Tuesday, May 11, 2010

RIP Legendary Lena: Please Refer To The Instruction Manual

"You have to be taught to be second class. You're not born that way." -Lena Horne 1918-2010
    The world was shocked and saddened to learn that the legendary Lena Horne passed away at the glorious age of 92. Known as the first Black woman to secure a major motion-picture contract, Horne was the blueprint for other Black Hollywood starlets.World-renowned not only for her astounding beauty but her television and Broadway credits as well.

     Lena made history by demanding that she would never play the role of "maid", and was first to be featured in movie advertisements alongside A-list white stars. She always appeared reserved, and full of grace in both her on and off-screen persona, as she realized the responsibility and impact of her media image across the globe. She was often met with opposition and when her movies ran in the South her scenes were often cut out as not to offend white viewers.
      "Mississippi wanted its movies without me," she told the New York Times in 1957. "So no one bothered to put me in a movie where I talked to anybody, where some thread of the story might be broken if I were cut." Notoriously taking hits to her dignity, she persevered in Hollywood grounded in her convictions. She demanded roles with dignity to refute negative connotation and association associated with Black female images in media. In the Washington Post article, film Historian Donald Bogle said the following of Lena Horne's impact on Black female imaging in Hollywood:

"Movies are a powerful medium and always depicted African American women before Lena Horne as hefty, mammy-like maids who were ditzy and giggling," Bogle said. "Lena Horne becomes the first one the studios begin to look at differently . . . Really just by being there, being composed and on-screen with her dignity intact paved the way for a new day" for black actresses.

  Lena's resume is lengthy and filled with accomplishments the pop tarts of today only read much less dream about. Lena Horne leaves a legacy worth studying on how to be iconic. I feel many young Black females in the public spotlight should be more careful with the images they voluntarily present *Can KatStacks read this??*. Realizing that the days of blatant segregation and racial discrimination are not so far away nor have the times changed so dramatically that all Black women have escaped characterization by the actions of one and stereotypes of old. Remember Lena Horne with fond gratitude for all she sacrificed, endured and accomplished, pray for her family during their bereavement, and encourage young people to be familiar with her work.
Lena Horne singing "Stormy Weather": 1943


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