In the New York Times Style Magazine’s current layout of six black film actresses lounging in pastel designer outfits against a faux-spring backdrop, the image looked suspiciously like an old-fashioned plantation cotillion — or like the pages of Vanity Fair by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz at her maddest. The image is so far away from the reality of the film industry’s new race- and gender-inclusion programs that it must be a prank.
Although the article accompanying the photo is headlined “The Esteemed Black Actresses Who Finally Have the Spotlight,” you would be forgiven if you couldn’t recognize Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige, Angela Bassett, Lynn Whitfield, Halle Berry, or Kimberly Elise — or articulate the basis of their “esteem.” None are stars who have the clout or name recognition to “open” a film with weekend box-office glory. Their Times masquerade is simply meant to disguise film-industry reality with political fantasy — the diversity-and-equality ideal that exists only in the mind of media hacks whose real work is social engineering. (The Style article is part of a discreetly misleading section titled “We Are Family.”)
The pretense that these barely identifiable actresses represent a ceiling-crashing level of achievement seems part of contemporary media’s stealth propaganda — particularly the fanciful side of the Times’ 1619 Project. That notorious agenda, which rewrites American history as having been determined by a slavery-based ideology and economy, has been widely adopted by copycat media and educators, just as the Times’ cultural coverage dictates the culture copy in most other media. The Style Magazine’s Hollywood-harem layout shifts political focus to the camouflage of showbiz glamour and presumed power.
But a more honest article would have displayed the six actresses as Hollywood typically shows them: Taraji P. Henson as the raucous ex-con matriarch of TV’s Empire; Mary J. Blige as the long-suffering R&B singer who plays long-suffering women in Prison Song and Mudbound; Angela Bassett as a bossy matriarch but mostly recalled from What’s Love Got to Do with It almost 40 years ago as the long-suffering Tina Turner; Lynn Whitfield, who starred 40 years ago in TV’s travail-laden Josephine Baker Story; Halle Berry, who won an Oscar as the original “thot” in Monster’s Ball; and Kimberly Elise, continually sobbing from the trashy Set It Off to Jonathan Demme’s underappreciated masterpiece Beloved. They’re all minor figures. Fact is, the elite media doesn’t grant major status to those outside its tribe.
For the Style Magazine essay, writer Brian Keith Jackson scratched the surface of Hollywood’s black female history in order to flaunt this rewrite of film culture. He missed the now-secret (buried) history of such black actresses as N’Bushe Wright, Vivica A. Fox, Sanaa Lathan, A. J. Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, and especially Nia Long (whose frequent appearance in Miramax films won her the waggish label “the black Gwyneth Paltrow”). During a time that black Millennials cannot recall, those women struggled to sustain careers and a presence in the culture. These were the years leading up to “the Obama Effect,” Harvey Weinstein’s accurate description of the face-saving gestures made by mainstream media professionals. It was their pre-1619 mission to maintain disingenuous notions of social progress.
It is necessary to see through the hypocrisy of the Style slant — the disinformation presented as celebratory “light” media fare. An additional “We Are Family” article on filmmaker Gordon Parks was also segregated. Unable to cite Parks’s influence on white filmmakers, the article focused on his racial identity (“The Man Who Paved the Way for Black Directors in Hollywood”). Oddly, Parks himself was missing from the main photo. It’s another 1619 Project stunt, an empowerment prank.
At this moment of intense focus on time-killing activities, media content is being perused, binged, but rarely closely examined. Entertainment pages and websites are now the answer to a publicist’s dream, revealing our desperation and gullibility. The New York Times Style Magazine was always a compass for culture vultures — people who feel lost in the media landscape, looking for guidance and tips on approved taste. It’s the received-opinion crowd.
These factitious “We Are Family” articles suggest that we are all in the Hollywood game together, that the careers of obscure black actresses and one undistinguished filmmaker complement our own and represent a personal goal of, say, posing in couture amid lights and cosmetics minions, enjoying D-list celebrity, and indulging in pretend play. This new version of uplift is designed to construct a pseudo-meritocracy; honoring “the creative circles defining the culture” is merely the latest in Obama Effect journalistic manipulation.
This repositioning of film-history facts panders to susceptible culture-vulture readers as if they were voters; they undergo mind control through movie media. And the culture is robotized.