'Exhale' adds to bashing of black men

January 03, 1996|By GREGORY KANE

The Hen Party started a month before the opening of the movie "Waiting To Exhale." The Mother Hen, Oprah "I used cocaine but the man made me do it" Winfrey, had gathered the stars of the movie on her show to cackle about how black men do black women wrong in relationships.

Lela Rochon, who plays Robin in the movie, said she identified with her character, who is judged by her good looks and not by her mind -- the first in a litany of sins committed by black men. Black women, you see, swoon over Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes because these men are proficient at computing differential equations.

The issue of whether the movie or Terry McMillan's book bash black men was raised, but Mother Hen Winfrey brushed it aside. Black author Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in his book "The Assassination of the Black Male Image," cited McMillan's book as the main black male bashing weapon and named her as one of the leading assassins. Hutchinson was not invited to appear on the show. No point in inviting a rooster to a hen party, especially if he has a valid point to make.

Mother Hen Winfrey insists the book and movie are not about black male bashing, but about sisterhood. Hutchinson and other skeptical black men are wondering if there's a difference. Hutchinson cites several other works by black women -- "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf," "Black Macho And The Myth Of The Superwoman," "The Women of Brewster Place," "The Color Purple" -- as examples of black male bashing. Add McMillan's book to the list and you have not sisterhood, but a pattern of literary black male bashing that Hutchinson correctly calls a "growth industry."

But "Black Macho," written by Michelle Wallace, and Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" at least had some value. Wallace tried to tell us it was a macho culture among black men that was just as detrimental to the African-Americans as white racism. We ignored her, perhaps because she also included the spurious and muddle-headed charge that black men lust obsessively after white women.

"The Color Purple" was an artistic triumph, a brilliantly told tale of one woman's struggle against a brutal and patriarchal society. The difference between it and "Waiting To Exhale" is the difference between art and invective masquerading as art. In fact, McMillan's comments on Mother Hen Winfrey's show left me with the impression that her novel was the work of a confused and bitter woman.

But that means nothing to the millions who are buying McMillan's mediocre novel or the throngs flocking to theaters to see the even more gawd-awful movie, parts of which left me pining away for Amos 'n' Andy reruns. (Kingfish, where is you now dat you is really needed?)

"Waiting To Exhale," the movie, raked in $14.1 million its first weekend. Shows have been selling out at Security Mall. Yesterday's 1:45 p.m. show at Security Mall nearly packed the house. The novel, published by Simon and Schuster, tops the best-seller list for paperbacks.

Compare the success of the movie and book to Hutchinson's response. His book had to be published by the obscure Middle Passage Press. He also has written "Black Fatherhood: A Guide To Male Parenting" -- a nonfiction account of how black men function as fathers. A major New York paperback publisher considered a reprint, Hutchinson said, but company honchos later changed their minds. No reason they shouldn't have. Books portraying black men in a positive light are simply not part of the growth industry.

Instead, we get the steady litany of novels, plays, essays and short stories depicting the black man as brute, liar and womanizer and women as noble victims. We get the ultimate insult, "Waiting To Exhale," a 400-page diatribe in which a gaggle of hens cluck about the disappointments in their love relationships. Hutchinson said one woman told him McMillan "spoke for the hurt of every woman who got dressed up, ready for a date and the guy didn't show." Hutchinson resisted the urge to respond that he had once spent a day polishing his car, getting dressed and buying flowers only to be stood up by his date.

People who've been hurt in love relationships belong to the world's biggest club. It's time the hens of the world realize that club is a coed one.

Gregory P. Kane's column appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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