black on Black crime and cameo
appearances made by the Buffoon, the Whore and the Welfare
Queen (OKazawa-Rey, 25).l Stuart and other critics who believe
XI refer to movies like New Jack City, Boys in the 'Bood, Menance to
Society, and Straight Out of Brooklyn. While all of these movies
boast Black directors, their common theme is a lack of
multidimensional roles for women and an abundance of Black men


53
restored. Like Mrs. Hart and David, Molly and her father are
ushered into a new spiritual realm via the exposure they have
to their mammies. In both of these films Goldberg's
characterizations do what the mammy has always traditionally
done, they give their whole selves to their white family,
even their souls. The Goldberg characters, like the real
mammies before them, bring a kind of "black" magic into the
lives of their white families. No where is this more apparent
than Corrina's magical ability to make red lights turn green
and mute children speak.7
Another significant factor in Corrina, Corrina is the
time period of the movie. It seems to be the late 1950's or
early 60's. This, in and of itself, is a daring move on the
part of the filmmakers because they are portraying
interracial love during a time of particular racial unrest.
It has not become accepted to date interracially at this
time. Yet, this boldness is precisely one of the reasons the
movie's premise does not work. It is difficult to believe a
white man in middle-class society during this time period,
would risk an open relationship with a Black maid. Even in
the wake of his wife's death, and his daughter's obvious love
for Corrina, the storyline seems implausible. The audience is
left to wonder if the couple will ever really become a
couple. Although Manny does go to Corrina's house at the end
of the film to "get her back." She stops him from kissing her
7 Here I want to reiterate that I am not blaming Goldberg for the
kinds of roles she garners, but rather I am pointing out that the
most successful Black actress in Hollywood plays these kinds of
roles.


59
peripheral characters. Sister Mary Clarence's purpose in this
film is to bring spice to the life of the nuns. One need only
look at the movie poster of Goldberg in a nun's habit,
wearing sunglasses and red high-heeled shoes to evaluate her
role at the convent. Sister Mary Clarence's power is made all
the more apparent in Sister Act II. The nuns must call on the
Goldberg character to help them tame a rowdy bunch of inner-
city kids. Sister Mary Clarence returns to the nuns, this
time from a successful Las Vegas act, to become a music
instructor at the school the nuns now run. Ironically, it is
the same school Mary Clarence/Deloris Van Cartier attended as
a child. The nuns ask her to breathe on the young people in
the same way she did the nuns. Of course Sis. Mary Clarence
is able to answer their prayers after she wins the respect of
the kids. She does what she did in the original movie and
turns them into a choir. They are so spectacular that they
win a state competition and save their school which was in
danger of closing.
Sister Act II is different in that most of the young
people in the choir are Black or Hispanic. The principle
choir member is a young Lauren Hill whose mother (again
played by Sheryl Lee Ralph) does not want her to sing. Mary
Clarence must not only turn the kids into a choir but
convince the Lauren Hill character to pursue her dream. The
potential for a relationship between the Hill character and
Mary Clarence is never quite realized. While they eventually
come to respect one another, they spend most of the film


INTRODUCTION
I became interested in film and the power of images
after watching Daughters of the Dust, from Julie Dash. As I
sat in the theater struggling to understand the Gullah
dialect spoken by the characters, I remember being
overwhelmed by the images. I had never before seen so many
Black women, on one movie screen, who kept all their clothes
on, and who were not fleeing from the "massa." I was inspired
by the range and depth of Black womanhood Dash's film
represented. There were young girls and old women in the
film, and neither state was presented as preferable. I saw
wrinkles and gray hair right next to nubile young bodies. I
saw yellow women and blue-black women and women the color of
caramel. Blackness was celebrated, embraced, and even touted
in a way I had never seen. I realized as I left the theater
that I had never before departed an encounter with the silver
screen thinking Black women, Black people as a whole, were
beautiful.
After that occasion, I knew that I wanted to write a
paper that centered around film and the way Black women are
(re)presented in it. It was not difficult to choose Whoopi
Goldberg as the impetus of my dissertation. She seems at
times to be only Black woman making Hollywood films. In a
1


155
problems gaining access nor does she have a problem
attracting the admiration of a white male. What was
inadmissible in the form of a Black woman becomes possible in
her capacity as a legitimate object. After all, there is no
need to take her seriously if she is only entertainment. Its
permissible to laugh at her, even ridicule her, because she
is not a legitimate guest and not on the same "level" as the
other guests.
Terri's denotation as entertainment prevents the guest
at the British Embassy from having to take her seriously. The
loud dress, the loud wig, and her loud mouth prevent the
audience from having to address her as a woman, and
especially, a Black woman. As if the point about her lack of
legitimate femininity were not taken, there is a scene in
which Terri shimmies up the roof and almost falls off while
in her evening gown. After accomplishing her mission in the
computer room, she brushes up against a paper shredder which
proceeds to pull her dress from her body. The scene is indeed
comic as she struggles frantically to keep the machine from
eating her dress. In the end, she leaves the embassy looking
as if she had been in a fight. The once long gown now
resembles little more than a loin cloth. Perhaps a Black
audience would be more sensitive to the condition of her
dress at this point. The loin-cloth look of what was once an
evening gown comes dangerously near to envoking images of
savages in the jungle. Thus after Terri's encounter with the


39
experience when presented dehumanizing images of themselves
on screen. In general, Black people are so used to the
cardboard caricatures that they have all but given up hope of
seeing complex, comprehensive and undiminished images of
themselves on screenespecially in Hollywood films. For the
majority of Blacks, Goldberg does not represent a place where
insufficient representation is satisfied.
Lola Young re-empasizes this point in her critique of
the kinds of roles, the ways in which Black people are
allowed to appear on screen. Using Joseph Conrad's Heart of
Darkness, Young speaks to the historical use Africa and
everything relating to the African continent, as the space
wherein whites could play out their fantasies. Young writes
that:


65
Body Spaces
Goldberg's film presence as a (non)sexual entity is
predicated on her dark complexion and her gender. However,
before examining the reproduction of Goldberg on screen as a
(non)sexual being it is necessary to do what the camera does-
-look at her physical body. Most of the time when a Black
woman is looked at by the camera, whether in motion picture
or on television, she is like foreign matter in the lens. For
instance, Susan Dworkin, writing for Ms. Magazine, described
her as "a graceful black woman with ebullient teeth and hands
like happy birds" (12). Goldberg's dark complexion conjures
up animalistic and savage imagery that reflect the myths
about Blackness in Western societies. Blackness has always
been equated with deficiencies of mental, emotional and
social capacities as well as the absence of light. In Black
Skin, White Masks, Franz Fann refers to the awareness of
Blackness not just as a skin color, but as a discourse as
"racial epidermal schema" (112). There are inferences and
ramifications that exist because of the simple presence of
black skin. To be Black is to automatically have insinuations
and hypotheses constructed about your character and family
history. According to Fann:
I was responsible at the same time for my body, for
my race, for my ancestors. I subjected myself to an
objective examination, I discovered my blackness,
my ethnic characteristics; and I was battered down


186
she doesn't have a priest absolve her, so off to confession
they go. Homer makes Eddie swear never to kill again.
As soon as they arrive in Homer's town, Eddie sees a
man dressed as Jesus carrying a cross. Eddie becomes excited
and sets out to find this Jesus. Although she never says why,
it becomes extremely important for Eddie to find Jesus.
However, salvation for Eddie is elusive. She is always
catching glimpses of him just as he turns a corner. Eddie
cannot convince Homer that what she is seeing is real. She
chases Jesus everytime she sees him, but can never catch him.
In the end, Eddie does finally get to see the man
dressed in long robes and carrying a cross, but it is too
late. Once Eddie sees Homer's old friends and community
accept him back, she feels out of place. Before leaving town,
she drops Homer's suitcase and all the money she has with one
of Homer's friends. In the throes of one of her headaches,
she stops at a convience store for aspirin. She empties her
pockets looking for money and realizes that she has left it
all with Homer. Eddie is the picture of desperation as she
bargains feverously with the clerk to just sell her just one
aspirin. In searching for her money, she pulls her gun out of
her pocket and the clerk thinks he is being robbed. She tries
to tell him that she is not robbing him, but he pushes money
into her hands and begs her to leave. On her way out the door
Eddie turns around to explain herself, but the clerk shoots.
Homer, who has been searching for Eddie, arrives just in time
to see her stumble out of the store and on to the sidewalk.


