Friday, April 24, 2009

White woman as homewrecker and other thoughts

Is anyone else a wee bit concerned about the racial undertones of the soon-to-be released movie, "Obsessed"? The movie appears to be a thriller of the single-white female/basic instinct variety, with an innocent workplace flirtation between a white woman and a black man devolving into restraining order territory, with the white woman as crazed obsessive stalker of the black man and his family. Now I guess there's something to be said for our times that the white woman is stalking the black man rather than the other way around, and that the story sets up the audience members--no matter their color--to root for the black characters and not the white ones. And, if I thought that the movie aspired to a higher level of metaphor, I might find the white-woman-as-homewrecker-of-black-married-couple compelling--as in: racism extends its reach into the most intimate spheres, ruining otherwise-good marriages and tearing families apart--but I have my doubts that any movie of this type thinks much beyond its next adrenaline rush.

So, what is my problem with this plotline? For one thing, there have been few interracial relationships on the silver screen (the last one I remember was Jungle Fever) and now we have one--albeit an affair--that features crazy, violent white lady. For another, this movie takes the narrative about white women stealing black men from the community to its unfortunate extreme--i.e., crazy, violent white lady relentlessly pursuing black man. Can we have some positive depictions of interracial relationships please? Or can we at least have a little nuance?

Now, for Southland... In all fairness to the show, I have only seen the trailers. In all fairness to me, watching the trailers turned me off so much I didn't have any interest in watching the actual show. All this to say that my analysis is a bit underinformed. But humor me.

Is it just me, or does it seem like some strange PR coincidence that this show began airing shortly after a string of well-publicized incidents of white cops behaving really badly? There's something about the trailer that makes me feel like the show is trying to rehabilitate the image of the police and I don't like it. The trailer intimates that life on the job in the police force is much more complex, difficult, and nuanced than we non-police people appreciate, then features a cop car coming to a screaming halt in front of a baby crawling across the road. Well, I say bull shit to the notion that normal people don't appreciate the difficulty of being a cop, and I say bullshit again to the idea that being a cop is about heroically snatching babies from the jaws of death. If this show really wants to tangle with the moral dilemmas of life on the police force, I sure hope it spends a whole lot of time on corruption, violence perpetrated against unarmed suspects, and racial profiling, for a start. Oh, and another thing, exactly where are the black cops in this show? I think I saw exactly one in the trailer. And I think she was holding a child.

Editor's Note: For a very different take, see


  1. I hear you on the lack of inter-racial relationships, positive or otherwise, on tv or in films. The last "mainstream" film I can recall which had a black-white pairing was "Something New" (2006)--and I think overall the film did try to tackle the subject of race and the difficulties of trying to negotiate family and personal expectations/experiences with racism and one's own connection to a person despite/regardless of these expectations/experiences. I also liked that it was a black woman-white man pairing, although interesting that she (black woman, Sanna Latham) was a high powered exec and he (Simon Baker) was more working-class. In terms of indie film we have "Rachel Getting Married" which is interesting because there was so MANY different interracial pairs and just a whole polyglot of ethnic/racial diversity--it did feel a bit over-the-top, but one of the things I liked about that film, in terms of its handling of inter-racial relationships, was that it wasn't commented upon. No one agonized over the fact that the central couple marrying were of 2 different races--and it was nice to see one of the older couples feature Bill Irwin & Anna Deveare-Smith (who are also two actors I like very much).

    I know this comment doesn't address the concerns you raise over OBSESSED--but I really like that you are asking us to think about the message that this film sends and the racial politics involved.

  2. Jennifer,
    It's good to learn about other films with inter-racial relationships. I'd like to check those out--I'm definitely behind on the movie-watching front!