Miscegenation On Screen, Why So Disparate?

Miscegenation refers to dating or marrying a person of another race and its presence in American films and TV series needs to be understood through a intersectional analysis involving gender roles. Looking specifically at Black and White couples there is often an imbalance whereby White woman/Black man couples appear far more than the inverse. The reason why can be explained by tracing the development of the Black male identity in the American imagination. The athletic connotations it possesses is a direct result of the slave history between Blacks and Whites in America. In America’s southwestern states, interracial marriage was illegal until the late 60s…meaning there was colour TV in these states before coloured marriage.

The development of the Black male identity in America has had an extremely close link to the peak athletic form of the male body. Stemming from a slave history, the most respected and valued slaves were the most physically fit. Adding to this mix, the pseudo-scientific racism in the slavery zeitgeist deemed African Americans as less evolved than their White counterparts. This suggested Blacks were at the mercy of their most basic desires and could not control their sexual impulses, and White men began to fear the rise of the black phallus and the idea of a sexually liberated Black man. Such an irrational fear was birthed from the patriarchal orientation of early American society. Women were seen to be at the whims of their sexual desires as well, so a muscular and athletic Black man was seen as a real sexual temptation for White women. This anxiety is reflected in the corporal punishments handed down for interracial crimes; castration was a prominent consequence for crimes committed against White women — some as light as smiling.

Black Man/White Woman

The film Get Out exhibits many of these underlying attitudes through the interracial couple: Rose Armitage and Chris Washington. The film has countless references to slavery and emphasises the hyper-sexualisation and hyper-masculinisation of the Black male identity. One older female character openly complements Chris on his looks, sensually rubs his arms and chest before she openly asks Rose: “Is it better?” A question that wouldn’t be asked if Rose was a Black women, but since she is White her judgement becomes relevant. This interaction also illustrates the hyper-sexual and athletic stereotypes of the Black male body.

The climax of the film unearths the family’s history of systematically abducting and auctioning off Black male bodies for a number of years. A key cog in their calculated mechanism is their daughter: Rose, who is used as a sexual lure for young Black men, who often have sporting accolades. The perception of intrinsic athleticism within Black males is revealed in Jeremy’s (Rose’s brother) attitudes towards Chris’s sporting preferences remarking “with your frame and genetic make up…you could be a beast.” Because the film was directed by a Black man (Jordan Peele) it portrays Chris as uneasy toward all the racist presumptions the Armitage family has.

Get Out | clip – Two Party Guests Ask Rose About Chris

Hyper-masculinsation is a concept that pervades the depiction of both male and female Black bodies, and it explains the scarcity of Black women/White man relationships. Black women are typically portayed as threatening, physically domineering and aggressive. This is far from the typical romantic female role of a passive, affectionate and cutsie (usually) White women. Since they do not adhere to the typical and somewhat submissive behaviours of White women, they challenge patriarchal norms and thus are intimidating.

Black Woman/White Man

The development of the ‘strong and independent Black woman’ stereotype is a potential explanation for their perceived masculine behaviours. A stereotype that is based in social disparities between White and Black Americans. One possible explanation is; the disproportionate amount of Black males in incarceration. A flow on effect of this is that Black women are less likely to grow up with a father figure and following the same vein, they are more likely to be single mothers. Leading their depiction on screen to reflect a tough, hard knock attitude.

One interesting relationship that capitulates this notion is the friendship between Elijah Krantz, a gay White man, and Athena Dante, a Black woman in the series Girls. Their relationship occurs over the episode ‘The Bounce’ where both characters are auditioning for a Broadway play. As one of the only featuring Black characters in the show she embodies the tough, confident and gritty Black-girl attitude, contrasting with Elijah’s self doubting and passive femininity towards the audition. Each character performs the opposing gender, the most discerning factor, for Athena is the way she holds her body in public.Standing with a relaxed confidence, she unashamedly dances and rehearses in the stairwell when she bumps into Elijah. Female characters are often uncomfortable and out of place in male-dominated public spaces, but not Athena.

Latisha Di Venuto's Reel of Athena Dante on Girls

Elijah is chickening out of the audition because his prolific ex-boyfriend has shown up to his house begging for forgiveness. She convinces him to stay, amidst his insecurity, indecisiveness and emotionality (typically feminine characteristics). This can be read as a bit of a twisted relationship, and how two Black and White characters can connect on a non-normative, role-reversed level.

There are still movies with a White man/Black woman romantic relationship (Something New, Belle, My Last Day Without You) and their relationships do fit into a heteronormative framework, but the films are rarely blockbusters.