158
toboggan, and a scarf. She looks, and acts, like a clown in
the opening shot. After getting out of bed and banging on her
radiator, the camera pauses on her scratching her backside.
It is as if the movie makers cannot wait for Goldberg to be
funny on her own but must inject such behavior in order to
insure the audiences that they need not take her seriously.
It is possible to see emerging from her early films,
beginning with Jumpin' Jack Flash, the filmmakers
experimentation with the buffoon as a way to package
Goldberg. While her talent and perhaps even the intricacies
of some of the roles themselves do not contribute to her
presentation as the buffoon, the way she is physically
presented on screen certainly does. As the Hollywood machine
found it difficult to present Goldberg to mainstream film
audiences, at least before they revived the mammy, it was
only natural that they experiment with the buffoon
caricature. According to Donald Bogle one of the primary
characteristics of the buffoon in Hollywood cinema was that
he (usually) was asexual (7).
In Jumpin Jack Flash it was impossible that Terri
Doolittle be the typical attractive woman. There has to be
some sort of buffer between her and the character of Jack.
The logistics of the relationship between Terri and Jack is
especially delicate because the audience is aware that Terri
is alone and has no family or significant other. They also
know she is a romantic and loves adventure, at least
vicariously, from the movie posters on her walls. Thus it


95
particular look. Hollywood does not alter a formula if it
works. The concoction that is Whoopi Goldberg stripped of
femininity, sexuality, and culture is what Hollywood needs.
As early as 1973 Mae C. King wrote in "The Politics of
Sexual Stereotypes" that 'the invisible orientation,' i.e., a
kind of non-recognition by America of the black woman's
existence, tends to prevail in the absence of the negative
stereotype" (20). King is pointing to the tendency of society
either to think of the Black woman in stereotypical terms, or
to ignore her altogether. As both a producer and a production
of society, Hollywood film is no different. The filmmakers
use the parts of Goldberg that are beneficial, but they
ignore the parts of her that would require effort to
negotiate or disturb established boundaries. Thus, family,
community, and femininity are all ignored in the body of
Whoopi Goldberg.
Not only are many of these aspects ignored but many of
her films work to conceal them. For instance, in Made in
America Goldberg is presented in the rare capacities of
mother and romantic interest. But even these roles are not
typical in that she conceives her child via a sperm donor and
she and her love interest spend most of their scenes arguing.
Even the very physical presence of her body is
surreptitiously presented in most of her films. Goldberg is
readily recognized for a kind of asexual dress that never
accentuates her body. Even in the evening gown scene from
Jumpin' Jack Flash, she does not look feminine or even


19
society. The dominant society tends to see her as harmless,
gentle, even likable, while African Americans see her as a
by-product of racism.
According to Patricia Hill-Collins the mammy figure was
and continues to be so potent not only because of the
multiplicity of readings she generates, but because she
helped to perpetuate a certain maternal, economic and
psychical order. Hill-Collins writes:
The first controlling image applied to African-
American women is that of the mammythe faithful,
obedient domestic servant. Created to justify the
economic exploitation of house slaves and sustained
to explain Black women's long-standing restriction
to domestic service, the mammy image represents the
normative yardstick used to evaluate all Black
women's behavior. By loving, nurturing, and caring
for her white children and "family" better than her
own, the mammy symbolizes the dominant group's
perceptions of the ideal Black female relationship
to elite white male power. (71)
Thus dominant society is comfortable with the mammy figure
because there is little tension inherent in their
relationship. Andrea Stuart writes in her article, "Making
Whoopi," "Indeed, Goldberg's appeal, at least in film, lies
perhaps in the fact that she is unthreatening, even relaxing"
(13). Stuart reiterates the notion that Whoopi Goldberg is
successful because she does not threaten her audience or
persuade them to feel guilty or responsible for the state of
race affairs in America. Just as the mammy made those she
served feel comfortable and did not consciously remind them
of either her Blackness or their whiteness, such is the
appeal of Goldberg. Therefore, Hill-Collins sees the very


130
minimum. Thus it would be unlikely to see Goldberg in a movie
which actually featured her in a relationship with a man (no
matter his race) that ended or began successfully.
Corrina, Corrina is the movie that best features
Goldberg in a relationship. While we do get on screen kisses
and even controversy over the difference in Corrina's and
Manny's (Ray Liotta) race we can get no satisfactory
conclusion to their romance. At the end of the movie, the
audience is left to believe that the two will continue their
relationship, but are not given any clues as to how they will
go about it. One of the reasons the audience is not convinced
that the romance will work is Molly. Just as Rebecca serves
as a boundary to the relationship between Sylvie and Paul, so
too is MollyManny's daughtera boundary in their
relationship. It is because the newly widowed father needs a
housekeeper that Corrina and he meet. He comes to know
Corrina and have respect for her because she takes such good
care of his daughter. Hence, Molly both defines and confines
their relationship. They are employer and employee even in
the midst of their budding romance. When Manny fires Corrina
it is because she assumed too much authority over Molly. When
Manny asks Corrina to come back into their lives it is
because he can find no one to replace her in Molly's life or
in his. Their relationship works on screen because their
common interest is the little girl. Audiences are so enamored
of Manny and Corrinas relationship with Molly, and Molly's
enthusiasm for them, that movie is allowed to end with the


100
damaged so that attempts at intimacy are arrested or aborted.
Glaring white bandages on her head and a cast on her leg act
as sufficient stop signs for any amorous advances from her
suitors and any deviation from the way she is "normally"
presented.
Again, any effort at intimacy is effectively stymied in
Bogus because Bogus is an imaginary charactereven within
the film's diagetic space. The only real man with whom
Goldberg comes in sustained contact in this film is her
bankerwho happens to be Black and single. Yet, the only
conversation between the two is business. When the banker
makes it personal by inviting her to his son's birthday
party, she is so uncomfortable she nearly ruins the
gathering.
Sexual Freedom and Freedom From Sexuality
S. V. Hartman and Farah Jasmine Griffin contend in "Are
You as Colored as That Negro?: The Politics of Being Seen in
Julie Dash's Illusion," that the black woman in mainstream
film is little more than her body parts. They write that "the
body exposes us. It is a site of shame. "The truth" of the
body becomes evidence used against us" (362). In a medium
designed to exalt the body (the white body), the Black body
bears the repercussions of not quite measuring up. It is also
subject to splintering so that Black women in most Hollywood
films end up being hands, feet, or just vaginas. Goldberg is


183
since meeting her mother. We can assume that Linda is an
alcoholic because Eddie looks for her in a bar and finds her
with an empty liquor bottle. Another safe supposition is that
Linda could not help or control Eddie. They mention "the
trouble" Eddie had as a child as if the only recourse was to
institutionalize her. Linda's subsequent question, "Did they
fix you?" is also a clue as to the kind of relationship Eddie
and her mother must have had. However, these are only clues.
Important questions are left unanswered and the audience
leaves the graveyard scene almost as confused as when they
entered.
The basic premise of this chapter is that beyond the
mammy caricature Hollywood had difficulty casting. This is
apparent in the opportunities to cast Goldberg in
multidimensional roles and Hollywood's susequent failure to
do so. Homer and Eddie is a lost opportunity. Eddie comes
home to her mother because she needs help. Given her escape
from a mental institution and the two murders, one of the
last places Eddie should try to return to is her home. Yet,
home is the place both she and Homer are trying to reach
throughout the film. Homer is going home to start over. Eddie
is going home to die.
Black women in this country have a cultural legacy which
tells them to look to their communities, their families, and
in particular to their mothers, when they are confused and/or
under duress (Hill-Collins, 118). Eddie is both of these
things given her terminal diagnosis and the chaotic results


107
signs that Blackness is a culture and history in addition to
skin color.
In the end, Boys on the Side follows the typical
Goldberg formula and does not even live up to its name. Boys
are never an aside in this movie. Even though they may die,
they remain at the center of the three women's existence. The
women are either on trial for murdering them, having their
babies, dying from unions with them, or in Jane's case
trying to make sure the woman she loves has sex with one,
one last time.
Hollywood film not only made a half-hearted attempt to
present Goldberg as a lesbian, but they took her to the world
of cross-dressing. In The Associate, Goldberg is a Wall
Street executive named Laurel Ayers. After losing a promotion
to the young white man she trained, Laurel realizes that the
world of high finance is still made up of good-old-boys. She
starts her own company only to find that no one wants to do
business with a company headed by a Black woman. To survive
Laurel literally creates a business partner named Robert
Cutty. Cutty is none other than Goldberg heavily made up to
look like a man. But Goldberg is not just impersonating any
man, she trades both her skin and her gender in this role. As
Robert Cutty, the white man, Laurel is able to secure both
the respect and the clients who would have otherwise eluded
her.
The Associate, like Boys on the Side, is an opportunity
lost. The film could examine the myths surrounding Black


