Monster’s Ball and the role of black women in media

Based on our conversations in class, assigned readings and outside resources, present your own theory about Leticia, the character Halle Berry played in Monster’s Ball. What role did the filmmaker/writer play in creating this image? What type of stereotype does she fall into? How does Leticia compare to Claudine as a single black mother and a love/sex object. There is a nearly thirty year difference between these two films (Claudine 1974 vs Monster’s Ball 2001), have the images of black women changed much? As always incorporate the readings but also find outside sources/critiques about the film and link them in your post.

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19 thoughts on “Monster’s Ball and the role of black women in media

  1. My theory on the character Leticia is complex. I believe she was a scorn, vulnerable, single black mother/woman. She also came from a low-income community, making her susceptible to barely making ends meat. I don’t believe that Leticia’s priorities were not intact, however, it’s obvious that she did not have much guidance or assistance to help her get herself grounded. After her son passed, I feel that was the total disconnection to human feelings she began to develop. She was lost, sorrowed and torned into her own emotions as if her surroundings was much more of a blur than an existence. Now that Hank has entered her life, he was almost like angel sent. Yes, she slept with him without barely knowing him, she accepted him in her home and brought him into her life very quickly. Though, he was very much attracted to her and proved to her that he too had developed feelings for her, I’m not sure what to truly make of it. Constantly, black women are exposed in the media to be these sexual, aggressive women that participate in sex and other explicit behaviors. It’s unfair that these roles are continuously deemed on black actresses which black viewers are watching. If I were to have to place the character Leticia in a stereotype it would have to be the Madonna/whore. Though, she is sexually active, aggressive, and free spirited, you also see her trying to convert into a committed relationship, having her man take care of her and being submissive. This relates to the film Claudine since she too meets a man and early on jumps into a relationship with him and carries a sexual relationship with as well. Both Leticia and Claudine are single mothers, coming from poverty; trying to make ends meat. Both are also very accepting when these men begin to cater them with gifts and dates. With such a huge gap in the timing of these movies, it’s pretty evident how slow and minimal the media has changed images of black females. For example, it’s like looking at Nikki Minjai now verses Lil kim in the 90s. Not much of a difference.

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    • Tercy, you made some good points in linking the comparisons between Leticia and Claudine but I would have liked to see you make more connections in relations to the stereotypes we talked about and the reading. I do like the Madonna/Whore link, I think that is an interesting observation. I would have liked to see you explore that more. Also, it would have been nice to hear you link the social implications to these images of Black women as well.

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  2. Within the movie monsters ball I feel that Halle Berry played a women who was surviving on her emotions. I feel that when her husband/ baby daddy past she felt lost and alone and had to take care of everything by self. The house, the car, and her son everything fell on her. When her son died whatever emotions she had held on to died with him. She was so broken that she didn’t know what to do or how to handle herself. When she met Hank everything changed although in the beginning she didn’t know who he was she still sorta fell for him, his charm and the fact that he was just trying to take care of her and help her. I feel that she had a lot of good intentions for getting with him I feel that she finally felt like someone could take care of her for once and it wasn’t the other way around. I feel that even when she did who Hank was she stayed because I feel there was point in confronting him about her past lover when she would gain nothing outta of it.
    I feel the stereotype that she falls into would be a sapphire because of everything she went through as well as I feel like she is a love object because in the end all she wanted was love and to be loved. In my opinion I don’t feel the images for black women in film have changed over the years because its still the same concept they need someone to depend on and yet they cant seem to make a film when she depends on her self. They need to show that women don’t need a man to succeed in life.

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    • Alex, Leticia does has elements of the Sapphire but also the Jezebel as well as “the other.” I agree that Leticia was so broken that she was prime to be in a relationship with Hank as well as pretty much anybody who showed her any kindness but what about her character. How did the filmmakers set her up to be this particular type of black woman and how does that character connect to Claudine. Also, as always where are your links to the reading???

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  3. I believe the film maker Marc Forster along with the producer Lee Daniels had played a role in creating Leticia’s image in the film Monster’s Ball. With the help of Lee Daniels, Marc Forster was able to create Leticia’s image to be a bit stereotypical in ways that most films that have black actors are sexual deviant, in need of someone’s help, single mother, struggling to make ends meet, and vulnerable. Leticia can be compared to many black women in today’s society in ways that she is struggling to make ends meet as she works as a waitress not making enough money to live and in need of love. Leticia found love from a man that helped her “escape” from reality but it was not until before that she invited him to her house and they drowned their grief with alcohol and had sex as Leticia repeatedly mumbled “Make me feel good!” Leticia was trying to escape the reality of the death of her son and the struggle that she was facing financially.

