Waiting To Exhale and Black Women as Cinematic “Other”


From Chapter 3 – Black Women as Cinematic “Other”

In the history of filmmaking, never has there been a period when the black female subject has enjoyed a prolonged spate of positive portrayals on screen. From the onset, black women’s cinematic representation has been an ambiguous one.

Waiting to Exhale directed by Forrest Whitaker

Taken from McMillan’s blockbuster novel, Waiting to Exhale tells the story of four women, each dealing with man troubles. Savannah Jackson (Whitney Houston), a TV producer who is having an affair with a married man; Bernadine Harris (Angela Bassett), a mother dealing with a messy divorce from a man who’s leaving her for a white woman; Robin Stokes (Lela Rochon) a young executive who is struggling with an aimless relationship; and Gloria Matthews (Loretta Devine), a single mother who pines for her ex-husband who has come out as gay. The women forge a friendship that carries them through their troubles.

In writing your response/comments to this post describe which stereotype each of these characters are and what scene clues us in that they are this stereotype. Incorporate quotes from the readings, such as the quote above, as well as outside sources. For example, cultural critic bell hooks in her essay “Mock Feminism: Waiting to Exhale,” critiques the film’s faux feminism. Feel free to incorporate quotes from this and other articles or essays in your arguments/ response.



13 thoughts on “Waiting To Exhale and Black Women as Cinematic “Other”

  1. In 1995 when Waiting to Exhale first premiered it was the first movie to feature four black women as main characters. WTE was a black woman’s feel good movie back in its prime. However in 2016 looking back on the movie there is a lost of discrepancies made and in subtle ways stereotypes enforced.
    The first overplayed stereotype was the idea of a white woman taking, or being chose over a black woman. In 1995 only 48% of America approved of interracial relationships or marriages. The whole “getting left for a white woman” statistically uncommon. yet it was featured it the movie because it played on the emotions of black woman as the percentage of interracial couples went up. The original novel only featured one person in a interracial relationship, which ended before the end of the book in favor of one of the main characters. However the movie has two and a much different ending.
    The single parent home played a role in Gloria’s, Robin’s and Bernadine’s plot line. Statistically it is true African American homes have a significant amount of single parent homes. The movie definitely played on that statistic.
    Gloria played the stereotype of the Mammy, overly concerned with her son and always seemed to be making a meal of some sort, In the beginning she lacks a relationship, waiting on her ex husband to come in order to feel some sort of a relationship. She is unable to let her son go because he has been the only man in her life.
    Robin plays the jezebel. Overly sexually active yet unable to find love. She is highly successful yet can not get a man to commit to her. In the movie she spoke of a false love, being pregnant with a married man’s child only for him to say he couldn’t leave his daughter and wife. In the end she finds herself pregnant again with another married man’s child.
    Bernadine is the sapphire playing the angry black soon to be divorcee. In the beginning she is unable to get over the anger she feels toward her husband. She sets his clothes and car on fire, she host a garage sale selling his possessions and finally calls him in a drunken state to give him a piece of mind,
    Savannah portrays the superwoman. She has everything together, her career as a producer is taking off and she takes care of her mother across the country yet she can’t seem to find an unmarried man. She attaches herself to a married man who lives across the country and comes to visit her. She seemingly can’t accept the reality he will never leave his family after years of being together.
    Bell Hooks critiques the movie harshly, the seemingly “realistic portrayals” of black women which are truly not realistic and only furthers stereotypes not only against black woman but also black men.


    • Excellent analysis Keanda! You not only pointed to the stereotypes of our four main characters but you also addressed the additional stereotypes constantly connected to the African American community. Stereotypes, like the single parent mother has been consistanly used to disgrace black women in film. As you so accurately noted, this film was an successful and popular film during its time and presented itself with an opportunity to switch the script and create enpowering images of women but just served the same tired and old stereotypes. I like the bell hooks quote but I think you could have gone further. In addition, you could have made great connections to the reading with your analysis. For an example, in reference to the jezebel and the oversexaulized black women, Manatu’s states “Film’s sexual exploitation of black women, in particular, poses a threat to their self-perception by limiting their freedom of expression and by forcing many actual black women into becoming almost paranoid self-monitors. ” Quotes like this helps to define and deepen your response.