96
attractive in her electric-blue, sequined evening gown. The
contrast of the blue gown, with a red wig and her dark skin
is far from complimentary. She looks as she is intended to
look, like a clown. Even the peripheral characters in the
movie mistake her for a tranvestite prostitute in her blue
gown. Such a comment works purposefully to thwart her
sexuality.
Additionally, in Jumpin' Jack Flash, there is a scene
wherein Goldberg has to enter a party at the British Embassy.
In lieu of a legitimate invitation to enter, she presses
"play" on the Walkman strapped around the waist of her blue
evening gown and begins to lip-synch Diana Ross. While the
white people stand around her mouthing "Aren't you . .?,"
Goldberg dances off to rescue her computer pen-pal. The body
is accentuated as spectacle by the fact that it is an
entertainer that Goldberg must mimic in order to gain access
to the Embassy. At such a posh affair, where the guests are
expecting the Queen, the only way for Goldberg to enter is as
the entertainment. Also, Goldberg looks nothing like Diana
Ross, the guests at the party see a Black woman singing "You
Can't Hurry Love" and assume that she must be Diana Ross.
This scene in Jumpin' Jack Flash plays on the racist adage
that all Black people look alike. Thus, the Black woman as an
individual is discarded. In the minds of people at the party,
as well as the audience, Goldberg's only legitimate reason
for attending such an event is that she must be there to
entertain.


67
entirely to her talent, though it is phenomenal. The
combination of fortune, talent and all the racial/gendered
connotations she embodies and/or erases, as a Black woman,
contribute to her achievement.
One can add to Fann's theories concerning the
presumptuous meanings associated with Blackness, those
associated with Black femaleness. It is then possible to
explain why Goldberg has managed to become so successful.
She is dark complexioned and even her hair evokes meaning.
Goldberg's body, which is rarely given attention in her
films, is not overly thin or muscled as is typical with
female stars. Goldberg does not noticeably wear make-up. Her
walk, mannerisms, and voice are often described as masculine
(Stuart, 12). When Goldberg is discussed all of these
discourses and physical body markers collide. There is no
easy methodology to describe the spaces her physical body
calls forth. Hers is a physique Hollywood cinema usually
avoids when casting the female stars of their movies. Yet,
Goldberg has managed to be the most successful Black woman in
Hollywood film. She is a site filled with contradictions. She
is the physical epitome of a Black woman for mainstream film
audiences.
The widely accepted connotations about Blacks as put
forth by the media seem to fill the body of Whoopi Goldberg.
However, on further examination her dark complexion, her
natural hair, and other attributes that stereotype Black
women, become pantomimes. They signify the body of Black


146
Stella Got Her Groove Back is typical of her presence in most
films. Goldberg is there to advance the narrative and the
lives of any of the characters besides the one she is
playing. She also appears in this movie less as an actress
who can enrich the tapestry of the film, and more as a means
of attracting mainstream audiences.


156
highest echelons of society she returns to her home looking
beaten and defeated.
Again, the significance of this scene as a safety
mechanism is quite obvious. Not only is Terri a terribly
unattractive Black person, ala blonde wig and fire blue
dress, she is equally unattractive as a woman. On her way
home she is mistaken for a transvestite-prostitute. The
double-entendre here is quite telling. A Black woman walking
down the street dressed as she is must be a prostitute and
such a masculine looking prostitute must be in actuality a
man.
Jumpin' Jack Flash does a wonderful job of subverting
Terri's Blackness as well as her femininity. It is as if the
filmmakers intend that the audience simply look over the fact
that Terri is Black. In and of itself, this prompting of the
audience to be colorblind seems to promote multiculturalism,
but in this instance it does not. Trivializing her ethnicity,
is the same or worse than negating it, because both are done
so that mainstream audiences are comfortable with or
oblivious to ethnic difference on screen. It is easy not to
see Terri Doolittle (and most Goldberg characters) as Black
because the only thing Black about them is usually their
skin-color. It is important here that I point out that I am
not essentializing what is means to be Black, but pointing to
Blackness as a culture predicated upon many things besides
skin-color. Blackness has only to do with skin-color in so
far that complexion was typically the signifier for creating


104
up having to read homosexuality in the film, but instead are
allowed read Blackness in the place of it.
As Pellegrini observes, Jane is the only Black woman
among the main characters and the only one who claims to be a
lesbian. Both the Drew Barrymore (Holly) and Mary-Louise
Parker (Robin) characters are marked as anything but
lesbians. Holly and Robin's whiteness, as opposed to Jane's
Blackness, function as markers to differentiate between
heterosexuality and homosexuality. In addition to both of
them stating throughout the film that they are not gay, and
the evidence of their white skin, both bear in their bodies
the signs of their sexual relationships with men. Holly
(Barrymore) becomes pregnant in the film and Robin (Parker)
is in the last stages of her bout with AIDS. Holly and Robin
though marked differently by their involvement with men (one
with life the other with death) are none-the-less inscribed.
We cannot mistake them for lesbians because they wear their
heterosexuality literally upon their bodies.
While Boys on the Side could use Goldberg as a conduit
for expressing homosexuality, they could not effectively use
her as a character with AIDS. Although, in its public
perception AIDS was a disease originally associated with
homosexual males, it has never been associated with lesbians.
Subsequently AIDS now has the additional stigma of being
associated with heterosexual promiscuity. Goldberg can be
presented as the lone lesbian, but again, not as promiscuous.
To associate her with AIDS is to invoke the image of the


33
In The Imaginary Signifier, Christian Metz writes about
the ability of the signifier to act upon the signified. He
uses the word "Bordeaux" pointing to its literal meaning as
the sight where a certain wine is produced, and its
transmuted meaning as the wine itself (154-158). Of
importance here is the ability of the secondary figure to
have monumental influence upon and even usurp the place of
the primary. Perhaps this theory applies in part to the
anxious way in which film deals with Blackness. While the
relegation of Blackness into convenient and facilitating
caricatures actualizes the hegemony's need to define it;
defining Blackness is also the dominant society's way of
defining it self. The objectifying gaze does not just push
Blackness, Black women specifically, into the margins but
subjects them to superfragmented and partial meanings which
make complete meanings possible for the objectifier.
Defining Blackness makes it easy to be used as a reference
point, and self-circumscription in relation to it seems
natural. Thus the signifier has "significant" influence in
its relationship to the signified. While it is true that
relegating Blackness to positions of inferiority makes
whiteness appear superior, Blackness does act back upon
whiteness to influence its definition. Hence, Morrison's
summation of whiteness is that it needs Blackness to exist.
In his essay simply titled "White," Richard Dyer writes:


64
to address their peripheral position as subjects of the gaze.
Trapped in the shadows outside of the gaze, the Black woman
is certainly the beneficiary of "left-over" looks. Whatever
emphasis is left over from a gaze that objectifies the white
woman subjects the Black woman to its refractions/remains.
Remnants of the gaze that do not adhere to the white woman,
deposit themselves on the body of the Black woman. She is
left with everything that remains in relation to the gaze.
This results in the Black woman being over and outside the
adoring aspects of the gaze, but as the over-emphasized, the
over-done, the over-emulated and overwhelmingly stereotypical
depictions of Black women. These stereotypes have lives of
their own. Usually, if seen at all, Black women are presented
as caricatures. Thus the gaze as feminist film theory
proposes it often renders the Black woman's image
stereotypical, it leaves her out and/or alone.
Given the popularity and the magnitude of her work, the
Black body of Whoopi Goldberg would seem the obvious site for
the nexus between surplus looks and fully rendered, multi
dimensional presentations. However Goldberg's body as films
re-present it, has been relieved of any such burden. In
Goldberg, it is possible to see what happens to the sexless
Black female whose filmic image is continually presented and
consumed, yet remains emptied of all sexual significance.


