During last Monday’s Oscar Poker Sasha Stone and I got into a little back-and-forth about Viola Davis‘s Denzel Washington/Malcolm X cut. She said at one point that ‘fros are making a comeback these days, at least among teenage girls, and I said “but why?…to what end?”
Today she sent along a post from forharriet.com, and a quote that reads as follows: “Our personal guides for aesthetic liberation need not be famous women. Do you have a Viola Davis in your own life? Maybe you are someone’s Viola Davis.”
To which I replied, “Maybe you are someone’s Angela Davis. Break out the ‘fro, girl!
Here’s how it went from that point on….
Sasha: “Hah! You and I both stepped into it talking about it because neither of knows enough about the subject. But I dug [Viola’s] ‘fro. It was like a big FUCK YOU to Hollywood.”
Me: “Well, I know what I know. African American-identity-wise, the ’60s and ’70s were a time of rocks and Molotovs, up against the wall, revolutionary attitudes, riots, Stokely Carmichael and the Black Panthers, etc. Among the militant set ‘I’m black and I’m proud’ went hand in hand with no kowtowing whatsoever to the glossy, glamoured, glitzy Diana Ross or Dionne Warwick approach to female beauty. So Angela Davis and her legions broke out the ‘fro, and that lasted for…what, six or seven years? Less?
“What’s going on now to fortify what you were calling the New 21st Century ‘fro? What ‘s happening politically or culturally to augment this new African-American Naturalism, which you say is breaking out in schools? I don’t see anything out there except style for style’s sake. Last Sunday I just saw Viola breakin’ out the Malcolm X/Denzel Washington reddish-brownish hair because it’s closer to the real her. It makes her less attractive to me, but more attractive to herself and perhaps to many thousands of women who feel similarly about their appearance…who knows? If you ask me it’s a fringe thing.”
Sasha: “Why does [her Denzel-Malcolm hair] make her less attractive? I think it’s lovely. But maybe because when I was a kid I had a Jamaican stepfather who taught us about racism pretty early on. My sister and I would braid our hair at night so that when we went to school we would have kinky hair like our black classmates. Our favorite movie was Cooley High. Anyway, I’ve always had kink envy. My daughter’s best friend has a great fro, as does her mom, but they both straighten them and wear wigs to fit in and be more attractive in white culture.
“It is more than fashion, I think, for black women. It’s an obliteration of a trademark made ‘okay’ by Oprah. And a source of shame, I think, for black girls growing up in our culture. In the 1970s the fro was a powerful thing. I love it that Davis did that. As I just wrote on my site it was like a big old ‘I DON’T GIVE A SINGLE FUCK.'”
Me: “Short tight hair is a huge turnoff for 98% of the guys out there. Make it 99%. Guys wants soft, luscious hair with length and body, shampoo-fresh and smelling like lilacs and all that good stuff. Viola doesn’t give a fuck? Okay, fine. But she’ll never play Brad Pitt’s maid whom he has an affair with if she plays it that way. She herself said she wants ‘that perfect part’…that’s her whole life, her big ambition. If she mans herself up with short hair she’s taking herself out of the running for a lot of stuff. Just sayin’.”
Sasha: “Yeah but guess what? Her career doesn’t have be defined by whether Brad Pitt wants to fuck her or not. And to play his maid? Oh, could she be so lucky to play Brad Pitt’s maid? Are you serious? There is a whole world out there ready to accept women in all different sorts of ways. Reality check: the Academy oldsters are the backwards, out of touch, pampered, insulated group of people whose taste is so bad most people think of them the way they do their own grandparents whose tastes must be condescended to over and over again. Who were the main group of people who weren’t afraid to call out War Horse for being a stinking pile? The women! The men, when it comes to choosing greatness in art, aren’t the last word and they aren’t the smartest, necessarily.
“If actresses had to always worry that they weren’t fuckable for old white guys, believe me, our films would freefall into the shit pile. Actually, they already have. And anyway, are you really going to tell me that, if given the choice between Meryl Streep and Viola Davis, any grown male with an erection isn’t going to pick Davis?”
“I think that’s a weak argument. If she really wants to win an Oscar, yeah, she has to dumb herself way down to match the puny reptilian IQs of most male Academy voters. But if she wants to say something bigger than that, if she wants to truly be powerful, she will fight against the status quo. And more power to her.”
Me: “You can call it a weak argument, but for the most part men pay to see movies starring women they want to do it with…sorry. Failing that, they pay to see movies starring actresses they know are top-of-the-line great and masters of their craft, which is where Davis comes in. But she’s limiting her options if she wants to butch up. You know it and I know it. A remake of Too Beautiful For You would be a very touching, very original, very high-end thing. Don’t make fun of that concept. Oh, and I applaud the bloc of women critics who stood against War Horse. Hats off.”
Sasha: “Jeff, you’re so funny. I don’t think Viola was butching up. I thought she looked hot and beautiful and way sexier than any of the stick figures who were walking the carpet. Why would you want to rest your body on the body of a little boy, moreover…a bag of skin and bones? I wouldn’t. If I were a guy I’d much rather sink into a woman’s body with actual curves like Davis has. I think her hair looks great like that. The wigs are okay but they always say to me, ‘I’m trying to white-ify myself.'”
“And fine if you want to kiss the ass of dinosaurs — have at it. I would rather see them give Davis a part where she could act, not as Brad Pitt’s maid but as a woman with an actual identity beyond that which appeals only to men. I’m tired of the dinosaurs. We’ve had enough of them. They need to step aside now because they’re ruining Hollywood.”