  2. As for Gloria she would be consider the mammy. She overprotective of her son , she offer to feed the new guy in town who she had a crush on and told Bernadine to hang up the phone when she was going to call her husband mistress. Bernadine would be consider the angry black women because her husband left her for a white women and decide to set the car on fire and cause him hell in court.The jezebel would be Savanna , Bernadine , and Robin because they all slept and messed around with married men.


    • David, treat this post the same way you would if you were writing an essay. You connected the characters to the right stereotypes but didn’t expand on your explanation or connected any of your comments to the reading. You gave me a basic film review or description of the characters. I need you to dig a little deeper. The readings helps us to recognize and define the stereotypes. For the future, use the readings in your response.


  3. Waiting to Exhale was an extremely outdated, sexist, slow, stereotype driven, down right boring movie. It portrays four black women Gloria, Bernadine, Robin, and Savannah.
    Gloria meets the mammy stereotype; she is the one that tries to take care of everyone. She wants to take care of the new neighbor, she is pushing her son to make what she believe are the best decisions for his life, and she is always there for her friends. Bernadine is shown as the angry black woman, the second she finds out her husband is leaving her for a white woman she just goes crazy. She takes all of her husband’s cloths, puts them in his car and sets it on fire. There was a scene in the movie where she goes into her husband’s office in the middle of a meeting and just starts yelling at him and the woman that he left her for. Robin is the Jezebel, sleeping around with all these men, trying to use sex with this one man to help her with her career. Finally Savannah seems to be the superwoman; she is very career driven and successful.
    What really got under my skin most about this movie was that all of these women acted like they needed a man in their life and if they did not have one it must mean they were doing something wrong. Bell Hooks seemed to agree with how I felt. In her critique she wrote “We saw four incredibly glamorous women obsessed with getting a man, with status, material success and petty competition with other women”, no woman want’s to be portrayed like this. This film did one heck of a job at setting, not just black women but all women, back with this pathetic portrayal of the lives of these four women.


    • Liv, you are right in your assessment of the stereotypes related to each character as well as your view of the film overall. As I mentioned in another response the film failed to reach its proposal of presenting realistic images of contemporary black women. The film probably caused more damaged specifically as you noted with the depiction of each character needing a man. Your bell hooks quote was a perfect example of the challenges that this film presents. I would have liked to have seen another quote from our readings as well to help cement your comments. Good job.


  4. In the film Waiting to Exhale, we meet four strong independent black women who honestly by our standards today fit too neatly into the black female stereotypes of film. As much as these women are strong and strive to lead accomplishing lives, the film fails to appreciate the actual strength of being a woman of color. Gloria fits into the stereotype of the superwoman with a slight touch of jezebel. She is portrayed in the very beginning of the film as someone who is trying to start over her life and looking for a better place to find love. Throughout the movie she is shown being a hard working woman striving to establish her career as a producer but failing to find someone who wants to love her. At one point in the film she argues with her mother that she does not need a man to make her happy and that she will find her own happiness.
    Robin is portrayed as the jezebel of the film, sexually promiscuous as well as hard working in her field. She is shown for the first time in the film walking between two men, white and black, and having them trail their eyes after her. With this she is seen turning back and flaunting her sexual power over them. Throughout the film we watch her struggle with finding love and finding it in all the wrong places, be that through work (honestly a hilarious scene due to the terrible sex), a relationship with a married man *with kids*, and a crack addict who believe himself to be the shit. She is later found pregnant with the married man’s child again and this time she chooses to keep it and raise the child on her own.
    Gloria is our superwoman/mammy character in the film. A successful beautician/mother to a moody 17 year old boy. unfortunately her love life is still left in the gutter. her sons father turning out to be gay and her having pinned for the man for years. She is shown to be the supporting and motherly character of this group emphasizing the mammy stereotype as well as her appearance. we first meet Gloria as she is trying to water a sunflower in her window and trying to get it to bloom again. I found this as a symbol to make her life bloom once again. Gloria is the only one in this film who ends up finding love at the end.
    Lastly we meet Bernadine, the sapphire of the group. I feel for Bernadine on a personal level due to her being left by her husband with two children and for him to leave due to an affair. I would be pissed too! I honestly had a love hate relationship with this character, I loved that she took charge and burned her husbands stuff. But I was disappointed with her for the constant give and take and pity my loveless life routine. I honestly do not approve f her using the children to aid her malice towards her husband. When first meeting her we see her being the hard working mother taking care of her kids and going through a list of things to do for the house and family. She was living a lavish life and then torn from her. I do not condone her actions, I just give her props for going through with them. I would take my husband for all his money too if he ever left me the way that her husband did.