57
Once Harriet comes back to reality she must rescue the
sleep walking Albert from the roof of their building. Albert
has imagined that he is ascending a latter to meet his
mother, while Bogus rushes to prevent him. But, it is Harriet
who must prevent Albert from choosing a fantasy world rather
than reality. Thus, once again the mammy figure ends up
providing the white child with needed nourishment. This time,
however she provides reality rather than magic.
As with most of Goldberg's other films race is mentioned
only in passing. When Harriet first receives the call that
her foster sister is dead and that she must take charge of
the child, Harriet's first response is "I assume he's white."
Albert's mother's best friend who is also Black (played by
Sherly Lee Ralph) responds that Albert's mother would be
upset is she knew Harriet thought that "Black gets in the
way." In the context of the conversation between Harriet and
the friend, which takes place over the phone, it would seem
that it would have been white that gets in the and way not
Black. While this comment is never explained it is the only
time their perspective races are mentioned. Even when
Goldberg registers the little white boy for school and even
when she introduces him to her banker, who is also Black,
race is never presented as a factor again.
At the end of the film Harriet and Albert are seen as
having bonded as they stand at his mother's grave with
flowers. Harriet is again dressed in a long, white dress,
complete with a hat covered with flowers. This is a far cry


REFERENCES
Agger, Ben. Cultural Studies as Critical Theory. London:
The Falmer Press, 1992.
Bobo, Jacqueline. Black Women as Cultural Readers. New York:
Columbia UP, 1995.
Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mammies, Mulattoes, and Bucks.
An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films.
3rd ed. New York: Continuum, 1991.
Bonner, Lonnice Brittenum. Plaited Glory: For Colored Girls
Who've Considered Braids, Locks, and Twists. New York:
Crown, 1996.
Bourne, Stephen. "Denying Her Place: Hattie McDaniel's
Surprising Acts." Icons 4.2 (1991): 37-42
Boyd, Herb. "African-American Images On Television and
Film." Crisis 103.2 (1996): 23-25.
Chambers, John W. Jr., et al. "Perceived Attractiveness,
Facial Features, and African Self-Consciousness."
Journal of Black Psychology 20.3 (1994): 305-309.
Collins, Patricia Hill. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge,
Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New
York: Routledge, 1991.
DeLaria, Lea. "Whoopi Goldberg Lesbian at Work." The
Advocate 674.2 (1995): 46-52.
Dworkin, Susan. "Whoopi GoldbergIn Performance." Ms.
Magazine 12 May 1984: 20.
Dyer, Richard."White." Screen: The last 'Special Issue" on
Race?" 29.4 (1988): 44-65.
Ellis, Trey. "Did Hollywood Set Out to Undo Eddie Murphy?:
The Gay Subtext in Beverly Hills Cop." Black Film
Review (Spring 1987): 15-17.
195


149
natural, but one who wore her hair in "dreadlocks." Thus,
there could be no "passing" for white, half-white or even
Hispanic for her on screen. Like the Afro of the 1960's and
70's her hairstyle bore certain political connotations. The
most popular explanation of the "dreadlock" has its roots in
Rastafarianism. Rastafarians, as they called themselves, were
a group of militant Jamaicans who swore their allegiance to
Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Rastafarians, believed that
Selassie was the messiah and Africa the Promised Land
(Bonner, 81). Thus, Goldberg's early appropriation of this
symbol as fashion would have to have been taken into
consideration as Hollywood delineated a marketing strategy.
Another dilemma for Hollywood was actually Goldberg's
phenomenal talent. Because she had built up a following as a
comedienne, and had also proven her talent as a dramatic
actress in The Color Purple (inspite of its mixed critical
reception) they were at a loss as to how to present her.
Since Goldberg would be receiving star billing they could not
very well make her a prostitute or a drug addict, at least
not in every film. Whores and crack heads were still the
roles of choice for Black actresses at the time. Neither
could the movie makers risk more controversy and the loss of
box office receipts by involving her in inter-racial
romances. Giving Goldberg a Black leading man would have
resulted in the dreaded "Black movie." Hollywood's solution
was something of a haphazard formula, a hodge-podge of
characters that almost ruined Goldberg's career. Out of


55
that must go on in Goldberg's character as well. In Bogus,
Harriet Franklin is an extreme realist. She has no
imagination and is only concerned with expanding her
restaurant supply business. It will require the intervention
of the little boy Albert and his friend Bogus for Harriet to
be restored. Again, the Goldberg character is removed from
the Black community, and although quite engaging, she is
missing her usual spiritual connection. It will be the child
who is able to restore Goldberg's zest for life in this
scenario.
Yet, Goldberg's film persona is so overwhelming that it
is unbelievable that she has no interests outside of work.
The audience is given a sketchy history wherein Goldberg's
disallusionment is explained away by having to be reared as a
foster child. Whatever the circumstances that took her from
her family have left her driven, cranky and lacking a sense
of humor. Perhaps the film's apparent failure lies in the
fact that it is almost impossible to imagine Goldberg without
a sense of humor. The connection that existed between Clara
and David is missing between Harriet and Albert. It is
difficult to believe Albert can renew Harriets verve for
life.
Bogus seeks to invert the mammy formula by having magic
restored to the life of the main character via a child. While
in most of her other vehicles Goldberg possesses the secret
of joy, here she is scripted as having lost it. Harriet
Franklin does not laugh, or even have a social life. When she


151
Black comedian Chris Tucker, and Asian Martial Arts expert,
Jackie Chan. Given this particular formula's historical and
potential success, it is no wonder that Hollywood tried to
develop an amalgamation of it to fit Whoopi Goldberg.
As Hollywood's premiere Black actress in the late 1980's
a series of roles had to be developed for Goldberg that
eliminated all of the taboo subjects. Hollywood was not
interested in testing its audience's tolerance of inter
racial romances and were not yet aware of Goldberg's appeal
as nurturer. They were also reluctant to cast another woman
(Black or white) opposite Goldberg and of course could not
present her with a Black male protagonist. Thus, it seemed
their only recourse lay in creating another rendition of the
"Good-Buddy/Sidekick" movie. Their first attempt at defining
Goldberg as a Hollywood entity began with 1986's Jumpin' Jack
Flash.
Jumpin' Jack Flash is the story of Terri Doolittle, a
computer technician in a large New York bank. Terri likes to
carry on personal computer chats with her overseas clients. A
British spy trapped in Russia taps into her computer and the
adventure begins. Before exploring the narrative further it
is necessary to comment upon the way Terri Doolittle is
constructed. It is significant that the naming practices as
far as Goldberg characterizations are concerned, at least in
this segment of her career, usually signify androgyny. In
fact, the reason the British spy, Jack, even contacts Terri
is that he thinks she is a man. The blatant masculinization


87
In an ideas-bankrupt Hollywood at the beginning of
the 1970's, with white Americans leaving the cities
in droves, it was hardly surprising that Hollywood
looked to the success of Black produced films such
as Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song and Super Fly
and jumped on the bandwagon with alacrity. (18)
Hollywood saw an opportunity to make money from a previously
untapped audience. However, the Hollywood film industry is
first and foremost a business. Once it recovered the
mainstream audience, production of "Black" themed movies
stopped. The silver screen did not consistently exhibit Black
women in major roles again until Goldberg makes her debut in
the late 1980's. Perhaps in part, Hollywood's reception of
Goldberg is in part a backlash against the images they
marketed during the Blaxploitation period, and the images
that continue to be exhibited in the other facets of visual
media.
Image Is Everything
Patricia Hill Collins labels the intertwinings of gender
as biology and gender as sexuality, sexual politics (164).
Since this work is intensely concerned not only with
Goldberg's sexuality, but her race-gender and its
presentation on screen, the exploration of sexual politics as
it concerns Goldberg seems an adequate way of beginning
critique.
Hill Collins grounds an understanding of sexuality in
Foucaultian theory when she defines it as "socially


167
shifts the film from a story about a Black woman and the loss
of her son to a coming-of-age story for a young, white, male.
In Fatal Beauty, while the emphasis of the entire film does
not change the emphasis of the scene does. The way this scene
is edited moves the audience from empathy with Rizzoli to
empathy with Marshack. Rather than feeling compassion for
Rizzoli, the audience is applauding Marshack for his
willingness and his ability to comfort the woman. We no
longer see the Goldberg character and her pain, rather we see
the white male character and his solicitude. Which is
precisely why this scene does not strongly support a romantic
relationship between the two even though they sleep together.
Underscoring the fact that it is her story we hear but
his reaction we see, is the question of whether or not the
Sam Eliott character feels passion or compassion for
Goldberg. Since the now infamous love scene was cut out of
this movie we are left only with what happens immediately
before and after it. We hear Goldberg tell the intimate and
horrible details of her baby's death while the camera lingers
on Marshack's face. He puts his arms around her and looks as
if he is compelled to comfort her. Immediately afterward, the
camera opens on the unmade bed and we hear Goldberg from the
shower call for Marshack to answer the phone. The camera pans
around the empty bed as well as the empty bedroom. The
movement of the camera, the bed, Rizzoli's exit from the
shower, and her entreaties for "Mike to answer the phone all


