It was surely a defining moment for me when actress Patricia Arquette called on the help of people of colour to help women, like herself, during her Oscars press briefing in February 2015. Arquette had just won the Academy Award for best supporting actress for Boyhood. After her acceptance speech, where she discussed the importance of equal pay for women (and which Meryl Streep stanned for), Arquette walked backstage and ruined all the hype she had just started.
"It's time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of colour that we've all fought for to fight for us now," the 49-year-old actress stated.
Black writer Heather Barmore responded at that time in The Guardian, "What have I been doing?" The truth is, while non-black individuals have been walking by grassroots movements, and not engaging or aiding in those movements, we've been putting in the work in those same movements that all too often get co-opted.
Black women have our bodies, ideas and livelihoods gentrified time and time again. Kim Kardashian is known for the hourglass figure (as featured on the 2014 Paper Magazine cover) that Sarah Baartman was kidnapped, exploited and mimicked for. Reina Gossett, a black trans artist, has stated that her idea and research was stolen by filmmaker David France for his Netflix documentary on Marsha P. Johnson. Johnson is the late trans activist known for her activism during the Stonewall uprising in 1969, whose contributions to the LGBTQ movement have also been erased in some accounts.
The erasure of black women was particularly jarring when the recent resurgence of the #MeToo movement this fall was credited to white actress Alyssa Milano — when in fact it was founded more than a decade ago by black civil rights activist Tarana Burke. And now it's happening again, with actress Rose McGowan, slated to star in a documentary focused on her and on the sexual harassment claims ongoing in Hollywood. Burke has yet to be announced to be a part of the documentary, let alone a star.
Then came another example of erasure, which happened recently with actress Reese Witherspoon. It was announced that designer Arianne Phillips, commissioned by Witherspoon, created "Time's Up" pins for Hollywood stars to wear at Sunday's Golden Globes Award show. These pins will further raise awareness of #MeToo, as well as "Time's Up" — an action plan created by more than 300 women in Hollywood to penalize sexual harassment, support survivors, and fight for equality in the workplace.
The pin was a great initiative commissioned by Witherspoon but yet again, an opportunity was given to a white woman in the discussion surrounding #MeToo. Aside from Lupita Nyong'o's brave opinion piece of her alleged experience with Harvey Weinstein, I have yet to see support from women in Hollywood extended to black women, other than through words.
After a round of actresses took to Instagram to raise awareness for the Time's Up Now open letter, I was slightly hopeful for more inclusion in the discussion of sexual harassment. The snippet of the letter, posted in The New York Times, stated, "We seek equal representation, opportunities, benefits and pay for all women workers, not to mention greater representation of women of colour, immigrant women, disabled women, whose experiences in the workforce are often significantly worse than their white, cisgender, straight peers."
Marginalized me read that and was filled with glee, particularly after realizing that this was not its original wording. Time's Up Now had initially posted different wording in the letter, not including disabled women, but updated it on their Instagram after receiving feedback from readers. They were off to a great start, and like when Arquette spoke about equal pay for women, I got hyped that Time's Up motioned for support of women of colour, but then fell back.
Witherspoon had an opportunity to enact the goal of Time's Up open letter, supporting women of colour, but instead, she commissioned a white woman to design the wearable symbol for one of the biggest industry and celebrity events of the year.
An argument surely will be made that maybe there are not enough black women designers or stylists in Hollywood, and that is why Witherspoon chose Phillips. There are certainly more than enough black women designers and stylists (see here, here, and here). These black women designers are just not afforded the same opportunities as white women are.
According to Women And Hollywood's 2016 statistics, "76 per cent of all female characters in the top 100 films were white, 14 per cent of all female characters were black, six per cent were Asian American, and three per cent were Latina," with The Hollywood Reporter writing in 2017, "4.8 per cent of TV writers are black." There are many black women in the entertainment industry, but they are often overlooked in favour of non-black individuals. Black women are excluded time and time again from the narrative, and it shows up on television screens, billboards, red carpets, and in the design studio.
My qualm is not with Witherspoon or Phillips, but with the sentiment that, when it comes to black women, it is better to listen to us than to pay us. The sentiment makes it appear that isolation and erasure are an option over acknowledging our voices by integrating our work. It's a lifestyle of inclusion that women like Arquette, Witherspoon, McGowan, Milano, and now Phillips, are afforded and welcomed into.
All the voices of those affected by, as well as working in, an industry where sexual assault is prevalent should be uplifted. I would just equally like to see the work and ideas of black women, women of colour, disabled women of colour, immigrant women, men from each of these groups and trans women of colour being utilized with proper attribution.
Burke began the #MeToo campaign. I want to see her, and other black women's stories, told. I want to see people other than white women commissioned as part of the Time's Up plan. If we are to be diverse in the discussion and action against sexual harassment, may we equally be inclusive.
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