White Man's Zula

Best-looking pic I could find.
Since we're back on the nerds-and-geeks track...I'm watching Conan the Destroyer (1984), and while I have all the proper respect due to Grace Jones, the character of Zula never appealed to Moi.  I look at Zula and I see the quintessential white interpretation of a black woman.

All it takes is one flawed idea to lead to another and then another, creating a disastrous cascade effect.

1) Zula is the token.

She's there to shut us up so that black women in particular can't complain about not being seen in Hollywood.  After seeing the first film, her ass appears random as hell in the second (ironically, we see her actual ass very often in this movie).

Because she technically doesn't "belong", the writers don't know what the hell to do with her.  They don't how to characterize her in a balanced, well-rounded, or even remotely interesting way.  In other words, her dark skin makes her so "foreign" and "alien" they have no clue how to properly develop her character.  So they make her a teeth-grinding Africanesque warrior who is conveniently the last of her tribe, so that the white audience members won't have to bother with seeing too many Negroes in the film.

2) Zula is the Black Amazon Trope.

Fuck...crack open the Trope dictionary and Zula is the goddamn definition.  I mean, we've already got a warriors in the damn film - how come the only black woman in the entire movie has to be a snarling stick-wielder?  You're telling Moi that in sword-and-sorcery 'verse, they didn't have room for say, a delectable siren?  How about a sultry enchantress?  A mysical ancient goddess?  An enigmatic oracle?  How about a spy/assassin masquerading as a sexy dancing girl?  The white girl can play the petulant, whiny princess all she wants - fuck that shit - but how come Zula (which is such an obvious play off "Zulu") doesn't get something, you know...interesting?  Exciting?  New and unexpected, but in a good way?

Was Iman unavailable?
3)  Zula is unattractive.

Mind you, in the 1980s, Grace Jones herself looked fabulous.  But Zula does not.  Zula is not meant to.  We can't have her distracting the audience from the white leading ladies (one of which was then-15-year-old Olivia d'Abo, whom Zula eventually ends up taking orders from).

You may recall that Grace Jones was quite popular during the 70s and 80s for her music, but she was also known for her deliberately androgynous style.  So naturally, one must wonder why she became the automatic choice.  Was Somalian model Iman unavailable?  They couldn't give Whitney Houston a call?  Karen AlexanderShari BelafonteBeverly JohnsonTina Turner? Erika AlexanderJanet Jackson?  You're telling me that it never even occurred to the writers to extend any of them an invite?

"LOL - I'd never fuck this woman."
4) Zula is asexual.

Zula wasn't designed because she's desperately needed or wanted in the story.  She's not casted to be sexually alluring to the hetero male demographic which dominates this sword-and-sorcery audience.  She's not written to be fascinating in any way.  Only the least attractive, most annoying man in the film makes a move on her one time, and she immediately threatens to "spread [his] head."

So once more, the black woman is effectively rendered sexless and unworthy of pursuing.  She's just there to pal around with and not be taken seriously.

In other words, she's just another one of the guys.

Comments

  1. I love Grace Jones. Badass pic of her. There was something about CTD that never sat well with me when I watched it waaaaaay back in the day as a kid. I'm thinking that was it.

    Jeez.

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  2. BlackPeopleSufferFromPTSD2/26/11, 9:47 PM

    I hated it because every time I blinked "Miss Ann" (side eye) was whining for her Bombaata. Notice how they gave Red Sonia the warrior but still female treatment. It's not like they were ignorant in how to write a well rounded female warrior.

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  3. I remember watching that ish as a kid and having a serious "WTF?" moment.

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  4. "So they make her a teeth-grinding Africanesque warrior who is conveniently the last of her tribe, so that the white audience members won't have to bother with seeing too many Negroes in the film."

    Bingo!!!
    Whites don’t go to the movies to see us… they go the theater to see themselves. Idealized versions of the people they would like to be. Too many blacks in one film might scare whites away if there’s no Hero they can identify with. I think for some whites its damn-near painful to have to watch a black character on film; its why most black characters were cut out of films that played in the south. If there aren’t any blacks in my neighborhood then why do I have to see them on the big screen? They just need one token to defend themselves against the critics. In the cartoon South Park, the black kid is aptly named… Token.