122
and the presentation of sexuality and gender have all evolved
as society has evolved. Marilyn Monroe has become Julia
Roberts, Clark Gable has become Harrison Ford, so that at
least the appearance has changed. Yet, as much as identity
and definitions of identity change in society, as much as
they rotate and become fluid, film is one venue where the
changes are slow and minute. Film draws from the archetype.
It must produce a hero, a villain, a victim, and/or a killer.
It must do so because no matter how much individual identity
changes archetypes do not. This is particularly true when it
comes to presenting Black women on screen. Whoopi Goldberg is
the most prolific Black actress in Hollywood but in order to
be so, she must be presented in terms reminiscent of one of
history's most infamous archetypes. Hollywood cinema feeds
its audiences what appeals to them. Whoopi Goldberg as the
mammy reincarnated again and again appeals to mainstream
audiences. Mainstream audiences enjoy her like this because
to meet her in any other way is to cause shifts in, and
contradictions to, their own identity.
These shifts and contradictions involve acknowledgment
of the kind of inequalities that are inherent in this
society. Karen Ross writes in Black and White Media: Black
Images in Popular Film and Television:


89
as just a woman because just being a woman typically means
that she is white.
As I stated in the chapter on the mammy, one of the
reasons for Goldberg's phenomenal appeal to mainstream
audiences is the fact that she is simple to look at. She is
usually presented as one element of a person. Goldberg is
often a caricature of nurturing, wit, or charm and is easily
managed by mainstream audiences. Thus, not only does Goldberg
represent a way for mainstream audiences to encounter
Blackness without guilt, she does not threaten established
boundaries. Andrea Stuart writes that "in order to cross over
it seems that Goldberg has had to jettison the loaded sexual
exoticism usually associated with the black female performer,
as well as any potential political disruptiveness" (13).
Viewing Goldberg on screen does not require mainstream
audiences to confront the sexuality of, or their possible
sexual attraction to, a Black woman. Nor does their encounter
with Goldberg require that they renegotiate the socio
economic and socio-political boundaries that are currently in
place. Thus, Hollywood has capitalized on Goldberg primarily
as a non-sexual being.
Mainstream audiences are comfortable with Goldberg
because she is non-sexual, even asexual in her presentation.
In a society that uses sex to sell everything from dentures
to dog food this sudden aversion to sexuality is suspect.
Jane Gaines writes in "White Privilege and Looking Relations:
Race and Gender in Feminist Film Theory" that the Black


131
threat of Manny and Corrina's continuing their relationship.
It can conclude by implying that they are together, but not
by actually making it happen. Perhaps the most significant
line in the movie is when Manny's mother says: "A bird and a
fish can fall in love, but where will they make their nest?"
Mainstream audiences can deal with innuendoes of love between
the two, but do no have to negotiate them actually being
together.
A case can be made for Corrina, Corrina being an
exception to the rule when it comes to eradicating all traces
of the Black community. After all, Corrina lives with her
sister, brother-in-law and their three children. Yet, Corrina
and her sister are constantly fighting because of Corrina's
ambitions. Corrina is a college graduate and wants to review
Jazz music for magazines. However, she ends up working as a
maid and nanny because no publication would hire a Black
woman at the time. The sister sees Corrina's ambition as a
weakness. To her, Corrina's dreams get in the way of earning
a real living and remarrying and having a family. In her
sister's eyes Corrina is a failure because she has no man and
no family of her own. Corrina spends her free time hanging
out in Jazz clubs and playing Louis Armstrong records instead
of pursuing a husband and family. The only other significant
conversation that takes place between Corrina and another
Black person is one with the gentleman caller her sister
invites over. In an effort to get Corrina dating Black men,
her sister sets her up in hopes of seeing Corrina settle


153
work in oversized black pants, plaid shirts, and yellow
sneakers.
The contrast between what is desirable and what is
laughable does not end with the way Terri and Cynthia (the
Kane character) dress, but the way they relate with the men
in the office. The men in the office flirt with and tease
Cynthia, but they ask Terri for advice. Several times in the
movie Terri's computer picks up a Russian television program
featuring very masculine looking women in an aerobics class.
The men make cat calls and sexual innuendoes toward the women
on the screen, yet they ignore Terri. While it is evident
that the attention given to the Russion television show is
sarcastic, Terri does not garner any kind of admiration as a
woman. When compared to Cynthia she is not woman enough and
when considered next to the Russian women on the computer
screen, who epitomize androgyny, she is still lacking.
In what is perhaps one of the most well-known scenes in
all of Goldberg's movies, Terri is again set up to fail when
it comes to being admired as a feminine entity. It is the
scene in which Jack asks her to crash a ball at the British
embassy. The heretofore boyish looking Terri Doolittle shows
up at the embassy wearing a bright-blue sequined evening gown
and a strawberry blonde wig. It is quite obvious that this
scene is meant to paint Goldberg as the buffoon. There is
nothing about her appearance that bespeaks femininity or
attraction. Her manly swagger in blue high-heeled shoes is
quite laughable. She is clearly out of place not only in the


161
the street. Rizzoli is undercover and attempting to capture a
drug dealer. However, she interrupts her sting operation in
order to rescue a prostitute who is being beaten by her pimp.
The pimp turns on Rizzoli and punches her in the face and
kicks her repeatedly. All the while he is beating Rizzoli, he
is punctuating his blows with choruses of "nigger" and
"bitch." When she is finally able to best her attacker,
Rizzoli delivers what will be her signature line throughout
the movie, "don't call me bitch." The character does not
express rage at being called nigger, but at being called
bitch. It is noteworthy, that the pimp beats both women
unmercifully, but while he refers to the white prostitute as
bitch, he calls the Goldberg character a "nigger-bitch." It
is significant that Rizzoli overlooks being called a nigger,
but zeroes in on being called a bitch. Since Rizzoli can
ignore the connotations of being called a nigger this invites
the audience to do so as well. Perhaps the filmmakers are
concerned about referring to women as bitches, but are not
perplexed at referencing Blacks as niggers.
This opening scene sets the stage for the kind of racial
and gender imbalances that appear throughout this movie. For
example, shortly after her beating in the ally, Rizzoli is
called by two homicide detectives to identify a murder
victim. From the moment she arrives on the scene, she is the
brunt of both chauvinist and racist jokes. One of the
homicide detectives greets her by saying, "Here comes the
dusky little die." The other policeman follows suit by asking


CHAPTER 3
THE CROSSOVER FORMULA
Matriarchs
In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins writes
that the task of defining Black women falls to Black women.
The first public space Black women used to define themselves
was their storytelling, next it was their music, and lastly
it has been in their writing. The next frontier in which the
Black woman will construct herself is in cinema. In many of
the films by African American women (as with their fiction
and theory) cinematic depictions of Black women include
representations that resist stereotypes, particularly in the
face of those categories that are most closely associated
with womanhood. We have already examined the stereotypes that
have arisen concerning Black women and their ability to
mother white children. However, of equal import are the
tropes that herald the Black woman's tenuous relationship
with her own children. Also in question is her perceived
inability to exist in harmony with Black men and with other
Black women. This chapters looks at motherhood where a
Goldberg character is again doing the mothering, but this
time of Black children. It also examines the representations
of Goldberg when she is the wife of a Black man or the sister
111


32
If we follow through on the self-reflexive nature
of these encounters with Africanism, it falls
clear: images of blackness can be evil and
protective, rebellious and forgiving, fearful and
desirableall of the self-contradictory features
of the self. Whiteness alone, is mute, meaningless,
unfathomable, pointless, frozen, veiled, curtained,
dreaded, senseless, implacable. Or so our writers
seem to say. (59)
Morrison is pointing out the double-handedness in the
treatment of Black characters. Accordingly, the same Black
women characters who are inferior to whites (male and female)
on screen, somehow make great mammies, nurses and confidants.
If one looks at the way Whoopi Goldberg is constructed as an
actor, her characterizations also exhibit contradictions.
Goldberg is constantly portrayed as dispensing the kind of
nurturing that white characters cannot forgo. Basic
components of the white characters psyche or life education
are missing, or in stasis waiting for the super-nurturer to
coax it out.
In Tania Modleski's analysis of gender and race in film,
she labels Goldberg the "signifier of the signifier" (133).
Modleski is drawn to a recoding of Blackness similar to the
one defined by Morrison. While no one can argue that
Goldberg and many other black actors are not used to
perpetuate and sustain whiteness, it is possible to read
film's need to represent them so as significant. Perhaps it
is an involuntary acknowledgment of the effect naming
Blackness has upon naming whiteness.


