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Tyra Banks to Play Life-Size Doll for Little White Girl, Just Like Richard Pryor

by Dr. Boyce Watkins

“Loving yourself is paramount, no matter what shape, size or color you are. I call it being flawsome: you + your flaws + awesome = flawsome.”  These are the words from the great Tyra Banks, who is set to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan South Africa next month.  Tyra is an awesome role model for almost any young woman, since she preaches that beauty must be accompanied by brains and high self-esteem to make our girls successful.

Variety is reporting that Tyra is going to star in a sequel to the made-for-TV film, “Life Size.”  Banks appeared with Lindsay Lohan in the film back in 2000.  We doubt that Lindsay is going to be in this one, since she is too busy being arrested.   The film involves Banks coming to life as a massive doll for Lohan, after the little girl tries to use voodoo to bring her mom back to life.

Doesn’t this remind you of the Richard Pryor classic, “The Toy?”  In case you’re not old enough to remember this classic film, “The Toy” was yet another case in which a black person was presented to the audience as a play thing for a little white child.  Of course, the black character always brings “spice” to the household, the same way nannies did on old southern plantations 150 years ago.  For some reason, having the large negro sidekick is a lasting tradition in Hollywood.

I’m not one to say that Tyra shouldn’t take the role, since I expect she’s being well-compensated for it.  But I have to admit that I’m not all that comfortable with white kids using black people as toys, dolls, cartoon characters or hand puppets.  I also wonder if these films would be as entertaining or successful if a white person were playing the sidekick to a black child.  Kind of tough to picture that one, isn’t it?

Of course these thoughts are not meant to demean Tyra in any way, she’ll always be among my top ten most beautiful women on the planet (behind my mother, grandmother, daughters, sister,  and girlfriend, of course). But maybe these roles give us something to think about and also teach us about ourselves as a racially-damaged country.  Portraying black people as caricatures hardly presents America as a post-racial society.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

 

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