Whoopi Goldberg is black, did you know that? Surprised the heck out of me when I first noticed.
Summer of 1986, I was wandering through the living room. Mitch, the guy I was living with at the time, had the television turned on to Entertainment Tonight, and something Mary Hart was saying caught my ear. I paused, just in time for them to cut to a clip of a new movie, Jumpin' Jack Flash, that was to come out in the fall. It was the scene where she's out on the dock late at night, meeting the spy.
He sneaks up behind her and sticks a gun in the back of her head, she freaks, he claps his hand over her mouth and frisks her. Satisfied, he lets her go. They introduce themselves as she's getting her heart started again. Feeling vicariously steamed on her behalf, my thought at this point is that she should grab him by the lapels and read him the riot act for scaring her. Which she does! And as she does so, the dialog is right, in a way I couldn't explain. The scene procedes, and I continue to accurately predict the dialogue, and at the same time be delightfully surprised -- I am never right; the dialog in movies never goes how I think it ought to. The timing and the delivery are perfect. I am utterly taken by this lady's solid brass.
By the end of the two or three minute clip, I was sold. Mary Hart came back on to announce that the film would open in October. I was going, I knew that much already.
I asked Mitch, "Who is this Whoopi Goldberg person?" (never having heard of her before then). "I don't know," he shrugged. "Some comedienne." (I was oddly annoyed by his indifference. Somehow it seemed he was willfully ignoring something important.)
I didn't realize just how sold I was until I showed up for the first showing on the first day of release.
Blew the top of my head off.
Now, okay, it's just a movie, right? But it triggered a cascade of changes in me that would (I think I can safely say and even document) have had profound effects on my life ever since. It took me six months to unpack what happened to me.
Saw eXistenZ last weekend. Allegra, the famous game designer, takes Ted out to get a neural implant. They wind up at an all-night gas station that does black market implants on the side. The station attendant is a devout gamer. Upon recognizing Allegra, he drops prostrate at her feet. "You changed my life!" Flinch.
Only the lonelyWell, to start with, there's Whoopi. That was the first, and to date only female character I have ever seen in a movie (or on TV) with whom I could identify completely -- and wanted to. I feel terribly pretentious saying this but, dammit, it's true: whatever it is that I am, she's the only other one I've ever seen.
It took a while for it to dawn on me that there are things I saw things in Terry Doolittle's character that were characteristics I share -- things that I actually like about myself. I'd never realized that before -- that I liked some things about myself. (Makes me feel a little sad when I think about that.) I think this explains the "religious experience" sensation I had watching this movie. I had the same feeling at Iguanacon, the first science fiction convention I went to, back in 1978. It's the sensation of finally connecting with myself, something I did for the first time at Iggy, and have only managed intermittently since.
Then I realized that she was black. (And was bemused that it took me so long to notice this.) I was further bemused that the first true Role Model I ever encountered was of Another Race. (Never mind that it took me until age 29 to find one....) I then, of course, had to agonize over the question, "Am I a racist?" Well, yeah, I finally concluded. I don't think you can grow up in this culture and not be, at least to some degree. (One nice side effect is that whenever I see a person who's black, I feel a small leap of delight because they remind me of Whoopi, instead of a flinch of fear because they're "different." Still a prejudice, but it's at least one that puts a smile on my face instead of a scowl. I hope this at least makes me easier to deal with, if no more enlightened. Ahem.)
Welcome to my headIt started like this.
—21 May 1999JM home Copyright © 1999 Jacque Marshall All rights reserved.
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