Mean Girls debuted in theaters on April 30th, 2004 earning $24.4 million its debut weekend and continuing on to make $112 million in profit worldwide. Just shy of 15 years, the film is heralded as a classic of our generation, akin to sister-scripts like Clueless and The Heathers. The script is praised for it’s cunning catchphrases, it’s female-centric plot, and it’s ability to propel the careers of its female cast members. However, the storyline lacks one vital element: color. In fact, aside from the erasure of Latina women, Black women are framed only as unfriendly Black hotties, featuring a girl in micro braids interrupting her clearly important phone conversation to “what?” the cameraman. While many Tumblr pages and Twitter bios applaud this language, the unfriendly Black hottie scenario is nothing new, this is only the first time it’s been named. In fact, it perpetuates the prepubescent angry Black woman stereotype. Since the only coming-of-age films for Black girls surround teenage pregnancy (Precious, Our Song, Just Another Girl on the IRT), the way our story is captured in films that don’t involve us in lead roles have equally important narratives.
Take Isis from Bring It On for example. She spends the entire plot being pissed. Played by Gabrielle Union, screenwriters tried to sprinkle notes of angry Black woman and strong Black woman all throughout her script but ended up pulling a Doctor Utonium with the chemical X. Granted, Isis’ angriness is warranted: a result of her team’s choreography winning first place each year after being co-opted by rich blondes from across the way. I know you don’t think a white girl made that shit up? We don’t know much about Isis’ character except that she’s a phenomenal cheerleader from an impoverished background with the personality of Iyanla Vanzant’s “not on my watch!”
What makes Bring It On even cringier is that Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), the new team captain of the rival squad, is determined by her white savior syndrome to make things right and be besties with Isis. God forbid a BW is a bit apprehensive about befriending someone who stole her entire legacy. The film basically says that if you do something shitty, make sure you do it with a smile and, if you’re not forgiven, it’s merely because the victim is aggressive or angry. It’s as if roles for Black women cannot be scripted without having some sort of edge, even when they mean well (see: Kerry Washington in Save the Last Dance).
The unfriendly Black Hottie spans far beyond the high school world and has actually been subconsciously embedded in our psyches in the form of illustrated microaggressions. Unlike Isis and the teens from the North Shore High cafeteria, the unfriendly Black hotties always take the form of the Black best friend in cartoons. According to NPR, the BBF stock character is all just a ploy to make programs appear more racially diverse. Instead, when picking apart the characters, there is little nuance between the roles they play. Take Miranda Killgallen of As Told by Ginger and Ashley Boulet of Recess, for example. These girls are both seemingly beautiful, nicely dressed, and second-in-command to a white girl with a blonde bob. Although they are not the leaders of their cliques, they are portrayed as meaner than the HBIC– indicated by Miranda’s hatred for Ginger (even though her best friend, Courtney, spends the show trying to befriend Ginger) as well as Ashley B’s attempt to excommunicate Ashley A from The Ashleys. Scandalous!
Images like this are portrayed not because this is who we are, but because the only knowledge writers have of Black girlhood is based largely on other narratives perpetuating the unfriendly Black hottie idea. The call to hire more Black writers is as important as ever with the national disappearance of so many Black and brown girls. I’d like to challenge screenwriters to create more roles surrounding the adolescence of young women of color in hopes that it will create muster up some of the same empathy and support of those who have missing white woman syndrome. Penny Proud and some of the Sesame Street clips of young girls hand clapping are a great start.
Written by: Toi Benji