    • Liz, you kind of went back and forth on some of your characterization of stereotypes for some of the characters. You first noted that Gloria was a superwoman/jezbel and then changed to superwoman/mammy which is more accurate based on the actions of the character. Although, now I think you might be thinking of Robin. Bernadine was largely the sapphire with elements of the jezbel and superwoman. I dont think you mentioned Savannah, the Whitney Houston character. You did a good job of connecting the stereotype to the scene but didn’t connect the readings to the stereoype. What in the readings help define these women as stereotypes and what makes these images problematic. I want you to analyze the film more so than give me an overview of the film or characters. As we dig deeper into these stereotypes through the readings we start to recognize them more and learn to rebel against this learned appreciation of these images.


  5. In the film, “Waiting to Exhale” you see the some of the stereotypes place upon black women. I would characterize Gloria as the mammy because her main concern was her son. Robin was the jezebel because she slept around with a lot of men. Bernadine would be considered the sapphire because she was the angry black woman. I don’t know what to characterize Savannah as but I would say she is the superwoman because she is focused on her career and also takes care of her mother. These four black females were struggling in their love life. They had a hard time trying to find a man that loved them and only them. Bernadine had a husband that left her for a white women, Robin and Savannah were messing around with men that were married and were never going to leave their wives for them and Gloria was in love with a man who was gay. These 4 women were always seen as the other person in someone’s life. There was always someone that was put before them. Seeing this film gives you the impression that black women are never able to be happy and be in a happy relationship. At the end of the movie you see this shift when robin leaves the guy she has been with and decides to keep the baby, Savannah finally leaves the married man whom she was in love with and Bernadine wins her case and finally is happy without her husband. Although they found happiness there still is this idea that they can’t find happiness with another man. The only person that found happiness was Gloria.


    • Stephanie, you made some very good observations not only about the stererotypes each of these women represent but also how they are forced to put other people, their men in particular, before their own needs. And as you noted, none of them are capable of finding love and happiness except for Gloria. Your comments are good but you didnt incorporate the readings. For example, in the chapter on Love and Romance, Manatu states “What would it mean to have audiences view black women as “feminine” and romantic women? And what are the personal and social costs to black women that they are shown as inveterate deviators of the “feminine”?” The request to incorporate the readings is necessary because it helps you to provide a fuller analysis of these stereotypes and so we can make a connection to these images and the effect they have on us, the audience.