    Roger Moore bedded Grace in, A View to a Kill... and like the noble savages before her she sacrifices herself in the end. Even though she graced the covers of many high fashion publications she was viewed as purely primal. She was far from what whites viewed as ‘romantic lead’ material. White men just didn’t know what to do with Grace. They cast her in the kooky vampire flick aptly named Vamp, but her screen time was kept to a minimum. She's a talent in her own right and a good singer. Her antics on and off the stage simply put her beyond the fringe.

    "So once more, the black woman is effectively rendered sexless and unworthy of pursuing. She's just there to pal around with and not be taken seriously."

    Whites will allow some sexual tension between a black male lead and his co-star. But the white male ego is too fragile to allow a black man to make love onscreen, especially to a white woman. Now you can 'Suggest' a sexual relationship is possible, just don't show it. Of course as long as the roles are reversed, you can show a white man ravishing a black woman all day long. Hell she'll even get an Oscar for her trouble. Especially if her skin is lighter than a paper bag. I agree; the 'norm' for depicting a woman darker than what's 'allowable' is to cast her character as sexless.

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  5. Another thing I've noticed is the tendency to deliberately cast unattractive black women opposite decent-looking to admittedly gorgeous non-black women. A prime example of this is Nicki Micheaux in Love Ranch (2004) - say what you want to, she is not fine. Granted, it's a dreadful movie which had no business being made in the first place, but there are stunning black women a-plenty and there was no excuse for that garish mess. They deliberately put her in some mighty hideous makeup to ensure she was unequivocally undesirable.

    Is like the filmmakers were trying to say, "See? We tried. We starved her. We waxed her, gave her a weave, put on some makeup, but nothing worked. Black women are just unattractive and there just isn't anything you can do for them."

    *rolls eyes*

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    Replies
    1. What is wrong with Nikki Micheaux??..Come on now..we as black women need to embrace all the varieties of beauty that our actresses come in...She may not be Beyonce but she definitely has a beauty all her own...

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    2. She's got a great body and gorgeous dark skin, but I don't think her face is pretty.

      It could be the weaves she wears and/or the makeup the staff slather on her, but I personally just don't think she's attractive.

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    3. She's got a great body and gorgeous dark skin, but I don't think her face is pretty.

      It could be the weaves she wears and/or the makeup the staff slather on her, but I personally just don't think she's attractive.


      Fair enough...Everyone has a right to their personal taste and who they find attractive...I just happen to find her attractive..but a lot of things go into the formula when I calculate attractiveness..BTW, I personally NEVER got the hype over Halle Berry..its not about complexion either...I just have found a lot more attractive lighter skinned actresses...and felt the hype over her was way overblown...

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    4. Personally, I never got the hype about Halle Berry either. She's pretty, but I think much of her beauty is just hype, and films like Monster's Ball & Die Another Day (gee...now what do they have in common?).

      I think Lenora Crichlow, Jennifer Beals, and Zoe Saldana are all much prettier than Halle Berry.

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  6. Hey Moi,

    I was wondering if you caught wind of Beyonce's "Tribute" to Fela Kuti overseas...

    Here are some links
    http://hearthesiren.wordpress.com/2011/02/22/beyonce-does-blackface-a-testament-to-the-house-negro-mentality/

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMtqA4S0yv8&feature=feedu

    http://www.womanist-musings.com/2011/02/beyonce-in-black-face-is-not-art.html

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  7. The problem with making Zula an enchantress or a siren is that she probably would've been reduced to the jezebel trope that black women endure far too often in the media as well.

    I was huge Grace Jones fan and I loved her in the movies she appeared in.

    I saw this movie when I was younger and I remember how much I loved this character because I loved this powerful black woman who kicked butt became the captain of the guard at the end.