The 2005 romantic comedy Guess Who casts a White male (Ashton Kutcher) and Black female (Zoe Saldana) as the lead couple; Simone and Thresa. The film adopts a typical ‘meet the parents’ plot line and revolves around awkward, cringing encounters between the boyfriend and the father, although there’s a racial element to most of the jokes. One scene involves Simon trying on Theresa’s lingerie, he teases her by going on all fours and gyrating his hips yet she is laughing while demanding him to: “Take it off!, Take it off!” In an attempt to get it back Theresa gets on the bed and pulls Simon’s hair. At this point her father walks in and the tone switches immediately. Now it appears Theresa is the dominant person in the relationship, sexually. It is impossible to ignore the racial connotations of this interaction; Simon is framed as the skinny, passive White guy who enjoys cross dressing, whilst Theresa is the dominant, masculine Black woman who takes charge in the bedroom. There is a vested interest in studios maintaining this representation, if the roles were reversed and the White man was physically domineering in a relationship with a Black woman there would be a social justice uproar, as its reminiscent of Americas slave history. So it is understandable that such a power dynamic has to be avoided, and perhaps this is compensation for the centuries of mistreatment Black women have received at the hands of White men.

Guess Who | You Take It Off

All in all, miscegenation on screen can be explained through a number of interrelating factors. Beginning with the slave history of America, it positioned the body as central to the Black male identity, due to the physical nature of the labour. Black men were highly sexualised and their athleticism was seen as a temptation for White women. These racial perceptions permeate into ideas of gender and Black women are seen as hyper masculine, this is the ultimate explanation for the disparity in racial representation. Since its difficult to figure out if films and TV define our behaviour or if our behaviour shapes films and TV, I propose diversifying the portrayals of miscegenation on screen. One shake-up could see a physically dominating White woman date a really insecure yet intelligent Black man, whom she inspires to reignite his academic career. The inverse couple could even base around class divisions too, like an educated and high-class Black woman dating a trailer-park dwelling White guy. Over the course of the movie she refines his tastes and introduces him to a world far beyond the life he previously had. Kind of like a new-age, racially charged pretty woman scenario, but without the patriarchal undertones.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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39 Comments

  1. holm
    0

    Sidney Poitier’s 1965 classic A Patch of Blue really broke the barrier of interracial romance being presented in American cinema in a professional way. Sidney played a black man who befriends and falls in love with a visually impaired white woman played by Elizabeth Hartman. I recall hearing about a much earlier movie called Showboat about a white captain of questions showboat falling for a woman who looked white, but was found out being mulatto. But both characters were portrayed by white performers. That sent a negative image. A Patch of Blue sent a positive image and message. The Kerry Washington movie Save the Last Dance, even though it is hip-hop music culture oriented (and we know how negative it is race wise) properly presented the relationship of a white ballet dancer and black professional dancer in a positive way. Presenting interracial romance like this (excluding Get Out and the upcoming film about a white female rapper falling for a black musician) is always a great thing…..it is here to stay.

    • Iliasbakalla

      Hmm i’m not sure how much A Patch of Blue is pushing the envelope if the white woman was visually impaired. Perhaps its a metaphor for the slow acceptance of miscegenation in the civil rights era

  2. Lita
    1

    Love is beautiful and colorblind.

  3. Delmar
    1

    Important to see all types of relationships explored on on screen.

    • Iliasbakalla

      yes, I wanted to go into other racial stereotypes projected through miscegenation including Asians and Hispanics (as they have quite a prominent representation in cinema) but was afraid the article would be endless. Perhaps someone can continue this line of though *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*

  4. AGMacdonald

    The key to diversity is being unafraid to go against the grain, even if that grain is a politically correct culture that likes to play it safe (e.g. couples always being the same race like Disney Channel movies etc.).

    • Iliasbakalla

      Absolutely, so long as those representations don’t perpetuate stereotypes

      • AGMacdonald

        We shouldn’t rely on stereotypes, but an occasional sprinkling of these characters are fine. You can have a campy gay character, those people do exist, it’s only when all the gay characters are campy that we set a dangerous precedent.

        It’s like when people complained about the Netflix produced Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon II: Sword of Destiny as racist because it portrayed Asian people as warriors. The warrior is engrained in Asian culture. This is seen in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and wuxia films; but because somebody in the west calls it a stereotype, we should apparently ignore that culture and history.

        Obviously, some stereotypes can do harm, and I wouldn’t want to suggest otherwise. It is just that sometimes people use stereotypes to stifle creative voices and ironically limit the possibilities for the very people they claim to defend. We should have a mixture of s
        different characters to truly diversify.

  5. Munjeera

    Interracial couples face unique challenges and it would be interesting to see more representations.

  6. vesser
    1

    I’m amazed at how many people seek to understand human societies without first understanding human psychology.

  7. Lelia Flint
    0

    I almost never watch movies. And I can’t recall ever watching a horror movie. But I’ll probably see Get Out because I have such huge respect for Jordan Peele.

  8. Vania Dove
    0

    There are good people and there are bad people.

    The trick in life is to identify the good as the good, and move in that direction — as well as to identify the bad as the bad, and avoid them as much as possible. All of life does that — with good reason — enhancing their chances for survival and prosperity.

    What is counterproductive, is to take the good and the bad, and average them out — insisting there is no difference, and even that the good is bad, and the bad is good — which is what supposedly “educated” people do at many liberal institutions of “higher” learning.

    The real value of any education, is to be able to make the proper discriminations, and failing to do so, is to be prejudiced in one’s thinking. Discrimination is not prejudice, but failing to make that discrimination, is the root of all prejudice — and the failure to distinguish the good from the bad.

