So I saw Joker this past weekend and I have a few comments as it relates to how black women were portrayed in the film. Overall, as a fan of comic book movies in general, I enjoyed it, but as I’ve navigated certain black women circles online, coupled with my natural cynicism, I see things little differently.
Please note, there will be some spoilers.
Another note: because of the nature of the movie, specifically the role of mental health as it relates to the titular character, Joker is not a reliable narrator. Whether what we see as the audience actually talks place or is a symptom of his madness is what makes the movie work so well. As such, we leave the theater not quite sure what actually happened and what didn’t. Now, let’s get on to the meat of the matter.
Three black women featured fairly prominently in the movie: The Social Worker, The Mom on the Bus, and the Arkham Psychiatrist. I’m not going to talk about Zazie Beats’ character, Sophie, because she is biracial.
The social worker character was doing her job, working with a mentally ill man to seemingly no avail. For all her efforts, though she too seemed indifferent, Arthur Fleck was abandoned by the system, and judging from her statement of “the system doesn’t care about people like us”, she too was abandoned.
The bus mom was portrayed as aggressive, however, she was in Mama Bear mode and a weirdo was bothering her child, so I can’t wrong her for that. I just didn’t like it, really. Loud, probably poor (based on the neighborhood), overweight black woman on public transport. We’ve seen it before.
The psychiatrist was, for all intents and purposes, was doing everything right – she was engaging, interested, and paying attention to Arthur during his stint of institutionalization. And yet, despite her efforts, she still ended up the way she did, a bloody smear on the bottom of a madman’s shoes.
I’ve seen these three kinds of women in real life before – the tired black woman who does her job well, but is so sick of it. The quintessential Angry Black Woman, and the Good Black Woman, who wants the best for everyone and still gets the short end of the stick despite her well intentioned efforts.
Perhaps Arthur sees his struggles on par with the struggles of black people in America – after all, the people he opens up to the most throughout the movie, are black (including Carl, the record clerk at Arkham).
There have been many posts on the blog talking about the Angry Black Woman, so I’ll not talk about her.
Black women enter the helping professions at high rates. That’s fine, they are solid jobs that earn a living and are very rewarding. But these helping professions put black women as a beast of burden for all the world’s problems, and for what? The Social Worker probably lost her job, and Joker still went crazy. In fact, I’m sure someone would find a way to pin the blame on her, citing a failure of the system and those who worked with him, as the reason for Joker’s birth and Gotham’s subsequent descent into madness. That’s a pretty big reach, I admit. However, a real life reason I don’t like this, is because there will be news articles come election time proclaiming that black women will be the deciding factor in 2020 – it puts us in the hotseat for any unfavorable outcomes on either side of the aisle.
The psychiatrist at the end, for all her efforts, was snuffed out, and her murderer danced in her blood as he ran away. I personally drew a parallel between that scene and all the things black women do for the black community, only to be insulted and criticized if her best simply wasn’t good enough. Sound familiar, or am I reaching again?
Overall, I think Joker was a fantastic film with interesting characters across the board. I’ve only seen it once, so I’m sure I missed a few things. Do you have any thoughts on the portrayal of black women in the film? Do share in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This blog was written by me, Penelope, and my ideas are not necessarily reflective of Christelyn Karazin or other writers on this platform.