Classy Black Women




Here are four specific scenes from American Horror Story: Coven that prove network television has a long way to go when it comes to its negative stereotyping of black women.

I have followed American Horror Story: Coven this season, partly because it has a sort of "woman power" theme, but mostly because Angela Bassett stars as Marie Laveau. Not surprisingly, the storylines involving her and Queenie (played by Gabourey Sidibe), the two recurring black characters on the show, are the most interesting and intriguing of them all.  I have to admit, I don't really care much about what's going on with the other girls in the house, yet Wikipedia still has Gabby and Angela listed as “guest stars” with an all-white “main cast.”

As good as the storyline may get at certain points, of course network television can't resist enforcing negative stereotypes about minorities whenever they get a chance. Here are four cases of negative stereotyping against black women yet again rearing its ugly head on TV, this time in American Horror Story: Coven.

1. Marie is a beauty shop owner after 300 years.
Now let's analyze this: there was an actual Marie Laveau in history, but according to this particular story for TV, Marie (played by Angela Bassett) has been immortal for over 300 years. After three centuries the only profession they could dream up for her in 2013 was frying up hair and doing weaves in a small shop? Come on man!

There's nothing wrong with owning your very own beauty shop, but for a 300-year-old character why not put her as the head of an enterprise where she empowers other women from the hood to be hardcore business women making major moves and doing her bidding. Now that would have been interesting... ahhh, if only. That's a powerful representation of black women that mainstream television will probably work very hard to suppress for as long as possible.

2. Queenie offers herself up sexually to a beast.
Near the middle of the season, I was disgusted at a scene where Queenie encounters a Minotaur beast and touches herself to sexually arouse him. The beast then ravages her and leaves her seriously hurt. Through the whole scene I couldn't help but think that the producers were trying to align Queenie  with this beast, as if they were a perfect pair -- as if they were *both* beasts.

3. Queenie is the Queen of Chicken.
It seems as if Gabby will forever be associated with fried chicken if stereotyping writers and producers have anything to do with it. In the show she starts off slinging legs and wings at a chicken shack before going to the coven house. Of course she's treated like dirt in both places.

4. Black peoples’ hell is forever having to go to the back of the chicken line.
In the show there is a scene where Queenie visits hell to talk to Papa Legba, and there she sees a long line of mostly black people waiting to be served at her chicken counter. When a black man steps out of the line to complain, he's told to go to the back of the line. Papa Legba says that that guy’s hell is to forever smell the aroma of chicken while not being able to order any! The next black woman on line complained and yelled, snapping her neck, but alas she could not get any chicken either! This all might be humorous if it had not been dreamed up by some "hipster" from Middle America who has a limited view and perception of what black people are all about.

I'm sure there are more that deserve an honorable mention, but these four stood out the most for me. To be fair, there are other negative stereotypes being reinforced about white people on this show (that they are stuck up, bitchy, narcissistic, racist, and crazy like the mother who was having sex with her son) but at least there is some balance with their images. The other white characters (Cordelia, Zoe and Misty) are portrayed as heroines trying to "save the day."

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: we definitely need more progressive black-run and written productions on television, and these are four clear examples of why. All in all, I watched American Horror Story: Coven to see one of my favorite actresses, Angela Bassett, in action and she certainly did not disappoint. But as we have seen countless times, when mostly whites are in charge of writing black characters you can bet that some nonsense will be a 'brewing!



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  1. Anonymous On January 24, 2014 at 10:14 AM

    I noticed all you mentioned. Also I thought it was interesting at first that Marie Laveau had more power than Fiona in the beginning. Fiona goes to her and asks for her help, but then Laveau has to ask a white man for help in getting rid of her enemies because as a powerful immortal she can't take care of a few mortal women herself - sigh. Near the end of the series Laveau has to go to Fiona for help and protection and Laveau is betrayed by Queenie and sent to hell. Did you also notice that she only gave black babies to the devil?

     

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