Hollywood is notoriously resistant to change. If something was found to be successful in the past, you can guarantee it will be played out over and over again -- no matter how tiresome it becomes. For decades now, scriptwriters have relied on the same stock characters, cliches, and structures to produce lazy, formulaic films and shows that do little more than reinforce every negative stereotype about every segment of society imaginable. For example ...
4Every Husband Is a Bumbling Idiot
In Hollywood, the typical family man is part Neanderthal, part doofus, and all-around annoying. Too often, sitcoms, cartoons, and movies portray the dad as a well-intentioned -- yet woefully inept -- man-child, whose wife has to play "mommy" to him as well as their kids. It's as if we were to assume every marriage certificate comes with a full-frontal lobotomy for the husband. How did these men survive before they had a woman in their lives to keep them from walking into walls every five minutes?
The current poster child for the imbecile dad is Phil Dunphy of the TV show Modern Family.
While the award-winning show has been praised for taking a fresh approach to family dynamics, that unfortunately doesn't seem to extend to the "tired, naggy wife and idiot husband" trope. From his cringe-worthy attempts at humor to his creepy advances on his own (step)mother-in-law ...
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty
... Phil is a clueless and, at times, tactless lout, and that somehow is supposed to come off as endearing? While I'm sure there are many out there who would disagree, given the popularity of the character, men acting like dolts doesn't come off as charming as much as it does pathetic.
Another trait of the the dumb dad is his inability to care for his own offspring -- as seen in the recent movie Mom's Night Out.
When Mom decides to take one night out for herself, chaos ensues because, you know, Dad is an idiot. If you couldn't stomach the full two-and-a-half minutes of the trailer, at one point, one of the mothers asks her husband what's the worst thing that could happen to their children if he were in charge.
"Is it that I might be their real dad?"
He sputters, "They could get maimed ... I could lose both of them ... It's getting hot in here." Really?
Why It Needs to Stop
In the fictional universe, "Dad" is too often portrayed as a nitwit, overwhelmed by simple concepts and put out when asked to participate like a grown-up. It's insulting to men and also helps foster his overdone counterpart, the shrewish wife.
This is from the Valentine's Day episode!
What person wouldn't be driven to distraction if his or her spouse constantly acted like such an idiot? It's a lame stereotype and completely removed from reality. The overwhelming majority of fathers and husbands aren't incompetent half-wits who don't know how to feed their kids or recognize social cues. Perhaps it's a backlash from the Father Knows Best era, with its overabundance of patriarchal reverence, but the pendulum has swung so far to the other side that the middle ground, when it comes to representing the family man, barely even exists anymore.
3Black Women Are Sassy!
With her head tilt, exaggerated eye roll, and hand wave, she's always ready with a snappy retort. The sassy black woman is a comedy mainstay, and Florence Johnston (Marla Gibbs) from the TV show The Jeffersons is one of the earliest, best-known examples. Always at odds with her boss, George Jefferson, Florence could be counted on to put the blustering, hot-headed George in his place.
"You have a gigantic phone call."
But, see, Florence wasn't the only black woman represented on the show. There was Louise "Weezy" Jefferson (Isabel Sanford), the voice of reason, and neighbor Helen Willis (Roxie Roker), the hot trophy wife, to round out the cast.
Today, the character archetype that Gibbs made famous is considered cliche, and two contemporary actresses totally agree that it should totally be retired ... sort of.
When The Mindy Project was set to debut, executive producer and star of the show Mindy Kaling promised her show would be different ...
"I just didn't want the characters to be too stock -- not the sassy black woman or the bimbo. You see those sometimes, but they're not very fresh."
As is so often the case when a new show is working out its kinks, The Mindy Project went through some casting shake-ups toward the end of the first season, and a new character was brought on to liven things up. Let's see what she's like ...
That's Xosha Roquemore, who, as the L.A. Times points out, is the only other minority cast member with a regular role besides Kaling. She joined the show late in the first season, filling the obligatory hospital-based comedy role of "sassy black nurse."
Retta, who played Donna on Parks and Recreation, went on Talk of the Nation to discuss the types of roles she'd been offered prior to Parks and Rec. "When I started, it was all meter maids or the sassy nurse or the sassy receptionist in the hospital," she told NPR's Neal Conan. "And I felt like: Are those the only jobs that large, black women have?"
NPR goes on to describe Retta's portrayal of the character of Donna as "mostly in the background of the show, but is known for obsessing over her Mercedes SUV and for creating the Parks and Rec 'Treat Yo Self' holiday." So, I guess the takeaway is: At least she's playing a sassy ... civil servant? Progress!
Why It Needs to Stop
Enough already. There are limited options in terms of representation for the black female in Hollywood, and, too often, she's a peripheral character who only shows up occasionally to deliver a snappy comeback. There needs to be more than just that one stock character type for black comedic actresses. Some readers will probably note Parks and Rec's diversity in casting Rashida Jones as Leslie Knope's mild-mannered best friend, Ann. Meek and unassuming, she's the antithesis of the sassy black woman, but her ethnicity is often overlooked ... even by professionals who should know better. As when this reporter complimented Jones on her "tan."
While the sassy black woman is a beloved character, it has been done to death. Unfortunately, when even those who call it out for being limiting and trite end up embracing it, the trope isn't going anywhere soon.