    In my opinion, Leticia falls into the Jezebel stereotype because she was simply hypersexual and wore clothes that was somewhat revealing the curves of her physique. Also, the way the film portrayed Leticia as animalistic and insatiable horniness.

    Leticia and Claudine are similar in several ways more than one. Leticia and Claudine both go from sex object to love object, come from low income background, need for an escape, single black mothers, and both fall into the stereotype of a Jezebel. Claudine went from having several encounters with men who would leave her to meeting Rupert and getting into a romantic relationship, she was known as the “welfare queen” because she was receiving government assistance to supplement her income, but she was forced to hide her job in order to continue receiving federal funds, like Leticia, Claudine was a single Black mother with six kids and was in need of an escape from Welfare and all the men she was had in her life who would leave her in which Rupert was her survivor/rescuer.

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    • Juan, you make good points but its buried in a overview of the film. Stick to your key points. We are already familiar with the film since we just saw it. What about Leticia and Claudine that make them similar and different. You stated that you felt that Lee Daniels turns his characters into sexual deviants, give examples. You also mentioned that you saw Leticia struggling like many other black women but you also saw her as a Jezebel. Do you see all black women struggling like Leticia to be sexual deviants??? These blogs are an attempt to give you an opportunity to dig a little deeper into the film and make connections with the readings and discussions we are having in class.

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  4. The character Leticia from monsters ball is a different character compared to the stereotypes that Manatu mentions in the book African American Women and Sexuality in the Cinema however she can be seen negatively due to her circumstances. Leticia is not an oversexed jezebel, prostitute, superwoman, nor an aggressive bitch, instead she seems to be a victim or damsel in distress. Leticia seems to be a woman that lacks control or stability in her life and is in need for help and assistance which she gains from the character Hank. Manatu describes in her book that African American women as not represented as romantic characters yet, Leticia seems to be a romantic partner to Hank although their relationship began with sex. Leticia seems to be a victim or damsel in distress because she had a husband in jail that was killed by the electric chair, a son that was obese, she was getting evicted from her home, drinking to cope with issues and her car stopped working. She is also seen in the movie abusing her son, by calling him fat and hitting him. In addition her family was gone once her husband was killed and later her son, who got hit by a car. Leticia is seen as a product of her circumstance and environment. Leticia and the character Claudine relate in many ways. For one both characters were raising their child and children on their own. They also had jobs in which they had to serve others, Claudine was working for a white family and Leticia as a waiter. They both were first seen as a sex object but changed into a love object. Claudine was going to get married in the end of the film and Leticia was invited to move in with Hank since she was evicted. Claudine and Leticia both need economic help in order to survive which they gain from men. Hank also showed he loved Leticia by sending his father to an eldery facility and naming his store after her, and giving her his sons old car. Therefore Claudine and Leticia are alike in many ways and although they may not fit the typical stereotypes they are not empowered by their circumstances to be financially stable on their own and cope with their issues in a healthy way and without the help of a man. Outside critiques of the film mention the racial differences between Hank and Leticia and emphasize the other issues in the plot as well because it is a complex film. They also mention how many of the issues and how the characters respond “or don’t respond” are ambiguous.” In order to get rid of the African American woman as a victim but also show her as being a romantic partner would be to make her financially stable and a positive figure that chooses love based upon mutual feelings and circumstances instead as a necessity.