133
and/or limiting her forays into romantic venues are the
elements of her crossover success. While mainstream audiences
are comfortable with this, many Black audiences understand
the implications of crossing over in both films and in
reality.
The Black audiences who are troubled by Goldberg's
presentation as the ever nurturing Black woman may be even
more troubled by mainstream cinema's reluctance to give her a
husband or a family. While it may seem that racial lines and
barriers crumble when Goldberg is presented in inter-racial
relationships (friendly and/or romantic), it is only an
illusion. This pseudo-multiculturalism can be interpreted as
another facet of the cross-over formula. The cross-over
formula calls for alienation, separation and even segregation
of the cross-over actor. In an essay entitled "Parallel
Careers: Goldberg and Poitier," Ernece B. Kelly contends that
mainstream cinema's foundational formula, "Hollywood's SOP
(Standard Operating Procedure)," is not usually applied in
cross-over movies (49). According to Kelly, the "boy likes
girl; boy romances girlfails to apply in [Goldberg's] case"
(49). I would add that even on the rare occasions that
Hollywood does give her a romantic interest, the boy and girl
do not end up happily ever after. Kelly further explicates
the cross-over formula by noting the way in which it calls
for the actors to be solely defined by their vocation. She
writes:


48
has shed his glasses and many other signs of boyhood. At the
hospital, he asks where he can find Clara and is pointed in
the direction of the children's ward. He finds Clara
surrounded by children, leading them in Jamaican songs. When
she sees David, she identifies him to the children as the one
she has talked about. She describes the young man before her
as the "remains of the boy" she knew. As Clara and David
begin their reunion there is a awkwardness between them. He
is no longer her "boy," and she is no longer his servant.
They find it difficult to meet one another as adults.6 After a
brief apology from David, they shake hands. The awkwardness
that is apparent between them is even more prominent when
they embrace. Yet Clara tells him that the bond they share is
"perfect and more powerful than blood." Clara nearly pushes
David away, dismisses him. Her words do nothing to alleviate
the distance between them. Yet, it is a distance not entirely
of their own making. Clara and David may still care for one
another but there is no place for their relationship. She
after all is not his mother, and he is too old for a mammy.
Their reunion ends quickly and the last shot is of Clara
standing in the window looking longingly after David as he
leaves.
It is impossible to overlook to power of Goldberg's
acting or the excellence of this particular script. Yet,
Clara's Hart does what Goldberg's other obvious mammy films
6 It is interesting to note here that typically and traditionally the
only kind of legitimate relationship that existed between white men
and Black women was that of master and servant.


188
ex-manager, who drops by with his girlfriend, and the
telephone repair man. Vashti does have a recurring argument
with her neighbor who remains offscreen. We hear the neighbor
yelling and beating on the wall while the Goldberg character
returns an even louder even louder response.
One of the reasons the film is difficult to watch is
that Goldberg is mostly responsible for carrying the piece.
While she is no stranger to one-woman shows and she cut her
teeth as a stand-up commedienne, it is extremely difficult to
carry on a monologue in an almost two-hour film. There is no
audience response or interaction and the lines become stale
and boring.
Even when Vashti tries to upset her neighbor by
pretending that she (Vashti) is a room full of people, it
does not work. In response to her neighbor's complaints about
the noise and constant declarations that Vashti is crazy,
Vashti pretends she is giving a dinner party. She assumes the
roles of all the characters at the dinner party. She is
herself, Leroy, the Queen, an opera singer, and a critic,
just to name a few. While it is possible to see her shift
into the different personalities, the presentation is so
manic that the audience becomes lost. Goldberg's performance
dengenerates into so much noise it is easy to believe Vashti
is crazy.
The hook that is supposed to make The Telephone work
does not surface until the very end of the film. Often
audiences do not make it this far through the film. Besides


76
I like the fact that it wasn't gritty. I think that
if it had been gritty it would have been too much
to handle. It was difficult to handle as it was .
. If it had been grittier it might have made that
even more uncomfortable, or it might have made me
back away from it so much that I couldn't feel it.
. . It would have been too ugly for me to watch.
And I wouldn't have seen it (96).
Whether the reading is positive or negative, it is important
to note these women's ability to negotiate this text in terms
of how Blackness is re-presented. They seem used to
navigating their imagery in very complex ways.
I don't mean to imply that every member of Black cinema
audiences engages filmic text looking to decode images of
themselves. Black audiences go to the cinema for the same
reason other audiences do. They want to be entertained. Yet,
given the historical and contemporary position of Blacks in
this society, it nearly impossible for them to avoid seeing
some aspect of their controversial position duplicated on
screen. As Stam writes in "Unspeakable Images,"
although it is true that complete realism is an
impossibility, it is also true that spectators
themselves come equipped with a "sense of the real"
rooted in their own social experience, on the basis
of which they can accept, question, or even subvert
a film's representation (254).
Thus, whether Black audiences are actually aware of it or
not, they bring their history and culture with them to a
film, just as any movie-goer does. Black audiences must
negotiate images of themselves on screen that are fraught


37
Here Stuart is articulating the very reason Goldberg is a
bone of contention between Black and white cinema audiences.
While it is impossible to speak in terms totality concerning
the taste and responses of "Black" and "white" cinema
audiences, given a boycott by the NAACP and comments from
well known Black cultural and film critics, it seems safe to
assume that the overwhelming majority of Whoopi Goldberg fans
are white. Stuart assumes that it is possible for moviegoers
to completely suspend their belief during the viewing of the
film. If that were the case, Goldberg would not have to be
completely removed from the Black community in the majority
of her films in order to sustain her popularity with white
audiences. Stuart assumes that Black audiences find it
"unthreatening" to see Goldberg as the only Black person on
the screen or of import in her movies. She assumes that Black
audiences find her estrangement from Black men and women and
children as "relaxing." I would argue that the abdication
from Black culture is precisely why Goldberg is not popular
with Black audiences, and why she is associated with the
mammy figure. Again, the most painful aspect of the mammy
figure for Black people is her separation from other Blacks
whether coerced or circumstantial. Perhaps Goldberg does
represent "a break from society's endless negotiations on the
subject of race" for white people, but that is not the case
for African diasporic audiences. While Stuart's call for a
racial time-out may read well, society is not there yet. One
of the few places where Blacks can rest from racial battles


54
outside on the porch because she has to "live in the
neighborhood." When they return to his home, his mother (who
has been the only one to really question the future of their
relationship) is being comforted by Molly after the death of
her husband. The car with Manny and Corrina pulls up to the
front of the house, they emerge and walk over to Molly and
her grandmother at the start of the credits. None of the
questions concerning what will happen between them are
answered. The closest the filmmakers can come to a happy
ending is Manny and Corrina standing together on a porch.
While of course films do not have to resolve every conflict,
this movie misses an opportunity to push the envelope. It
bypasses the opportunity to push Corrina out of the category
of mammy and into the post of woman. We do not see Manny
actually choose Corrina, we just hope that he does. The
ending of a film that has set itself up to make a major
statement about interracial relationships simply decides to
leave it open.
Another film which finds Goldberg caring for a white
child is the poorly rated Bogus. In this effort Goldberg is
again paired with a white man (Gerard DePardieu) but not
really. DePardieu is literally bogus, an imaginary friend
created by yet another white child who has lost a parent. In
1996's Bogus Whoopi Goldberg inherits the child of her foster
sister after the woman is killed in a car accident. Bogus is
more reminiscent of Clara 's Hart not only because the
children in question are boys but because there is a healing


178
Eddie is a little known film released just prior to
Goldberg's winning the Academy Award for her performance in
Ghost. In many ways the relationship between Homer (Jim
Belushi) and Eddie (Goldberg) is similar to that of Oda Mae
(Goldberg) and Sam (Patrick Swayze) in Ghost. In each of
these films the Goldberg character is labeled crazy and
exists seemingly to further the development of the white male
charactereven if he is dead. Yet Homer and Eddie is unique
in that Eddie is not just conveniently labeled crazy, but is
a bonified escapee from a mental institution.
In order to prevent any notions of romance between Homer
and Eddie not only is Eddie an escaped mental patient but
Homer has the mind of a fourteen-year-old child. Homer was
hit in the head by a baseball as a child and could never
mentally progress beyond the day of the accident. We meet him
as he is hitch-hiking his way home to see his parents whom
have not visited him in twenty years. When Homer meets Eddie
they become fast friends. Homer has been robbed of all of his
money and Eddie assumes responsibility for their care. While
they are two supposedly inept misfits traveling the road
together they manage quite well to get into serious trouble.
Homer soon discovers that his new friend Eddie has
trouble with fits of rage. A loud television, an airplane
flying overhead, many things make the Goldberg character
explode into anger. When she is upset Eddie hurts either
herself or other people. There are several occasions wherein
Homer has to restrain her to keep her from seriously hurting


