Is it me, or are we still seeing the same stereotypes of black femininity transition onto online comedic entertainment? Nowadays, comedic performers can conveniently showcase their talents by creating an audience through Youtube and Vine. Billy Sorrells is a perfect example of a young, gifted black comedian who built his appeal from the online comedy circuit. However, Billy along with other online black male comedic performers, all create specific caricatures of black womanhood. They have started this on-going campaign of putting a spotlight on the “ratchet” girl. The ghetto girl that is from the hood, speaks hood vernacular under all circumstances, and only cares about her weave, clothes and jewelry. Why is the black woman always the “go-to” caricature for many black male comedians and performers as a leading tool in gaining an audience?
When obtaining my Media Arts Masters degree from Long Island University in 2011, my thesis defense was exploring the popular trend of Hollywood films that celebrated black male comedians dressed in drag as elderly, black women. The major box-office success of films such as Big Mama’s House, Madea, and The Nutty Professor are all great examples of this mainstream appeal. Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, Tyler Perry are all talented black comedic performers whom careers and success severely heightened due to these “flamboyant, over-weight, gun-toting matriarchs that roughly spit out their tough love”. After reading countless interviews and articles about these men and the films, I learned that they did create these “Transvestite Mammy” caricatures from the women in their family and neighborhoods that influenced them and loved dearly. However, once these characters went through the “Hollywood Machine” they transitioned into an entity that many members of the black community find socially offensive.
Comedic performances of men dressed in drag as black women can be dated back to the days of American vaudeville. At that time, the performance trend started from white male comedy performers would dress in drag as either the over weight, blackface, tough love Mammy or the blackface sassy, loud mouth wench that didn’t back down to any man, woman, or child. Unfortunately, these same caricatures were equally displayed in vaudeville shows that had an all black cast. These caricatures remained through the technological advances of film and television. Famous comedic performers such as Flip Wilson, Jamie Foxx, and Keenan Thompson have all been guilty of poking fun at certain types of black womanhood as apart of their mainstream appeal.
Therefore, this socially offensive yet appealing torch has been bestowed upon Billy Sorrells and the new generation of black male comedians. The new school has rightfully done their research and continues to evolve this restricted social image of the black woman. The former overweight blackface Mammy can still be seen in films such as Tyler Perry’s A Madea Christmas (2013), similar to how the former sassy blackface wench and “Sapphire” is now the new millennium “ratchet” girl performed by Billy Sorrell’s online spoof sketches.
Have we ever stopped to ask ourselves why we support these sorts of projects that have these specific caricatures? Some believe that these black male comedians use these drag caricatures as tools to vent their black male aggression towards racism, poverty, broken homes, crime, welfare, materialism, etc. Do mainstream audience realize this hidden tool? Or are they successfully hypnotized by the normalcy of this staple visualization of black womanhood? People, you tell me . . .