ANTI-BLACKNESS IN TV SHOWS (ABTV) SERIES - 24 - SCREAM QUEENS

Overall, I actually really liked this two-season show.


But that doesn't mean that some of its content wasn't problematic.


The commentary here will focus around Zayday (the only Black sorority member) and Denise (a campus security guard).


Today, we will be using Clarkisha Kent's scale (The Kent Test) to judge the quality of these two Black women and their representation on the show. A copy of the scale can be found here: https://s3.amazonaws.com/equalityforher/HR_The+Kent+Test.pdf


ZAYDAY WILLIAMS (Played by Keke Palmer)

Zayday earns a 7. This score translates to "STRONG" representation for women of color.


Points Rationale:


A. Is the character's identity limited by the confines of a stereotype/troupe?

1 Point Awarded


Don't get me wrong, Zayday's character does qualify as a (modified) mammy.


Mammy Troupe: Obese and middle-aged; Asexual (with 'sexuality' normally defined as the capacity to be desires by some male); Complicit in white activity; Loyal; Empathetic; Fierce; Sometimes sassy; Preoccupied with the protection and support of the white person (or people) she cares (all encompassing, sans sex: feed, clothe, bathe, cook, clean, etc.) for; Wise and observant in a crude sense; Criticizes and advises like a parent; Tough, resourceful, and resilient with little backstory

>When you watch the show, you will see that Zayday is never seen as attractive by anyone but 1) a serial killer in the first season (who actually murdered her potential Black love interest), and 2) a (relatively unattractive) Black candy striper in the second season. (Ironically, his one-sided attraction to Zayday happens while she is a medical student and an aspiring doctor.) Whatever Grace (the white girl she's the sidekick to) wants to do, Zayday supports her. Zayday is fierce and resilient. She chastises Chanel on her casual racism, yet, is empathetic towards her after being victimized. She is a sassy truth-teller, resourceful and tough. When she was kidnapped by the serial killer, we see her fighting to survive just as hard as she screamed.


However, her character is not limited by that role. Zayday is clearly shown to have her own interests, ideas, and motivations. (Ex. he love for her grandmother, high expectations for herself, etc.).


B. Does the character have her own plot?

1 Point Awarded


It can be said that Zayday has her own plot. (Note that since she is a mammy character, the space in which she exists is within the left-over space of the white main characters. However...) She operates seamlessly between two worlds. Zayday starts off as a person that Grace (the white main character, or MC) befriends at school. We know her to be a good student. When Grace asks her to, Zayday reluctantly joins the sorority. Soon, she is aiming to be the sorority's president. She gets kidnapped by the serial killer and rescues herself from bondage (no pun intended). She helps the solve the murder mystery. As she intended, she ultimately becomes the president of Kappa Kappa Tau. In the next season, we meet Zayday as a competent medical student with her own agenda. Again, in the second season, she survives through the series to effect changes in the toxic sorority culture of Kappa Kappa Tau.


C. Is her plot male-centered?

1 Point Awarded


No, her plot is not male-centered.


D. Is her plot centered around a white woman?

1 Point Awarded


LOL.

It was hard for me to give her this point because she was a sidekick, but I did.


E. Is the character's identity limited to fetishization or a sex-symbol?

1 Point Awarded


Zayday's character was not actively fetishized. The only explicit instance of when one could argue when she was was when the serial killer (later revealed to be a white male) refrained from murdering her because he "liked the sistas".

F. Does the character interact with other women of color?

1 Point Awarded, +1 Bonus Point


Zayday does interact with other women of color on the show, namely, Denise Hemphill, the incompetent campus security guard. (Note, they don't have a good relationship because of Denise's crabs-in-a-barrel mentality.) A bonus point is awarded because their interaction wasn't bound to happen and didn't need to happen--the two were total strangers at the start of the show.


G. Is the character only there to be scapegoated (sacrificed)?

1 Point Awarded


Zayday survives all the way through the series. She is never killed. That is an accomplishment, especially in a show where they murdered someone every other episode.


DENISE HEMPHILL (Played by Niecy Nash)

Denise earns a 6. This score translates to "SOUND" representation for women of color.


Points Rationale:


A. Is the character's identity limited by the confines of a stereotype/troupe?

0 Points Awarded


I maintain that Denise is a walking stereotype, namely, The Sapphire (aka the "Angry Black Woman" stereotype).


Sapphire Troupe: Occasional matriarch; Angry, Bitter or Jealous; Emasculating (ironic, right? Because the real emasculation of the Black male was done by none other than the white man); Loquacious; Critical and condescending (most often towards "her man"); Independent; Stubborn; Disagreeable;

>Denise has a bit less vitriol than one would expect of a Sapphire character. She also has no man that she habitually bosses around. However, Denise meets most of the other requirements for the Sapphire stereotype. She is bitter (because of the discrimination-based rejection that she faced as a student trying to join Kappa Kappa Tau). She is also jealous Zayday, because Zayday didn't encounter the obstacles she did when trying to join the sorority. Through her loquacious, opinionated, round-about monologues on what she intends to do to protect everyone, she criticizes everybody around her. Her obliviously snide remarks are wrapped up in a cocky independence, simultaneously making her both humorous and self-centered. Most of the time, Denise seems amiable enough, but she shows the disagreeable and stubborn part of her nature when she has a verbal showdown with Zayday (details below).


B. Does the character have her own plot?

0 Points Awarded


Denise does not have her own plot. She is a reactionary character, who only acts when the main characters (MCs) call/need her.


C. Is her plot male-centered?

1 Point Awarded


No, her plot is not male-centered.


D. Is her plot centered around a white woman?

1 Point Awarded


This was a hard point to give. As I mentioned, Denise's character is a largely reactionary one. But I chose to give the point because of her fixation on Zayday. So I interpreted "the Denise answer" here as "not exclusively around white a woman".


E. Is the character's identity limited to fetishization or a sex-symbol?

1 Point Awarded


No, she is not limited to fetishization or being a sex-symbol. She is essentially a comedic relief and a reactionary character.

F. Does the character interact with other women of color?

1 Point Awarded, +1 Bonus Point


Yes.


Denise interacts extensively with Zayday (the Black sorority member). In their exchanges, Denise acts on her suspicions of Zayday being the killer, and repeatedly accuses her of it. Denise goes through Zayday's belongings, knows her schedule and is always on the look out for her whereabouts. Despite all the continuous alibies and explanations that Zayday gives for her seemingly "suspicious" behaviors, Denise remains unconvinced. Denise's constant disagreeableness finally gets a rise out of Zayday, who had done some digging of her own. Zayday posits that the root of Denise's resentment towards her could be jealousy. Denise chafes at this, but vows to keep up the search for evidence to prove Zayday was the killer. At several points, (as well as at the behest of Chanel #3,) we see Denise attempting to frame Zayday for the murders.


For context, check out this clip of Denise's hilariously neurotic behavior: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egzVLPd-Nvg


G. Is the character only there to be scapegoated (sacrificed)?

1 Point Awarded


Although she narrowly escaped the serial killer's clutches, Denise survived through the first season, and was not sacrificed. Her co-worker (Shondell) was not so lucky.



All in all, I give the show a 7/10. Despite its issues, the show was novel/unique in lots of ways that I think audiences would like to see more of.

-See you next time! :)


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