  6. Of the four main stereotypes that connote to black women that are prevalent in Hollywood films all of these unsurprisingly make their debut in Forrest Whitaker’s 1995 film, “Waiting to Exhale.” This film, at the time and still to this day some may argue was a pivotal moment for not only black people in America, but black women specifically. It is not too common for Hollywood films especially to have four main black women as the core centers of an entire movie. However, with such a great turning point of having four main black women in a blockbuster film, it unfortunately reinforced the four stereotypes of the mammy, jezebel, sapphire and superwomen tropes that black women so desperately needed to break out from.
    In the film, each of the four women represent the tired stereotypes of the black women in Hollywood films, but also are a bit more complex to exhibit signs of the other stereotypes as well. For Savannah, played by Whitney Houston she transparently represents the superwoman stereotype. In the film, the character Savannah is a successful TV producer and is extremely good at her job. Yet many times throughout the film from her going out on blind dates that go wrong to her repeatedly telling herself that she does not need a man shows that aspect of a superwoman who is perfect in her professional realm but personally she actively ignores her wants. Savannah’s character also shows signs of a jezebel in that she when she goes out on her blind dates she is expecting sex also her having sex with a married man without much guilt reveals her promiscuous tendencies.
    In the film, the character Bernadine who is played by Angela Bassett portrays the stereotype of both the sapphire and the mammy. The infamous scene when Bernadine removes all of her ex-husband’s clothing, putting them in a car and burning them is a great example of the case of the ‘angry black women.’ Also, when she stormed into her ex-husband’s meeting at work and yelling at him and slapping his new girl in front of everyone definitely shows her stereotyped sapphire tendencies. Bernadine also exhibits signs of the superwoman in that in the beginning of the film she goes on to narrate the number of responsibilities she has taking care of her children, the house and her husband. She even jokes to say that she would be better off with a clone but she would not even have the time to emphasize how busy she is. With all of this work and overachieving attitude she has towards her profession, she does not even allow herself the chance to find herself. Which comes to no surprise that one of the biggest regrets she has over her divorce is that she would be left with nothing because she never had the time to build herself up since she was so busy being the perfect mom and wife.
    The character Robin who is played by Lela Rochon is the ultimate jezebel in this film. She sleeps with various men and is almost proud of her promiscuous behavior as it provides her the illusion of having power over men in this intimate setting. In the film, she meets many men and continues to be sexual with them though each time she intimate with these men her facial expressions are always so jaded as if she is yearning for something that she expects from these rendezvous.
    The character Gloria, who is played by Loretta Devine is the ultimate mammy with superwoman tendencies. In the film, she is seen as the only one in her household doing the grocery shopping, cooking tending to her son’s clothing and other domestic chores. Even the way she dresses from her headscarf to leggings connotes to the viewers that she is not one to dress to go out but rather dress to be more comfortable in the house while she tends to it. Another part in the film where the character Gloria portrays the mammy stereotype is when she goes over to her new neighbor while he is moving in and immediately almost as if it was an instinct offers to bring over food for him as if she felt a need to take care of him. The parts of the film where she exhibits the superwoman traits aligns with her being the mammy in that she goes above and beyond to ensure that she is the best mother that she could be to her son. Also, whenever her son’s father comes to visit she goes above and beyond to impress him despite her feelings of inadequacy and shame. She does not confront her personal feelings, yet buries them by making sure the house is in top shape, her son is extremely happy, and is always a great friend.


  7. Great job in connecting each character to these continuous and old stereotypes of black women. Although, this would have been a good opportunity to connect the reading to your review of the characters and the stereotypes. As an example,” Film’s sexual exploitation of black women, in particular, poses a threat to their self-perception by limiting their freedom of expression and by forcing many actual black women into becoming almost paranoid self-monitors.” Any comments or quotes that examine the mammy, jezebel or sapphire helps to explain how and why these characters fit these stereotypes.


  8. Not only were the portrayals of the black women in the movie stereotypical, but so were the portrayals of black men. In the film we saw the constant poor treatment of black women from the black male characters. The character’s Kenneth and Russell were married with children, and both relentlessly kept the women in the movie attached by shoving the fairytale of divorcing their wives and leaving their families to live happily ever after with them in their minds. Wesley Snipes character was a successful black man whose white spouse was dying of breast cancer, which depicts the stereotype of most successful black men marrying white women. Gloria’s son had a white girlfriend over the house in one scene. The character’s Lionel and Troy were liars with baggage and no real ambition just looking for a woman to play on. Bernadine’s son resented his father for leaving and there was a scene where he blatantly ignored his father’s gesture for a kiss and a hug. Gloria’s son Tarik hated his father and even more when he found out he was gay. This brings me to Gloria’s ex husband, the gay black man who was hinding the fact that he was for years and finally came out to her about it. Finally in the scene of Gloria’s birthday party, each woman named out stereotypical scenarios for black men in America. They were either gay, players, cheaters, in relationships with white women, behind bars, already married, have bad credit, and too scared to make a commitment. Movies of this such can impact the mindset and thinking of black women and men in a negative way.


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