    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/monsters-ball-2002

    http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9C07EED81531F935A15751C1A9679C8B63

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    • Great observations Sierra. I agree, Leticia is not your typical Jezebel but there are elements of her behavior reflected in many of the stereotypes we talked about this semester. I also think you made a great point about the role that both the men played in Leticia’s and Claudine’s life, they both became crucial for their survival, although I think that Hank’s relationship with Leticia adds another level with the elements of racism

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  5. In Monster’s Ball, Leticia portrays the vicious stereotype of Black women as ‘bad’ mothers. The stereotype plays out mostly through nonverbal behaviors. For example, her son is visibly overweight and hides food around the house, which is an indication that Leticia does not feed him nutritious foods and engage him in exercise. When Leticia does address his weight, she berates and beats her son rather than encourage him to do better. In another instance of ‘bad’ parenting, Leticia leaves her young son home alone to purchase liquor to calm her nerves. This scene is also our first cue that Leticia does not cope with negative feelings in healthy ways. (Our second cue is the later sex scene with Hank right after her son dies.) The question here is: how necessary is Leticia’s bad parenting to her overall story and character development? In my opinion, not very. The screenwriter could have written Leticia as a caring, ‘good’ mother and still have a character with complexities. In fact, Leticia’s son’s death and her mourning might have been more impactful and believable if a warm relationship between mother and son was shown on-screen.

    Also, racism goes unconfronted and unresolved in this film. We, the viewers, are supposed to believe that Hank is over his prejudice for Blacks just because he begins a relationship with Leticia and puts his racist father in a nursing home. This seems all too superficial, especially for a man who used a gun to threaten young Black boys for playing outside near his father’s house. Hank does put his father in a nursing home after he insults Leticia but this act involves Hank confronting his father’s racism rather than his own. Even with Hank’s friendship with Mos Def’s character, there is no on-screen opportunity for Hank to reflect on his own implicit racist beliefs. In addition to the fact that Leticia has no means with to be independent, Hank’s relationship with Leticia comes off as a way for him to fetishize Black women.

    Manatu argues that in film femininity and respectability is achieved in romantic relationships that cultivate love. Although in a relationship, Leticia does not truly become a love object. Unlike Claudine’s relationship with Roop, Leticia and Hank’s relationship does not leave us with a sense that love will sustain it. At first, we are shown signs that imply Hank’s love for Leticia (i.e. he names his new business after her and provides her with a home). However, Leticia discovers that Hank assisted in her former husband’s execution. Even though she does not reveal to Hank her discovery, the prior scene in which she flips out leaves us with the impression that love is not a true possibility in this relationship. The last few shots of Leticia’s conflicted face reinforce the idea that Leticia is a prisoner to her own pursuit of happiness. This woman has lost practically everything and is still not a love object.

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    • Ariel, you’ve raised questions and points we werent able to address in this class that goes beyond the traditional stereotypes of black women in media. There are a lot of issues around sexism, raclsm and classism among the many other isms that flourishes in the film. Your quote from the reading and comment regarding Leticia being a “love object” also raises a crucial question about how love is viewed and expressed in this film. It does show a sad fate of black women in the world much less in the media.

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  6. “A primary reason for these differences in approach to love is the different cultural imperatives urged upon both sexes (Person, 1988: Lerner, 1989; Keen, 1991; Bem, 1993). Different socialization inclines both sexes toward different pursuits in love: women are expected to establish their “femininity” through love; men, to establish their “masculinity” through achievement. That is, cultural socialization functions as a dominant factor tor in predisposing women to define themselves in terms of romance, men in terms of work, a point which becomes a harsh indictment in Harriett Lerner’s The Dance of Intimacy (1989). Arguing against the essentialist determinant implicit in the socialization of the genders, Lerner points to differential advantages inherent in the male construct: “a man’s job [is] to make something of himself in the world; a woman’s job [is] to find herself a successful man” (p. 5). Here, each sex utilizes love in oppositional ways because each is motivated in large part by their “feminine” and “masculine” directives: she must be “good” and patient while she waits for that successful man who will transform her into a “love object”….”

    I wanted to start off with this quote because i find it funny how Manatu says men establish their masculinity through achievement. In my opinion Hank’s achievement was the acceptance of another race in his life. As for Leticia, she establishes her femininity through love for Hank at the end, or is it just settling rather than love?

    Leticia is multiple stereotypes, she has elements of a sapphire, Jezebel, superwomen, as well as the “other” category. Even though she consist of all these elements, in my opinion, i do not consider her a sex object, for that fact that it was consensual on both sides. I do though feel Hank saw her as a love object and really did want to be with her.

    Leticia compares to Claudine because they both were single mothers with kids, who find a man for stability. Once the man comes into the picture, its like everything falls into place. It’s sad that with so many years apart from each other of the making of each film, that we still see the same roles being played by black women, as needing a man to survive basically. I feel that the film makers make them seem helpless and needed that support in order to make it in the world, there leading and projecting more negative stereotypes.