    That said, after reading this post and then thinking how Red Sonja (who exists in the same universe as Conan) was handled in comparison to Zula....yeah, your point stands.

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  8. I remember this film. I love Grace so much, but no. Just no. They turned an amazing woman into a figure of ridicule. I wonder what she was thinking to take the roll in the first place. She's always been a woman in control of her image and sexuality, but she just plain ole f*cked up here.

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  9. Never watched the film, but it isn't anything new the scary tribeswoman warrior trope thing has been done too many times.

    As for the other mystical beings that you listed, you will have a hard time finding them on the big screen or small screen. Books, you will have to be very patient when searching for something that does not make you want to pull out your hair.

    Another thing I've noticed is the tendency to deliberately cast unattractive black women opposite decent-looking to admittedly gorgeous non-black women.

    Noticed this too in a lot of shit. Seen it online too when Black men want to justify dating non-white women. I have to lmao coz I could do the same thing
    Put Genevieve Nnaji next to Sandra Bernhard.

    Hell in movies with an all white cast it's the same ish the lead is really pretty and her best friend is unfortunate looking. It's a film staple.

    Now as for white writers not knowing shit. Too true. They get their ideas about Blacks from TV characters who were written by whites who don't know shit that got their ideas from TV...you see where I am going with this.

    The other day I was in Tesco strolling through the book section and a book that had a black woman on the cover caught my eye I read the blurb and it was about a sassy black maid working for a white family and how she had so much sass and even though she lived in the south she wasn't afraid of telling white folks how to do stuff and help out them out with their promblems. WTF I looked at the picture of the author and it was some white british woman. I dropped the book on the floor. Seriously where the fuck did she get her inspiration from, Mammy 2 shoes from Tom & Jerry????

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  10. BlackPeopleSufferFromPTSD2/27/11, 7:36 PM

    DEAD @ Mammy 2 shoes!!!!

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  11. Aiyo said...
    Seriously where the fuck did she get her inspiration from, Mammy 2 shoes from Tom & Jerry????

    For the trivia-minded; she's the very same woman who plays Aunt Hazel on Sanford & Son. Really love her character.

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  12. @ Y

    Looks like I'll have to telling everyone the same thing I told Amaya when she brought this up:

    "Beyonce is an idiot attention whore - end of story. She just did this to make sure people keep talking about her one way or another. Her music career is slowly dying on the vine, her L'Oreal hair dye commercials are a joke, and no can talk about "Obsessed" while keeping a straight face.

    "Her days are done. If she had at least 3 digits in her IQ, she would bow out gracefully. But like every other deficient member of the industry, she is addicted to publicity, negative or not."

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  13. Hi my sister showed me your journal last week. You've got some very insightful articles here and I am getting a good deal of satisfaction from reading them.

    I remember seeing this when I was a kid and I didn't care for it.
    I enjoyed Conan the Barbarian and everything in that genre of warriors and fantasy and still do,but that always bothered me. Zula is a horrible and lazy creation besides and I can only think that Grace Jones signed the contract thinking perhaps one thing would happen and then something else happened.

    I personally wouldn't make the Red Sonja comparison because her character is the "rape and revenge" stereotype of fantasy fiction. While both are bad characters I'd rather be the strong sexless black woman than the rape and revenge white girl anyday of the week.

    Sorry about the annonymous post but blogger isn't recognizing my lj for whatever reason. My LJ account is a_g_doren.livejournal.com

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  14. I generally agree, but I must say I know people who don't think grace Jones was asexual in this film.

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  15. @ Mira

    There will be those who will find her attractive regardless, but the writers didn't design her to be that way.

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  16. Oh sure, I agree about that. You could say people who found Zula attractive did it despite the fact she was not made to be attractive (not because Grace Jones is ugly, but the character was definitely not meant to be attractive).

    I just wanted to point out I know some people (my cousin, a huge Grace Jones fan) who simply didn't get the memo of "she's ugly", and it might something to do with either personal admiration for Grace Jones OR (and it would be interesting to see) different cultural ideas about female attractiveness.

