So last night on twitter there was a sudden flurry of posts by people offended by Kevin Hart's wearing a dress while portraying Quvenzhane Wallis as the new Pope on Saturday Night Live. And of course someone brought out the Dave Chappelle clip from Oprah where he, while admitting that he was a conspiracy theorist and was perhaps connecting dots that didn't need connecting, said he felt that Hollywood always tried to put strong Black actors in dresses to feminize them. Although his comparison to Brokeback Mountain felt a bit offensive in it's own right, but that's another discussion.
And while I understand that there is this concern by some out there that there's a conspiracy by the White/Jewish overlords in Hollywood to feminize and make palatable to white folks, the strong black male by putting them in feminine clothing, I'm not sure I can buy it.
Now I'd like to make a few disclosures here before I go further, just to be open about some things. I, myself, am white. I also despise any movie/tv roles where men are dressed in drag, no matter what the race. I didn't think it was funny when Robin Williams did it in Mrs. Doubtfire, and I didn't think it was funny when Martin Lawrence did it in Big Momma's House. And don't get me started on Tyler Perry.
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I think it's lazy comedy, and reaching for an easy laugh. I feel it's really no different than easy gay baiting Jokes like Cuba Gooding Jr's scenes in "Rat Race" and "Boat Trip". "OMG! Look, there's a gay person! AHHHHHHHHHHHH RUN!" It's deplorable and it's lazy writing.
Now having said all that, I disagree with the idea that there's this overall conspiracy out there to put all black men in dresses to take away from their masculinity and make them more acceptable for white people. Are there those people out there who probably feel that way and believe in doing that? I'm sure there are. Is there a conspiracy in Hollywood to do this? I don't think so. This is my opinion here, I have no facts to back up that sentiment, it's just the feeling I have on this situation. And I'll explain why.
When Dave was asked to put a dress on in Blue Streak, I viewed that as less of a conspiracy and more of lazy writing. The lack of faith the writers had with Chappelle being funny enough on his own, and that they had to bring a prop gag like dressing a man in drag. In fact the reason I feel that way is because there are a large number of white actors who have dressed in drag for either cheap humor or because the role was of a drag queen.
The following is a list of White actors who have dressed in drag.
Dustin Hoffman (Tootsie)
Adam Sandler (Jack & Jill)
Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire)
Jim Carrey (In Living Color, I Love You Philip Morris)
Patrick Swayze (To Wong Foo)
Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving & Terrence Stamp (Priscilla Queen of the Desert)
Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Flawless)
David Cross (Arrested Development) *was parodying Mrs. Doubtfire)
Tony Curtis & Jack Lemmon (Some Like It Hot)
Tom Hanks & Peter Scolari (Bosom Buddies)
Jonathan Brandis (Lady Bugs)
Corey Haim (Just One of the Girls)
Barry Watson, Michael Rosenbaum & Harland Williams (Sorority Boys)
Also actors James Franco (Magazine Cover) and Cate Blanchett (Bob Dylan movie) have done drag, as well as actress Hillary Swank who won an Oscar for her role as transgendered teen Brandon Teena.
Latinos who have done it include John Leguizamo and Gael Garcia Bernal.
I'm sure there are many more white and Latino actors, as well as Asians and any other nationality that have done it.
As far as Black actors that have done it, I have the following list:
Flip Wilson (The Flip Wilson Show)
Jamie Foxx, David Allen Grier, Damon Wayans (In Living Color)
Shawn/Marlon Wayans (White Chicks)
Martin Lawrence (Martin/Big Momma's House series)
Miguel Nunez Jr (Juwanna Man)
Eddie Murphy (Nutty Professor series, Norbit)
Tyler Perry (Madea films)
Ving Rhames (Holiday Heart)
Brandon T. Jackson (Big Momma's House 3)
Kevin Hart (Saturday Night Live)
As with the list of white actors, I'm sure there's some I'm missing here. All of those except for Rhames' role, which was of a drag queen, were comedy roles, most of which tend to play on lowest common denominator type comedy (although Tyler Perry's are dramadys ).
Also in the cases of In Living Color, the Madea movies and White Chicks, the writers were black themselves, so it wasn't white people writing the stuff for them saying "hey, let's see if we can get black men to wear dresses for a gag and humiliate them".
In the Holiday Heart film, Rhames played a gay drag queen, and the movie was directed by Robert Townsend, and written by Cheryl L. West (based on her play), who is also Black.
My point is that I think it's a cheap laugh, and that's it. I don't see it as a massive conspiracy at all. I read a piece in Vibe Magazine where Chris Rock addressed this very topic:
“I mean, hey, lots of comedians dress up like women, not just Black. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. Men in drag…There was Mrs. Doubtfire. [Adam] Sandler’s next movies is Jack and Jill. He plays his brother and sister. [The Black community] doesn’t have that many movies, so if there’s only four Black movies in a year and two of them star Black men in dresses, I could see how that would upset some people. But that’s a job for some people. Tyler Perry is great in a dress, but I don’t want to see Denzel or Will Smith in a dress. And I don’t think we’re in any danger of seeing that.”And that's the one salient point that I can come up with to support the reasoning behind the "Black men in a dress" theory, and that is that unfortunately there just aren't that many solid quality roles for black actors and actresses in Hollywood. Whether that's racism, or the fact that there aren't enough black writers in Hollywood (perhaps due to racism), is certainly up for debate.
Also as Rock alluded to, I think that the lack of serious quality roles for black actors, can perhaps make it appear that all black actors get forced into wearing a dress to feminize them. I think it's unfortunate when any actor, White, Black, Latino, Asian, whatever feels they have to do a role in drag, whether they're pressured into it, like Chappelle claims he was, or if even the actor feels "hey this is an awesome thing here to do for a cheap laugh".
If the role is a serious role as a drag queen, like Rhames' was and like Priscilla and To Wong Fu were, (although the latter still had the moments of doing it for shock value) then I don't necessarily see the problem with it, but when it's done for comedic reasons, it's just lazy and should be rejected by everyone.
This could hopefully jumpstart the conversation to where there are more black screenwriters and directors that are given shots, and not just for stupid comedy movies either, but serious thought provoking dramas, or action packed thrillers. We need to get away from this sort of mindset that we have of a "Black movie" that gets pigeonholed into a select few genres of stupid dumb "hood comedies" or inspirational church movies, which unfortunately tend to be horribly written/acted.
And until we get to the point where there are a whole slew of strong quality black roles in Hollywood, unfortunately conspiracy theories like this one will continue to be pervasive.