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 pick one character and describe what stereotype she is 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.



  1. The superwoman stereotype best fits Savannah and Bernadine. Unlike Gloria and Robin, these two ladies do not rely on men throughout the film. They are portrayed as strong and independent ladies who do not depend on the approval of any man. Savannah is her own boss and argues with her mother that she rather be alone than be in a relationship with an unfaithful man. Savannah’s mother leans towards the idea that “a man’s job is to make something of himself in the word; a woman’s job is to find herself a successful man” (Lerner, 1989). Bernadine, who is a divorcee, fights to get her fare share form her ex husband. Although towards the end of the film, all four ladies attributed some bit to the superwoman stereotype, I believe that Savannah and Bernadine had the stereotype since the start.

    Quote source: page 46 of the text “African American Women and Sexuality in the Cinema” by Norma Manatu


    • Shimon, good observations but I disagree with you a bit. You are accurate in describing both Savannah and Bernadine as the Superwoman stereotype. One is a successful reporter and the other was a wife and mother as well as someone who helped build her husband’s business. Both care for their families and friends and work to fix situations but Savannah as a women who is having an affair with a married man has Jezebel tendencies and Bernadine who sets her husbands car on fire and slaps his mistress who also be considered to be the Sapphire as well.

      For future postings, try to incorporate more quotes from the readings and use scenes from the film when connecting the characters to stereotypes.


  2. ,Gloria Matthews( De vine) plays a Mamie which she found taking care of young adult son who will be going away to college soon. He is waiting for his mother to cut the cord. But she holds extra tight for fear she will not have no important man in her life. De-vine is so caught up in mothering her son and girl friends she forgets about her self. Until she meets the neighbor( Gregory Hines) who does needs someone to share his time with. he also reassure Matthews that she done a good job in raising her son, in spite of DAD missing in action. The film was an inspiration for hard working Mamie.


    • Rosalinda, you made some good points and made an accurate connection in your description of Gloria as the Mammy stereotype. Gloria is portrayed as a modern day Mammy, instead of caring for her master’s or employee’s family, as a divorced mother she is putting all her energy and self care into her family and friends. Good job. For future postings, please incorporate quotes from the readings and any scenes that would demonstrate your point, for example when Gloria brings food over the Matthew or her desire to keep her son close to her instead of letting him travel aboard.


  3. African American women have been portrayed as Jezebels, unassailable sexual beings, unable to control or maintain a reputable image in society . Such stereotype has indeed forced this group of women to fall into a place of eternal damnation. According to Norma Manatu (pg.67), “Haste (1993, pp. 172-173) has identified four major images of women in U.S. cultural fare, utilized to cope with and explain women’s sexuality.” Out of all those four categories it is unsurprisingly to see that the role or picture of the African American woman n is the least favorable one. Haste identified this specific woman as the “whore”. This woman is view as such because such stereotype accurately describe the perception of society towards her. This negative image towards Black women has been carried out throughout the course of history, since the beginning of slavery all throughout the development of media. Such imagine in one way or another has helped men to actually ease their sexual guilt, no longer taking responsibility for the actions, but rather blaming and holding Black women accountable for such behavior (Manatu pg.67).

    In Wating to Exhale we can see how Robin Stokes is portrayed as a whore. She struggles to keep a relationship, desiring to build her own family but failing to succeed. She sleeps around with different men expecting to find Mr. right. Although she is an independent woman she still feels the need to be pampered and loved by these men, but only end up becoming nothing more than the mistress. Based on these scenes we can see that indeed she is the real Jezebel personified. She is young, beautiful, powerful, sexually active, probably the most out all the four friends, but yet her love life seem to be a disaster. It seems that sex is the only and main goal. Things do not go beyond physical attraction, running her plan and leaving her in a place of disappointment.


    • Great job Karen. A really well thoughtout response to the question. Also a good job in incorporating the reading in relation to the film and your stereotype. Not only does Robyn’s character represent the Jezbel, she also demonstrates aspects of the Superwoman as well as the Sapphire. She is a successful woman and the supervisor of her team, her professional life is on track while her personal life isn’t nearly as fulfilling. As the Sapphire, she also has a way of looking down on the men in her life. She is more of the Jezebel and Superwoman than the Sapphire. As Manatu notes in her book, film as a medium fails to acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments black women have achieved in professional as well as personal settings. “Waiting to Exhale” is another example of the ongoing devaluation of black and brown women in society and in media. Good job!