138
unwillingness to own history. In an interview in Small Acts,
with Paul Gilroy she states:


119
friends who own a diner. The couple, Jim and Ruby, care for
her daughter during her pool tournaments, and they even offer
to lend her as much money as they can. Although Ruby is much
older than Sarah, she appears to be Sarah's best and only
friend. Even as a young, Black, single mother, Goldberg is
not associated with other young, Black women.
Sarah and the bookie, Max, also become the best of
friends. Max (Denis Franz) even goes so far as to confess to
Sarah that he has feelings for her, which she of course does
not return. Kiss Shot has the distinction of being the only
Goldberg movie thus far to depict a Goldberg character in a
relationship with a Black man. This particular aspect of the
movie will be discussed later in this chapter. Still, as
promising as Kiss Shot begins, it also marks the end of any
attempts by Hollywood filmmakers to depict Goldberg as a
fully developed character. After this movie, her roles return
to the Hollywood formula. This methodology is not specific to
Goldberg, but rather specific to the treatment of Black stars
meant to be mainstream box-office draws.
It seems almost formulaic that Hollywood pick a Black
comedian/enne and script filmic roles in which they are the
only people of color. Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy were
both precursors to Goldberg as the recipients of this kind of
effacement. In "Did Hollywood Set Out to Undo Eddie Murphy?:
The Gay Subtext in Beverly Hills Cop," Trey Ellis contends
that there is indeed a Hollywood formula when it comes to


162
if she knows where they can find a good maid. They make a bet
with Rizzoli that she can't identify the badly mutilated body
of the victim. One of the detectives says, in reference to
how she should pay him if she loses, "fifty bucks this time,
no food stamps." The two detectives become extreme in what
they believe is funny when they see the Goldberg character
bend over. One of them says: "Stay bent over like that and
I'll show you a good time . you ever get it doggy style."
It is obvious that Rizzoli is fair game not simply because
she is a woman but because she is Black. The two men seem
oblivious to the fact thattheir sexual comments are
predicated upon the fact that they are referring to a Black
woman and not just a whitewoman. Consequently, the racial and
sexual innuendoes are inseparable. This is why when the
Goldberg character decides to ignore the racist slurs it
becomes glaringly apparent. Thus, Rizzoli's attempt to
verbally defend herself against sexists comments proves
ineffectual. Such comments are both sexist and racist.
It is not just among her own colleagues that Rizzoli is
disrespected as a Black woman. There are many people in the
movie who feel they have a right to subject her to cruelty,
especially because she is a Black woman. For example, when
the Goldberg character stops after work to get a sandwich, an
enraged teenager (the friend of someone she has arrested for
selling drugs) accosts her. The boy says to her:
I know where you live. I am going to break into your
apartment, kick your ass and then maybe Ill fuck you
for dessert.


196
Fann, Franz. Black Skins, White Masks. 1952. New York:
Grove, 1967.
Gaines, Jane. "White Privilege and Looking Relations: Race
and Gender in Feminist Film Theory." in Erens,
Patricia, ed. Issues in Feminist Film Criticism.
Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990.
Gibson-Hudson, Gloria J. "African American Literary
Criticism as a Model for the Analysis of Films by
African American Women." Wide Angle 13.3-4 (1991):
44-54.
Gilroy, Paul. Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black
Cultures. London: Serpent's Tail, 1993.
Gray, Herman. Watching Race: Television and the Struggle
for Blackness. Minneapolis: U Minnesota P, 1995.
Griffin, Farrah Jasmine. "Textual Healing: Claiming Black
Women's Bodies, the Erotic and Resistance in
Contemporary Novels of Slavery." Callaloo 19.2
(1996): 519-525.
Gutman, Herbert G. The Black Family in Slavery and
Freedom: 1750-1925. New York: Random House, 1976.
Hall, Stuart. "Cultural Identity and Cinematic
Representation." Third Scenario: Theory and Politics
of Location 36:68-81.
Harris, Trudier. From Mammies to Militants: Domestics
in Black American Literature. Philadelphia: Temple
UP, 1982.
Hartman, S.V., and Farah Jasmine Griffin. "Are You as
Colored as That Negro?: The Politics of Being Seen
in Julie Dash's Illusions." Black American Literature
Forum 25.2 (1991): 361-373.
Higginbotham, Evelyn Brooks. "African-American Women's
History and the Metalanguage of Race." Signs: Journal
of Women in Culture and Society 17.2 (1992):91-114.
hooks, bell. Sisters of the Yam: Black Women and Self-
Recovery. Boston: South End Press, 1993.
hooks, bell. Reel to Real: Race Sex and Class at the
Movies. New York: Routledge, 1996.


115
least understandable in Ghosts of Mississippi: it is not
really a movie about Medger Evers, Myrlie Evers or their
family, but rather the lawyer who prosecuted the case. The
Long Walk Home,is however, a lost opportunity to portray the
inner workings of a Black family in segregated Alabama. The
family of Sissy Spacek's character is studied so intently in
the film, it seems only logical that the Goldberg character's
family be scritinized as well.
The Long Walk Home presents Goldberg as the maid of
middle-class housewife Sissy Spacek. In the movie, the
audience is made privy to the dynamic between the two women
as employer and employee, and as mothers. Odessa Cotter (the
Goldberg character) is the long suffering and silent family
maid who participates in the Montgomery Bus Boycott and
begins walking to work. Spacek, as the sympathetic southern
bell offers her a ride. What begins as providing a ride for
her own maid ends up with Spacek participating as a full-
fledged driver in the Boycott.
Throughout the movie we are allowed glimpses into the
contrasting lives of both these women. The depictions are
stereotypical. Spacek is the privileged white woman who
spends her days leaving instructions for the maid on her way
to the Junior League and the hair dresser. Goldberg is so
tired from the long walk to work that she falls asleep while
washing dishes. Even the way the women relate to their
children is stereotypical. Spacek seems distant from both her
daughters. The youngest spends her time with Goldberg, who


13
antebellum south, slavery was the perfect solution to her
promiscuity. But while the Black woman's sexual appetite
produced useful additions to the slave workforce, the Welfare
Queen's progeny drains society financially and morally.
Currently, the Welfare Queen has had to be arrested because
of her reckless sexual appetite that swells the Welfare
roles. Hill Collins writes:
Essentially an updated version of the breeder woman
image created during slavery, this image provides
an ideological justification for efforts to harness
Black Women's fertility to the needs of a changing
political economy. (Black Feminist Criticism, 76)
Again, the construction of the Black woman as a
irresponsible, irrepressible breeder justified the dismissal
of her maternal instincts, and more recently merits the push
to do away with social programs suspected of helping her
perpetuate her immorality.1
Thus, the popular images of the Black woman as Whore and
Welfare Queen were historically, and are currently, useful in
defining and maintaining the Black woman's position in
society. These kinds of images of Black women have become so
commonplace that there seems to be nothing unusual or
noteworthy about them anymore. Even though the mammy image
has undergone a makeover, she still exists in and is
essential to the fabric of American popular culture.2
1 The Whore and Welfare Queen are discussed further in Chapter Two
which explores sexuality and Whoopi Goldberg.
2 Here I make reference to the updating of the image on the Aunt
Jemima pancake mix box circa 1990. Aunt Jemima loses her head wrap, a
historical signifier of the mammy figure and is re-presented with


166
relates how she became pregnant at fourteen and a full-
fledged junkie. Subsequently, her young child is found dead
in pool because she got into Rizzoli's drug stash. At this
point in the tale Rizzoli dissolves into tears and Marshack
takes her into his arms to comfort her.
The very next camera shots are of a tousled bed, a
ringing phone, and steam coming from the shower. The
implications here are evident. Rizzoli's confession has led
to a kind of consummation of her relationship/friendship with
Marshack. This in and of itself is typical Hollywood fare and
would seem that Hollywood is affording Goldberg the same
treatment as any of its other female leads. However, there is
much that is different in this scene from most of the others
Hollywood would typically produce. The confession scene is
much like one scene in Clara's Hart, when Clara tells David
that she was raped by her own son. As in Clara's Hart, the
two sit close together and the audiences sees a series of
reverse headshots. Although Rizzoli and Marshack are sitting
closer than Clara and David, the set up and subsequent shot-
reverse-shot sequence is the same. The camera moves from both
of their heads in the frame, to one or the other. What is
significant is that it is Marshack's face and reaction we see
rather than, or more than, Rizzoli's grief at the loss of her
child. This scene yields the same results as the confession
scene in Clara's Hart. Rather than identify with the Goldberg
character, the audience is encouraged to identify with the
white male character. In Clara's Hart this type of editing


