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Todd Phillips has talked a lot about the controversies surrounding “Joker” — whether the movie condones or condemns its anti-hero, if it could actually inspire real-life violence — but has yet to address the movie’s complex racial connotations, especially when it comes to the way black women are portrayed in relation to Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck.
In Hollywood, women still lag behind men in terms of on-screen visibility, and it’s significantly worse for women of color, as the most recent USC Annenberg diversity and inclusion study shows. Only 33.1% of roles in the 100 top movies of 2018 went to female characters; of those, just 11% went to underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, of which black women are included.
Joker - Deserves - Credit - Trend - Women
“Joker” at least deserves some credit on this front: It bucks that trend. Most women who interact with the white male lead happen to be black, and none are stereotypes or a historically stock characters (maids, mammies, sex workers, etc). In fact, based on how black women engage with Arthur, one can infer that the director sees them as collective representatives of a basic humanity that’s otherwise absent in the characters who inhabit his very small world. At the same time, they’re largely nameless and exhibit a uniformity that creates a disturbing sense that they’re being used in service of another kind of cliche.
Early on, Arthur encounters a black mother (Mandela Bellamy) and her young son (Demetrius Dotson II) on a packed city bus. The wannabe comedian entertains the appreciative kid, until his mother scolds Arthur for engaging her son without her permission. It’s a logical reaction: For many black people, the country’s systemic framework keeps poor and working-class black communities in perpetual economic deprivation, and it eventually elicits anger and mistrust against the Other — namely, white people, and especially white men....
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