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  4. According to Manatu in the chapter, “Black Women as Cinematic “Other,” “Black actresses are either shown at their worst (oversexed and nagging bitch), or in other instances, presented in their opposite, but equally degrading role as self-sacrificing characters reminiscent of the “mammy” image” (4). Directed by Forest Whitaker, “Waiting to Exhale,” (1995) tells the story of four black women each dealing with separate man troubles. The film is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Terry McMillan. Each character explicitly falls under the category of the many black female stereotypes. One of the characters in the film is Gloria played by Loretta Divine. Gloria is a beauty salon owner and the mother of a teenage boy named Tarik. Gloria is a woman of bigger size, with a short hair cut. In various scenes of the film, she follows the “mammy” stereotype commonly used in films with black women. In one scene with Gloria and another character, Bernie (Angela Bassett), the are shown at the beauty salon after Bernie decides to get a divorce from her cheating husband. Bernie decides she wants to cut all of her hair off and Gloria immediately changes her tone and speaks to Bernie in a “motherly” tone where she almost scolds Bernie, yet viewers are not really sure of the age difference and what makes this okay. Bernie appears to be much smaller than Gloria in stature allowing for Gloria to look like the more senior character. Another scene with Gloria presented as a “mammy” stereotype is the scene in which she is meeting her new neighbor and offering him a meal. She is the only character in the film that is keen on taking care of others in such a blatant manner. Manatu’s mentioning on how the mammy role is often “degrading role as self-sacrificing” is present in Gloria with her relationship with her son. After discovering her husband was gay, and even prior, she was doing everything in her power to take care of her son and protect him as a single mother at all costs. Throughout the film, Gloria’s character is always modestly dressed, compared to the other characters of the film and doesn’t present the same “sexuality,” the other characters like Savannah or Robin might display. Various scenes including when the women are at a club, or even hanging out together, it is seldom to hear Gloria say something that would move her to the “jezebel,” or other black women stereotypes. Deep down, viewers know she is taking care of her friends and family but the stereotype does not allow her to stray away from it.


    • Cindy, great job in connecting Gloria’s character to the Mammie stereotype in Waiting to Exhale. Through your use of scenes and the reading you correctly linked many attributes of the modern day mammy. The Loretta Devines character is similar to the same motherly character we would see of black women in film and TV during the 80’s & 90’s. The Gloria character also has some of the attributes of the Superwoman as well. She is a successful business woman, owns her own home but over manages her son and friends as you noted! Great use of quotes


  5. “Why is it that black women always have to play someone with a perceived negative identity—slave, housekeeper, a victim of domestic abuse, villain—in order for them to be recognized as great actresses?” (theroot.com). For black women, their representation within the media seems to be oversaturated with negative stereotypes. These stereotypes portray, like the quote states, negative identities which, then become the sole identities black women can inhabit on film. With film both reflecting and shifting cultural realities the constant recycling and repetition of black female stereotypes is changing, “…the way in which Americans [think] and how they perceive the world around them” (Manatu).
    “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) is a movie with four black female leads and is directed by a black man, creating the assumption that the film will go against these tired stereotypes and portray a realistic black women on screen. That assumption, however, fails to become true within the first 20 minutes of the film. Each of the four main leads inhabits a different black female stereotype: the mammy, the jezebel, the sapphire, and the superwoman. The character of Bernadine, played by Angela Bassett, is easily understood to be the sapphire of the group before the movie is halfway through. With her opening scene having her husband leaving for his mistress, the anger her character experiences is visible from the beginning. Bernadine then proceeds to set his car on fire, sell his belongings, and storm into one of his business meetings further exposing her anger and aggression. The sapphire being known as the loud, rude, and aggressive woman, Bernadine seems to portray all of those characteristics in this film. For Bernadine the masculine connotation given to black female stereotypes goes beyond her unchecked aggression. She also chooses to cut her hair extremely short, whether in a fit of anger over her divorce or to further portray the masculinization of her character.

    (Quote taken from https://www.theroot.com/why-hollywood-s-portrayal-of-black-women-is-problematic-1790857877)


    • Anne, great selectiion of an outside source. This is a great observation: “Waiting to Exhale” (1995) is a movie with four black female leads and is directed by a black man, creating the assumption that the film will go against these tired stereotypes and portray a realistic black women on screen. That assumption, however, fails to become true within the first 20 minutes of the film. Each of the four main leads inhabits a different black female stereotype: the mammy, the jezebel, the sapphire, and the superwoman.” Using your example of Bernandine as the nagging, angry Sapphire, is a perfect connection to our disccussion and Mantu. As she notes in the reading, these images are a continuation of the same stereotypes of Black women in media. In the chapter “Black Women as Cinematic “Other” she notes, “Black actresses are either shown at their worst (oversexed and nagging bitch), or in other instances, presented in their opposite…” This film was suppose to be a groundbreaker in terms of how black women are presented but it was more of the same. Where it could have been a model for young women, in particular upwardly mobile black woman, it only served to show them as oversexed, loveless women.
      Good job!


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