What's Missing in 'Dreamgirls'

Dreamgirls is a hit at the box office, but commentator Erin Aubrey Kaplan wonders whether the movie robbed Beyonce of a very important asset?

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

The movie “Dreamgirls” is a smash hit at the box office and the film has already earned four Golden Globe nominations. But commentator Erin Aubrey Kaplan wonders did the movie robbed one of its stars of a very important asset?

ERIN AUBREY KAPLAN: What's happened to Beyonce? OK, I know this doesn't rank up there with other urging questions of our time. I bring up Beyonce because this particular erosion happens faster than WMDs or global warming, and because voicing a concern just might affect the course of disaster. There's time.

But I really bring this up because the loss of the famous booyah Beyonce butt hit so close to home. I don't have it exactly, but I have a version. It's a common anatomical feature of black women and it tends to be part of a whole ensemble of features that includes smallish waists and largish thighs.

But a megastar like Beyonce put the typical in the spotlight, and suddenly that build and its amenities were everywhere, splashed across magazine spreads, accented in videos.

In a confused world of multi-cultural soul singers like Christina Aguilera and Mariah, Beyonce was unapologetically and unmistakably black. Straining more than a bit beneath those glittery evening gowns and designer jeans, her butt was confrontational in the best way and it reassured the rest of us that a figure like that still had a shot at celebrityhood.

Sure, magazines like “Vogue” worried a lot at Beyonce's hips - the polite society term for butt - and that the fact that the diva seemed to indulge in fried chicken salads a tad more often than she should.

But I figure Beyonce was used to it by now. But she was grounded firmly enough in the aesthetics of hip-hop to not worry much about Hollywood. Yeah, I know that Missy Elliot lost weight and that Li'l Kim got surgery and that Janet Jackson, well, the Jacksons are a sight unto themselves.

But Beyonce was different. She wasn't O' natural bombshell from the beginning whose other dalliances with artifice - blonde hair, extensions - were routine and couldn't begin to neutralize her core appeal as a bodacious black woman with a body and a booty to match.

Now, well, there's not as much hope, literally, because there's not as much Beyonce. In preparation for her role as the lead (unintelligible) in “Dreamgirls,” Beyonce whittled herself down in the last year to end up looking like Halle Berry.

Now, there's nothing wrong with Halle Berry. She's lovely and all that, and she happens to be petite. But she also happens to be part of a long tradition of black women that Hollywood and America in general finds acceptable - light skin, well spoken, slender, beautiful but not lusty; think Lena Horn.

But we need more diversity. We need light-skinned black women who are not exactly slender. We need black women of all skin shades who have body types and sensibilities that fall somewhere along that long spectrum in between Halle Berry and Mo'nique.

But now Beyonce has done a Jennifer Lopez. Remember her butt? It was on full display in “Selina,” the bio-pick movie that starred Lopez well before she became J-Lo. In fact, the Puerto Rican Lopez got the role partly because she had the booyah butt that the Mexican-born Selena was famous for.

Alas, as Jennifer got more famous, she looked less and less ethnic and her butt shrunk accordingly. Beyonce is at a different place in her career, but I'm worried. In her diminished state she looks uncertain, a little anxious. That mix of mystery and wide openness that gives so many other black women their appeal, that made the megastar Beyonce one of us, is no longer evident. She's gone for being a go girl to a dream girl.

I hope it's temporary. I'm all for dreams, but when it comes to backside curves, I'm much more inspired by the real world.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Erin Aubrey Kaplan is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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