198
Young, Lola. Fear of the Dark: 'Race, Gender, and
Sexuality in the Cinema. London: Routledge, 1996.


144
Nor is she even allowed to appear sexual. While the Angela
Bassett character has numerous scenes in swim wear and
running gear, Goldberg is relegated to floppy hats and black
t-shirts over shorts. Even in a movie where the primary
audiences is Black Goldberg is not allowed to deviate from
the formula that has sold her to mainstream audiences. Nor is
the Delilah character allowed to have a husband as she does
in the book. In fact, when she is lying in a New York
hospital dying, Stella is listed as her next of kin and her
only friend. Even at her funeral, where there are a small
number of eclectic attendees, there are few other Black women
, and the only one whom the audience sees speak is Stella. It
is as if Delilah had no real life, no other close friends in
New York. This is even more strange given the fact that
Stella lives in California.
Even when the audience is poised to see a real
relationship, real sisterhood take place involving a Goldberg
character and another Black woman, we are disappointed. While
no one can deny that there are some funny scenes built around
Goldberg, her character is not all that she could be. Instead
of truly exploring the nuances, possibilities, and dimensions
that can exists in Black female friendships the movie opts to
use Goldberg for comic relief. Rather than, however briefly,
explore the possibilities of a Goldberg character as married
to a Black man, or even exhibiting sexuality on a an island
in the tropics, the movie chooses not to explore the Goldberg
character..


3
counterpoint to this imagery. Yet Goldberg, in many ways,
depicts only the re-working of the mammy figure into the star
of a film.
It is no secret that Hollywood wields great power in
America because it manipulates images. These images can be
even more powerful than words because Hollywood fashions the
kinds of images that leave little room for alternate
interpretations. Hollywood continues to serve up images of
the Black woman that mainstream (typically white) audiences
want to see or are comfortable seeing. As a result, a
talented actor like Goldberg is continually limited to roles
that nurture and further a white character's development.
This dissertation acknowledges the criticism of Goldberg
as a modern-day mammy figure. It also acknowledges
Hollywood's complicity in continuing to present stereotypes
of the Black woman overall. Whiteness seems to need Blackness
in order to define itself. Whiteness needs to be juxtaposed
against negative or nonexistent images of Black sexuality,
negative or nonexistent images of Black woman/motherhood and
Black relationships in general, in order to mark itself as
what is normal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in
mainstream cinema's lone Black female star. Goldberg is
stripped of culture, sexuality, and family, so she is more
palatable to mainstream audiences.
This disseration uses works by Patricia Hill Collins,
Lola Young, and Jacqueline Bobo (among others) to elucidate
the very real problems and the very real pain of constantly


77
with meaning. They either read defensively, embrace what they
see, or choose to ignore facets of a film altogether.
It is often easier for both Black and mainstream
audiences to embrace the images that they see. According to
Farah Jasmine Griffin encountering Blackness means having to
look at or past a great deal of history. This is particularly
difficult for Black people themselves. Griffith contends that
conventionally when white people "examine black bodies
"visual difference," "the color black," progresses to
ugliness which progresses to inferiority" (520). If this
progression from Black as ugly to Black as inferior is apt to
take place in the mind of the mainstream audience, then the
Black audience is no different. It becomes even worse for
Black audiences because ugliness and inferiority are no
longer just projected, but internalized. Black people often
cope with the repercussion of such thinking by embracing it.
Conseguently, as Griffith also writes, Black people "are
often complicit in maintaining standards [of beauty] that
oppress them" (521).
In "Perceived Attractiveness, Facial Features and
African Self-Consciousness," John W. Chambers Jr. and a team
of Black psychologists write:
Historically, the hallmark of feminine beauty in
American society is to have blond hair, blue eyes,
and Caucasian features. This is the image that has
been held up for all racial groups to admire . .
Western society conveys its concept of
attractiveness primarily through the media, that
is, television commercials, movies, magazine
layouts of models, beauty pageants, commercial
catalogs, and billboards. (306)


177
Mad About My Buddy
Inherent within all of these movies is the notion of
Goldberg as the crazy woman. She is mad in the sense that she
is always a bit crazy in these movies. When Goldberg is the
good-buddy of a white man there are several things that are
consistent throughout the storyline. She is indeed different
from what would be considered normal in society as is
evidenced in Jumpin' Jack Flash, Fatal Beauty, and Burglar.
For example, she is the narcotics investigator obsessed with
single-handedly cleaning up the streets. She is the lonely,
computer operator longing for a mystery in her real life like
the ones she reads about in her novels or watches on
television. Goldberg plays the ex-cat burglar and boxer
turned bookstore owner. No matter the particular plot of the
film the Goldberg character is usually significantly
different from most ordinary women, Black or otherwise, on
screen or off. This tendency to present her as a bit mad is
the strategy that has proved successful in presenting her to
mainstream film audiences. It has not only worked in and off
itself, but has also been the foundation of her "buddy"
movies. The premise is that it is perfectly acceptable to
have Goldberg play a character who is the friend of a white
man, as long as she is too crazy to be his lover.
Perhaps the movie that best typifies Goldberg as the
crazy friend of a white male is Homer and Eddie. Homer and


187
As she lies dying in Homer's arms, the man dressed as Jesus
appears. Bystanders explain that he is a crazy person who
wanders the town believing he is Jesus. Eddie's last words
remind Homer that she did really see Jesus.
For Eddie there is no salvation. In the end, neither her
community or family or even Jesus himself can rescue her. She
dies on the street, shot as an armed robber. Perhaps Eddie's
determination to find Jesus is meant to comfort the audience
given the austere ending. Eddie could not have been all that
bad or totally crazy since she went running through the
streets looking for the Christian symbol of repentence.
Although she loses her life, audiences are consoled by the
fact that there was a redemptive guality in Eddies
character. There was something in her that wanted to "Ask God
to forgive" as Homer stated.
Another film in which Goldberg is insane is The
Telephone. This film was pulled from movie theaters after it
opened to terrible reviews. Directed by Rip Torn and starring
Goldberg performing ten characters, The Telephone was box-
office poison. Even on home video it is perhaps one of
Goldberg's least known and least liked films. This film was
released in 1988 just pior to Clara's Hart. Goldberg plays
Vashti Blue, a struggling and lonely actress whose only link
to the "real" world is her telephone. The majority of the
movie takes place inside Vashti's apartment and most of the
action or rather interaction is of her talking on the
telephone. The only other people who appear on screen are her


83
relationships in her films, and when she is, never is she
paired with a Black man. Neither is she allowed access to
Black children. Instead, she plays the same wise, witty,
tough, guardian-angel kind of character who does not need an
identity that would shape her as woman, Black, or Black
woman. The "lone (and lonely) ranger" quality in Goldberg
that appeals to mainstream audiences is the very thing that
makes her unpopular with Black audiences. Thus, for the most
part, Black audiences are unable to celebrate Goldberg and
her success because they do not recognize themselves in her.
Goldberg lives in filmic worlds where race and sex are only
passing issues, and perhaps this is one specific cinematic
code not readily negotiated by Black audiences.


98
action by a child, the viewer is left to ponder this moment.
At this point in the narrative the audience is unaware that
Clara has been raped. Yet, even the eventual revelation of
the rape works in consonance with the audience's feeling that
Clara is and should be ashamed of her body. After all the
rapist was not only a Black man, but her own son. Thus, she
could be held doubly responsible as both the victim and the
villain's mother. The character of Clara spends much of the
film in baggy pants and knee-length sweaters and shirts, even
when we see her in Jamaica. In addition, in the film Fatal
Beauty, there is very little about Goldberg that appears
feminine, particularly, in the scene where she poses as a
prostitute. This time she is dressed in a gold-lam gown and
a long platinum-blonde wig. Again, the color contrast between
hair, skin, and clothing results in an absurdity that
parodies femininity. In short, Goldberg looks so ridiculous
even the real street-walkers jeer her as she walks by.
The clothing in the film Bogus is also important. In
Fatal Beauty, Goldberg is clad in jeans, sneakers, and a
man's oversized jacket; in Made in America, she dresses in
African-styled oversized shirts and pants. In Bogus, Goldberg
is clad in two-piece suits throughout the majority of the
movie. The stylish suits are an indication that Goldberg runs
her own business. She is tough and aggressive, with no social
life, and her austere dress seems an indication of this.
However one of the indications of the change in her character
as the film progresses is the change in her style of dress.