    Now, don't get me wrong, most men in my culture wouldn't find her attractive, not in a way they would find Iman attractive. But some things do not contribute to it, her skin shade for example. (Which, as far as I understand, makes a big deal for the American audience).

    Red Sonja comparison is particularly telling. Red Sonja is basically a (white?) guy's wet dream.

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  17. @Mira...
    Now, don't get me wrong, most men in my culture wouldn't find her attractive, not in a way they would find Iman attractive. But some things do not contribute to it, her skin shade for example. (Which, as far as I understand, makes a big deal for the American audience).

    As a black man, I have no problem with her skin tone. (The blacker the berry...) Personally, I'm just not that partial to skinny women. Moreover, I agree; she was cast and fashioned expressly to make her white co-star more appealing. In addition, if you look closely... they even gave Zula a Tail.

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  18. jas0nburns3/8/11, 2:10 PM

    after clicking M.Gibson's link I have to say that she actually comes across as attractive to me in the movie. Ank you picked the worst shots imo. She looks good in this. They definitely put that raw/savage/animalistic stuff in there which plays into plenty of stereotypes about black women, I'm not disputing that at all. But even the 13 year old me who saw this for the first time was way more turned on by her than by the white girl. You may have not see the sex appeal here but a lot of us men did and do.

    so to sum up...
    racist but still sexy.

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  19. @Jas0nburns
    "But even the 13 year old me who saw this for the first time was way more turned on by her than by the white girl. You may have not see the sex appeal here but a lot of us men did and do."

    I was much older than 'Thirteen' when I saw the movie. She appealed to you because of her skin tone or because of her physique? Would you feel the same way if she was a size 12? The euro-standard appeals to most white men, as I'm sure that figured in her casting as well. Sadly, anything bigger than a size 4 is considered fat in this country. So I can see why she would appeal to young white males. My personal preferences are my own and are no more out of place than yours.

    A lot of black men like a woman with a bit of Meat on her bones. Whites like to categorize such preferences by calling it a 'Fetish'. "Must be jelly cause Jam don't shake like that," was something I heard all the time growing up in the black community. Back then it was a way of complimenting a black woman for her curves.

    Want to compliment a black woman? Ask her if she's putting on a bit (meaning her rump has gotten bigger). Want to compliment a white woman? Ask her if she's been working out- or if she’s lost weight and watch her blush. Saturday Night live did a wonderful skit on White America's (Hollywood) obsession with weight. There’s a clip in the film, 'Elephant' where three young white girls go to the bathroom after eating lunch and stick their fingers down their throats; as if it was something they’ve done all their lives. White girls are dying to be thin because that’s the way white America wants it. Ain’t nothing wrong with a little bit of Phat-Phat. White people just assume everyone likes what they like. Not everyone subscribes to the white standard of beauty. Most of the women featured in rap videos are Fat (and disgusting) by white male standards.

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  20. "She appealed to you because of her skin tone or because of her physique?"

    In terms of attractiveness skin tone is pretty much irrelevant to me. And in terms of physique I allow a bit of leeway instead of having just 1 rigid type. But If I were to pick a type it would be Jessica Alba (as a brunette)/Mila Kunis. A girl who looked like Mila but had Grace's skin tone wouldn't be any more or less attractive to me I don't think.

    I think Grace has a very expressive face which means she can make herself look scary like in the pics above but when relaxed she's quite beautiful I think. Not feeling the hairstyle though way to masculine.

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  21. @ jas0n

    Exactly what did you find sexy?

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  22. @ Ank
    don't know if my last comment answering you is still in mod but i looked it up and the character of Zula was originally a man in the comics.

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  23. @ jas0n

    You'll have to repost your last comment. As for Zula originally being a man...*twitch*

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  24. The more I think about it though Grace Jones really cultivated an androgynous image. I think that was kind of on her and part of her thing independent of the Conan people. She kind of made herself sexless right from the beginning of her career...

