Dear Mr. Ryan Murphy... WHO IS THE REAL MERCEDES JONES?!
After the epiphany I had about the lack of involvement the writer’s of Glee had in building the beautiful and talented, Amber Riley as Mercedes Jones in class yesterday, I knew I had to check out the world wide web to see if anyone else had noticed what I did.
Check what I found:
"Out of the 12 main characters, 10 are white. The 4 biggest characters on the show are Sue, Mr. Schuester, Rachel, and Finn. All of them are white and straight. The minorities are just filler. Glee has won a Diversity Award from the Multicultural Motion Picture Association.”
- Mission Statement from GleeSucks.com
Portion of a comment made in reference to Season 2’s Born This Way episode where the students wore shirts that spoke to their personal identities/ “flaws”
Mercedes, the sole regular black character on the show, wore a shirt that said “No weave.” I’m not sure exactly what her insecurity is. Does she hate that she wears a weave? Does she not wear a weave, but thinks she should? In this (customary) ignoring of Mercedes’ character development, Glee missed a chance to provide a window into what it’s like to be one of a very few students of color (particularly a black girl) at a majority white school.
- "When will Glee stop ignoring race?" by Tamara Winfrey Harris
Glee’s Mercedes Jones is played by Amber Riley, the sassy black girl who makes sure each episode is filled with its share of neck rolls and finger snaps. She is hardly a nerdy heroine- she is by no means gawky or socially handicap. A few weeks back, Shonda Rhimes peaked my interest with a flashback episode of Grey’s Anatomy that showed us a peek of Miranda Bailey (played by Chandra Wilson) in her first days a brainy, self-doubting intern at Seattle Grace. However, this nuanced look into the less than put together black woman is still a rarity in television and film.
Hollywood has churned out many negative views of the black woman, but the archetype most audiences embrace the most has been of the self aware, assertive, HBIC. However, in a marketplace that has been filled with Tyler Perry-esque female characters, where are the black Ugly Betties?
The strong black character is one that most black women can identify with. She is the educated, stiletto rocking, cultured, smart woman with a disposable income. She is the Joan from Girlfriends, Syd from Brown Sugar or the Shaunte from Two Can Play That Game.While Joan fought to handle her neurotic tendencies and Syd couldn’t see the love that was right in front of her, they were all women with a certain amount of success and even more enviable, swag (albeit neither Syd nor Joan had it like sashay Shaunte). These characters have all been women we could all identify with because we wanted to emulate their positives. Back in the day, I could only dream about inserting myself into one of those scenes and being that girl. Standing on my tippy toes, I would imagine being an accomplished writer like Syd, driving with the top down like Vivica or clicking into court with Manolos on my feet a la Joan.
- "A Different Type of Brown Girl: Where’s Our Liz Lemon?" by Leslie Pitterson of Clutch Magazine
This article connected to me most, considering it’s latter discussion of Sidney Shaw from the film, Brown Sugar has been my hero since I was 13 years old… I’m so glad I found her! Though she was flawed, I felt like I could be just like her in so many ways.
As I reflect on these articles, I wish I could see what I saw in Sidney all those years ago, in Mercedes Jones. I love her confidence, her strength, and her unmatched talent but Mr. Murphy, she’s gotta be so much more than that. There was a reason she was cast to sit among a cast of students who looked NOTHING like her. Where is her substance? Her back story? What’s her family like? Hell if you need a black girl to base her story off of… I’m here for you! I would like to think I’m a rather complex individual.
With nothing but images of overtly sexual, violent, hostile, attitudinal, fiesty black women on television… who is my niece supposed to look up to? I can do all I can to be a positive influence in her life but when we’re not together and she’s looking to television to provide some hope… who is she to admire? The 90s gave me Laura Winslow, Penny Proud, Raven Baxter, Tia and Tamara Mowry in Sister,Sister, even Keenan and Kel… What does today’s media have to offer the forth coming generation?
I would LOVE to say Mercedes Jones but it looks like that maybe to late. Thanks television for disappointing me again! :(