  9. FANTASY
    1

    Brilliant article.

  10. lem
    0

    I know of very little American literature (or film/TV) that does address this issue in a complex or nuanced manner.

  11. Stephanie M.

    Insightful article, especially when it comes to the stereotypes of black women. I think women of all races want to be seen as strong and independent, but having seen a lot of black women in the media, I agree they’re too often portrayed as “threatening and aggressive.” Maybe it’s the media’s misguided attempt to make sure black women don’t appear passive, which might carry shades of racial subjugation. But, just as it’s wrong to portray white women as always “cutesy” and uber-feminine, it’s wrong to have every black female character engaging in the “sassy black woman” stereotype. Popular characters like Tyler Perry’s Madea certainly don’t help anything.

  12. Quinn
    1

    Has anyone seen the new movie Dear White People? An excellent example of socioeconomic multicultural relations in a modern setting, while also showcasing the struggles faced by young adults in a variety of mixed and non-mixed relationships. And introducing….. The awkwardly adorable, openly gay, black college freshman, struggling with his identity. Nobody seems to even blink at the fact that his love interest is white? Why is it so acceptable for gay couples to be interracial, but hetero couples catch all the flack? Still, I highly recommend this movie. Well written, very intelligent and funny.

    • I definitely agree. For an even more in-depth view of interracial dating, I urge you to watch the netflix tv series version of this movie – it gives a lot more time and attention to the issue, spread out over a few episodes from all types of common contemporary perspectives (both within and without the relationship).

  13. Tory
    1

    Good to see these issues explored in the arts, I think more directors will exploit this avenue.

  14. Babcock
    0

    Get Out also brilliantly solves an essential horror movie problem — the victims in horror movies usually seem dumb, because the audience spots everything that’s spooky and wrong before the victim does.

    In this case, the hero is well aware the suburbanites are spooky and wrong. He’s just used to it, so he assumes it’s regular condescension, not an evil plot. (Spoiler: it’s a evil plot! But the first scene makes that clear, anyways.)

    • Iliasbakalla

      Excellent analysis of the film, i’d never thought of it as a ‘social horror’ film, usually the genre sticks to supernatural beasts terrorising humans

  15. Hed
    1

    I don’t know about these film. but the topic is interesting.

    As a person of color in the states, i found that the ‘color’, ‘foreignness’ was always there in some way shape or form, left or right…it used to baffle me as someone who didn’t see myself primarily as this ‘thing’, a construct in their mind…the humanity of my particularity – was interesting…but not the particulars that made me a person…but people always used the particulars as a segway into conversation…

  16. jonj

    I would make the argument that TV is beginning to make strides in overall representation of couples from different backgrounds. Whether it’s an episode of Black Mirror (the San Junipero episode centering on a black and white woman falling love) or on a mass hit like the Walking Dead where an asian man and white woman get married.

    TV has the capacity and sheer number of programs to really disrupt negative stereotypes regarding couples of different backgrounds. The length of a season on a Television show provides a great platform for a viewer to really understand the couple and see the relationship for what it really is, simply people connecting.

    This is where film can take a hit because of the time constraint. The right director/producer/studio needs to be behind the wheel in order to land the relationship in the right way (as the target window is smaller) but unfortunately that isn’t always the case.

  17. If anyone else is interested in seeing recent filmic depictions of black/white couples openly addressing societal issues and reactions, check out A United Kingdom (Amma Asante,2016), and Loving (Jeff Nichols, 2016). Both interesting watches, especially when comparing them to be of similar eras, yet the former in the UK and the latter in the US.

  18. It is more interesting to discover films with different types of relationship

  19. Mullin
    1

    Here we are in the year 2017. Race and color are still an issue… We never left the dark age. How sad. So much for progress.

    • kath
      0

      We have definitely left the dark ages. Racism is much much better than it used to be. History is full of racism and the destruction it justified. There has been a lot of progress, and hopefully it will be less and less of an issue with each generation.

  20. Concepcion
    0

    The similarity between “Get Out” and today’s society is really relevant.

  21. Dede
    2

    Get Out is the scary, funny, shocking, and smart ride through American racism that we really need right now.

  22. This was a well researched and thorough analysis of something that has bothered many analyzers of popular culture for decades and you did it in a relatively small amount of space. Good job! I look forward to reading other pieces by you in the future.

  23. Good background and research to this article. It’s interesting to have one’s mind opened to racist gendered themes in the film industry. Most people usually just watch a movie and don’t think too much about how it might be reinforcing stereotypes in their minds. Good work!

  24. Of course, racism changed. Less presence, less impact, less everything. Seems like everything is going for the better.
    But.
    The difference between yesterday and today is not the impact of racism, it’s its image. A few decades ago being racist was perfectly normal, people of colour, especially black, were exposed like vulgar animals. Now, the common opinion has changed : racism is bad. Does that mean we’re less racist ? No. We just know how to hide it better. Let’s throw a bunch of black people in TV for “representation”, but make sure they’re all in prison, doing drugs or killing people.

  25. Really interesting – you should check out bell hook’s book “Reel to Real”, it has a fascinating chapter on black-white relationships on screen.

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