    From wiki:

    "In the late 1970s, Jones adapted the emerging New Wave music style and adopted a severe, androgynous look, with square-cut hair and angular, padded clothes, created in partnership with stylist Jean-Paul Goude.[8] She would also exemplify the so-called "flat top" hairstyle in many of her concerts in the 1970s, which would become popular among black men in the 1980s."

    But that doesn't take anything away from the argument.. "why is this the only part they could make for a black women?"

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  25. Exactly. Why cast the androgynous black chanteuse/model when so many feminine ones were available?

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  26. here's my old lost comment:

    well, It's hard to say. I mean her look was always really severe. It's hard for me to go back to any women who were "hot" in the 80's because the fashion, hair, and makeup were so awful. They made really beautiful women looked like shit back then. (shoulder pads and pleated pants ugh.)

    But if you take all that crap out of it she was an attractive woman. She was in good shape and her face is striking.

    http://ginavivinetto.files.wordpress.com/2008/09/grace-jones.jpg

    I mean look at that! ^^^ she looks like an art deco sculpture. The androgyny thing is a turn off but whatever.

    Anyway you're right about her treatment in the film. it was disrespectful. They really made her look like an animal and I think that's fucked up. It sucks the way black women are portrayed on film because they are just as beautiful and desirable as anyone and media should reflect that truth. It's dishonest not to. The image of black women as desirable women needs to be normalized in our culture because IT IS NORMAL TO DESIRE BLACK WOMEN! I would be pissed too because it's like everyone is taking crazy pills. It's like if I had a washboard six pack and everyone was still calling me fat.

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  27. Peppermintstix3/12/11, 4:56 AM

    I haven't seen the film in a looong time but I googled pics of Grace in the film and she looks fierce! Normally I agree with your criticisms of black women's portrayal in film but I have to disagree with this one.
    I do remember Red Sonja and as a kid I liked her (mainly because my favorite color is red) but Bridget was a hot mess in that movie. I understand why you're comparing the two characters but Red Sonja was a helpless woman that got raped and was pitied by the gods blah blah blah and to me that ish is not interesting. Nor am I about to hold that character up as a preference to Zula. I'd rather Zula be a black amazon inviolate than a seductress that will ultimately die for the white man or a sad raped chick that has to be defeated in battle by a man so she can be raped again.

    Just sayin...

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  28. @ Peppermintstix

    I'm actually not comparing Zula and Sonja; that's other folks on here. My post is strictly about Zula and how Hollywood likes to fuck up the black female image.

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  29. I'm for them re-imagining the character of Zula instead of replacing Grace with another actress. I like Grace Jones. She is a beautiful woman and downright talented. If they had allowed her to play herself, or use more of her own qualities in the role it would have been much better. Hell, it would have been better if they'd created a black female character instead of turning Zula into a woman.

    A lot of the picks you mentioned are not nearly as dark as Grace, so . . . I feel you're a little guilty of colorism here. Unless you're just drawing from the celebrities who were available at that time. But I feel Grace was a fine pick. If anything the film could have benefited from having more than one black female character. To add diversity to depiction.

    Grace was in no way sexless. She owned her sexuality and I liked her genderqueer performance. She could turn on men and women I'm certain, and I can certainly say that as a heterosexual black woman I find her attractive.

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  30. @ Marona

    I picked ladies who were famous/available at that time. If they were to do a film with her character now, I'd suggest Julia Pace Mitchell or Ginny Holder or N'Bushe Wright. Or Naomie Harris...can't go wrong with her.

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  31. @ Ank
    have you seen "strange days"? directed by Kathryn Bigelow?

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  32. @ jas0nburns

    Seen it. Working on a post now.

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  33. As a strong, muscular, white man, I find her

    irresistible. Seen her in Playboy, what a body.

    Always loved strong women and would have loved

    to be with her. Dan

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  34. @ Dan

    LOL - I remember her Playboy spread. I was 7, and we'd just moved into this new house. My sisters and I went into the basement and found that the previous owners had left boxes of Playboys stacked so high they reached the ceiling.

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  35. I'd would have gladly taken those pictures with her. She's so sexy. Dan

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