Not All Women Are Laughing at 'Norbit'
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Eddie Murphy is having a really good year. He's been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in "Dream Girls," and his current movie, called "Norbit," is packing them in at the multiplex.
Murphy plays a number of roles in that film including an overbearing and very overweight African American woman, and that particular character has made a lot of people angry, a lot of African American women.
Kristal Brent Zook is a contributing writer at Essence magazine and she's not a fan of Murphy's movie.
KRISTAL BRENT ZOOK: You may have heard the film "Norbit" was number one at the box office last weekend. You've probably seen the ads at bus stop benches and on billboards: the image of an obese black woman wearing pink lingerie and a garish smile crushes the frightened black man lying beneath her.
Norbit, played by Eddie Murphy, speaks with a lisp and wears nerdy oversized plastic glasses. As a young boy, he meets Rasputia, who's obese and domineering even as a child. Now you have a girlfriend, she announces after rescuing him from class bullies. Get your black blankety blank up and hold my hand.
Rasputia, also played by Murphy, is cruel, selfish and abusive. She sucker punches him in the face and cheats on him. Even on her wedding day, she's so disgusting the congregation gusts in horror when her veil is lifted at kiss the bride. Rasputia is so over-the-top offensive, so beyond crude, that one has to wonder when Eddie Murphy wrote the script with his brother Charles, what were these black men thinking. Don't they know about the myth of black matriarchy? An infamous theory by Senator Patrick Moynahan is suggested that black women's overbearing strength was the root cause of the breakup of black families. It was met with waves of protests from African-American scholars and activists that continue even today.
Don't they know that the majority of black women will never marry in their lifetime? And that Moynahan's implied reasoning remains unspoken all around us, that she is so unfeminine and animalistic, this dark-skinned thing, so emasculating to the male ego that no sane black man could possibly want her? It's also as though the Murphy brothers were unaware of that more than 80 percent of black women are either overweight or obese and that this too is the cause of suffering on an epidemic scale from type two diabetes to high blood pressure to heart failure to heart failure and early strokes.
And, of course, Norbit's true love in the movie, played by pencil-thin Thandie Newton, had to be light-skinned with long, straight hair. It's another easy jab around color and there's still widespread belief that light skin is more desirable. But then again, maybe Eddie and Charles Murphy did know what they were doing. If we believe that humor is our salvation in times of tragedy, maybe he was just trying to do his job, looking for points of pain and trying to make them funny. He failed, but still.
Maybe that's why the plus-size black woman in front of me in the theater who guffawed loudly surprised me. She told me after the movie that she was actually disappointed and just trying to make the best of a bad situation. It was the end of a long, hard work day and she just needed a good laugh.
NORRIS: Kristal Brent Zook is the author of "Black Woman's Lives: Stories of Power and Pain."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.