    My other opinion is that Leticia falls into the whole Jezebel element character, only because she lost the father of her child as well as her child. She was at a place in time where she was vulnerable and i definitely don’t think Hank took advantage of the opportunity, i just feel that she thought she had no other choice but to just move in with Hank.

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    • Great analysis Theora! You picked some excellent quotes. Although, Hank’s achievement in masculinity can be considered in his establishing a relationship with Leticia, first through sex and then through love. I agree with your multiple stereotype theory, Leticia although a stereotype is still a complicated character. She isnt just one thing, she really isnt completely a Jezebel. She almost becomes victim so how man see her and treat her, sexully and otherwise. Also, I think she had other choices but the writer/filmmaker made a decision that this could be her only choice. He wanted to make her a self evolving person, she could have left Hank, gone to college, gotten another job, moved. Despite her circumstance, she could have the world at her feet but many dont see that for Black and women of color and that gets reflected in the images we see of them in the media.

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  7. Halle Berry is portrayed as a complex version of a survivor of violence and bad relationships, a bad mom, and a sapphire. This is intriguing because it starts to break away from single categories and boxes that rarely exist. This, although still has elements of many stereotypes starts to pain a more complex picture which is closer to real life. It starts to show a black woman as a complicated, intricate, and contradictory human. This could possibly be a the beginning of a thread of films that depicts black women not only as a single stereotype but a holistic character with many different pieces to them that again is more reflective of the realties of black women or of humans in general. Of course, there’s still a great deal of negativity attached to the character. She humiliates her son because of his weight, she drinks, and her sex live could be considered questionable by some. This paints a complex, but rather nasty picture of her as a human. She’s still not necessarily respectable. She’s not worthy of honor. The writers whom are products of a capitalist, white supremacists, heternormative, patriarchal society, depict this arguably single black mom in a rather negative light. This in comparison isn’t too different to Claudine. Both, as usual, are looking for men and for love. They are looking for validation. They are looking for reinforcement and support. Manatu discusses this in the context of black/white femininity and desirability or even worthiness of love. She discusses the idea that black women rarely, if ever, meet white standards of beauty and femininity which ends in them being demeaned unworthy.

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    • Monica, you got a lot of different and varying points. At some point, you seem sympathetic to Leticia and in other areas you seem disgusted by her. I do agree with your point that it appears the writer’s viewpoint or background (The writers whom are products of a capitalist, white supremacists, heternormative, patriarchal society, depict this arguably single black mom in a rather negative light ) has colored how they depicted their female lead and the story overall. Your summary of Manatu. although not a direct quote, is accurate in depicting both Claudine and Leticia. Though, I think one of your classmates feels Claudine gets the better end of the deal. She does get to experience a more realistic version of love that appears to have some more certainity.

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  8. Leticia, of the movie “Monster’s Ball” is not the typical character compared to the stereotypes that Manatu states in the book African American Women and Sexuality in the Cinema because she is completely different. Leticia can be seen as a negative image because of her conditions. She is not a prostitute, superwoman, or an oversexed jezebel because she is more of a victim. Leticia has a lot going on because it seems to be that she lacks control and stability in her life and is in need of help. In the book, Manatu says, “Implicit in the works of these researchers is the notion that romantic love primarily accentuates sentiment and emotion, attributes clearly not associated with, nor expected of, black women. …black women experience sex, but not love. Viewers, in fact, must conclude that black women do not experience or value intimacy, tenderness, and gentleness in their male-female relationships, qualities widely accepted as key components in fueling romantic love. As portrayed, all that black women seem to require is raw sexual pleasure.” (pg. 68). Leticia shows that she can be a romantic partner to Hank even though when they started dating their relationship began with sex but also seems to be a victim or as they would call it a “Damsel in Distress”. Her husband, in jail, got killed on the electric chair. Her young son, Tyrell, was obese and later was killed by getting hit by a car. She also had problems with paying the rent which ended up in her getting evicted. To conceal all her pain, she would drink and it came to a point that her problems got to her that she began physically abusing her son because he was obese. In many ways, the character Claudine and Leticia can relate. In their own movies, both women have children and end up raising them alone. Both women had jobs in which they would serve others and both women were seen as sex objects at first but later turned into love objects. For Claudine, at the end of the movie she would marry Mr. Marshall and for Leticia, because she got evicted she was invited by Hank to move in with him. Both women needed financial help in order to survive which they get from the men that come into their lives. In Monster’s Ball, Hank proves his love for Leticia by sending his father to an elderly home and even names his newly acquired gas station after her. As I said before, Claudine and Leticia can relate. Even though both women did not fit the usual stereotypes, they are not empowered by their situations to being financially stable independently. I believe that in order to change the view of African American women as victims and also to show her as a romantic woman would be by making her someone that is independent. Make her as someone that does not need anything from anyone because she is able to take care of things on her own. This would make these women seem as positive figures for society and the media because she chooses love due to her feelings and life situations and not because it is something that she needs.

