One of the very first African American women to be in a film is Hattie McDaniel. Hattie McDaniel was an American stage actress, professional singer-songwriter, and comedian. But, Hattie is best known for her role in Gone With The Wind.
When you think of the term “The Mammy” you think of this face. Hattie is Mammy, Mammy is Hattie. “Physically, the Mammy is portrayed as an overweight, dark-skinned woman with very African features. She is not considered attractive Freaks, Gold Diggers, Divas, and Dykes 9 by Western standards, and, thus, was not considered attractive to white male desires” (Stephens & Phillips 2003 P.8 ).
“black in color as well as race and fat with enormous breasts that are full enough to nourish all the children in the world; her head is perpetually covered with her trademark kerchief to hide the kinky hair that marks her as ugly. Tied to her physical characteristics are her personality traits: she is strong, for she certainly has enough girth, but this strength is used in the service to her white master and as a way of keeping her male counterparts in check; she is kind and loyal, for she is a mother; she is sexless”.
In the film, Gone With The Wind Hattie who plays The Mammy is a slave who is the nurse of the main character Scarlett. She was very loyal to her white family in the film. After Scarlett mother death Mammy steps up and put her foot down when it came to things Scarlett needed discipline on.
The film gave the impression that even though Mammy was loyal she was also uneducated which majority of slaves were.
The film also gave the impression that because she was dark-skinned and plump she was not desired or sexualized.
I choose Hattie McDaniels because she was one of the very first African American women to be seen in a major film. This film has been seen by millions. “Gone with the Wind” had the title of the highest-grossing film of all time in Canada and the US for over a century until recently. I point this out because the film came out in 1939. Mammy being the first representation of African American Women in film, to me is the continuation of African American women stereotypes from slavery.
The image of Mammy stems from slavery but, it also reminds me of Sara Bartmann. Sara Bartmann was an African woman who was exploited and put on display for her large buttocks. I relate the two Mammy and Sara Bartmann because they are both seen as the image of the black women. “And indeed Sarah Bartmann’s sexual parts serve as the central image for the black female throughout the nineteenth century” (Gilman, 1985 P. 17).
Hattie went on to be the first African American to win an Oscar for her role in Gone With The Wind. Which she was not even allowed to be in the room where the awards were taking place to accept her award. She had to accept her award at the Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub.
Hattie played Mammy in 1939 but the Mammy image is still alive and seen in films till this Today.
Gone With The Wind 1939/ The Help 2011
One of the most famous and important representations and portrayal of African American women in film is Hattie McDaniel, Mammy role. A role that desexualized African American women. A role that showed African American to be overweight. A role that showed African American women to be uneducated. A role that showed African American to be loyal to their white family while mistreating their real, black family. A role that showed African American women what white Hollywood really thought of them.
Gilman, S. L. (1985). The Hottentot and the Prostitute Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality. In S. L. Gilman, Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literatur (p. 17). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Phillips, D. P. (2003). FREAKS, GOLD DIGGERS, DIVAS, AND DYKES: THE SOCIOHISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF ADOLESCENT AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN’S SEXUAL SCRIPTS. 48.
Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). Gone with the Wind [Motion Picture].