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  9. I believe that Halle Berry’s character, Leticia, is seen as a tragic mulato , Jezebel because she is so sexually desired. She is a victim of bad luck and life’s hardships. The writer makes her out to be a desperate mom in need of any and all kinds of help seeking love after she tragically loses her entire family. Her stereotype of being a tragic mulato is very obvious. She loses everything in her life except her minimum wage job. She ends up receiving help from a man that has also suffered his own hardships. I believe that she starts off as a n object of sympathetic love and then turns into an object of desire when she is loved by Billy Bob Thornton’s character, Hank. Leticia is a love object loved by her husband and her new lover.
    The difference from Claudine and Leticia is that Claudine was having kids out of wedlock and claudine was using her sexuality to attain a man. Claudine was actively searching from someone to love through sex. Leticia was not looking for love and i feel as if she hasn’t found it she is just settling for someone because she is emotionally vulnerable and out of options. Leticia is all alone and emotionally drained. i am not saying she can’t be in love, i just think that she might be settling for someone because she does not want to be alone.
    The images of black women has changed over the past 40 years but i believe that the movie monster’s ball still hyper sexualizes black women. The movie shows how black women are viewed based on how hank and Leticia have coitus for the first time.

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    • Angel, I think its easy to view Leticia as a Tragic Mulatto because we all know she is bi-racial but we dont know that about Leticia. Leticia does have elements of the Jezebel but she is also a Sapphire and Superwoman to some degree. She is not totally a love object but also shares elements of that as well. I agree that Monster’s Ball does hypersexualize black women and continues a lot of stereotypes that have previously existed. You’ve made some good points about Claudine and how she differs from Leticia. This would have been a good opportunity to incorporate the readings from Dr. Manatu.

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  10. Letticia in the movie “Monster Ball” it frames her as a Jezebel, only a bit. In my opinion it was very difficult to think of a stereotype that can actually fit her. I say she showed a little of a Jezebel because of her sexual behavior. Since her husband was was in prison and was executed she was craving for a men’s attention. Like for example in the intense scene where she was having sex with Hank, she was telling him and begging him that she needed it and wanted it really bad. I thinks she is a Jezebel just because i noticed how she had sex with him the first time she saw him. I believe that that is an act of a Jezebel. I feel like in many films where there’s black women they make the black female character look like a hyper sexual individual. In this case, we have Letticia play the hyper sexual character. can also be seen as a Sapphire. She can be seen as a Sapphire in some scenes when she is angry at life. Shes angry because of the death of her husband and her son. She plays this angry black women through the beginning to almost the end of the film. She becomes angry in the beginning when she beats her son due to him constantly eating chocolates and becoming overweight and then when she cant even pay her house rent due to not having a job. Compared to Claudine, both female character are similar to some extent. This relate to Dr. Manatu’s reading because she states how black females no matter what situations they go through are always seen as a hyper-sexual individuals based on their actions. Both are black females, have kids, become single mothers, go through rough financial situations and both believed they need love to live. Both Claudine and Letticia are considered a Jezebel and a Sapphire due to their actions.

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    • Maria
      You are right, Leticia is part Jezebel but she is also part Sapphire as well as a little bit of the Welfare Queen. You made some good points in terms of how Leticia is portrayed as a stereotype. A good quote or two from Manatu would have been a great way to support your argument. There is also a lot to compare in terms of Claudine but neither one of them are really hyper sexual. They are not having sex with a lot of men at the same time and they are not using sex to manipulate the men in their lives either. They are both poor women who make bad sexual choices and victims of their circumstances looking to find a way out of it and hopefully find love along the way. As always incorporate the readings!

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