Marilyn Monroe? Why not Dorothy, Josephine, or Lena?
By: Deirdra Peyton
If you live in the DMV area I am sure you’ve heard the song called “Marilyn Monroe” by Brianna on the local radio stations. The song may be catchy, but the lyrical content of the song is actually quite shallow. Not only does the lyrics of this song lack depth and artistry it also celebrates that admiration of a Caucasian woman by an African American female. In this day and age why are young women of color looking up to someone outside of their race as a model of beauty?
Marilyn Monroe became famous in the 1950’s in movies by playing the role of the “blond bombshell” or the “dumb blond”. Many of her roles consisted of the stereotype of a woman being drop dead gorgeous but not very intelligent. The roles that she played kept her typecast in her career as an actress, which didn’t lead to her gaining any prominent roles outside of that character.
During my years in college I have come to realize that a lot of African American females seem to idolize Marilyn Monroe. I’ve always questioned why? I do understand that she was a very beautiful woman, but in the African American community there are women from the past and present in entertainment that we can look up to who are not only beautiful but have also accomplished more than Marilyn Monroe.
During the same era that Marilyn Monroe was popular there were three African American women who were not only beautiful and talented but also involved in the African American community. The first being Josephine Baker, the second being Dorothy Dandridge, and the third Lena Horne.
Josephine Baker was a very talented dancer, actress, and singer hailing from Saint Louis, Missouri. The peak of her career spanned from the 1920’s into the 1950’s in which she found most of her fame in France. After her fame started to falter she still performed until her death in 1975. Not only was she talented she also was a civil rights activist and a victim of segregation as well. She always refused to perform for segregated audiences when she came to the United States and also was refused service in luxury restaurants at the time because of her race. She was also a philanthropist by adopting 12 orphans from various places around the world to give a home.
Dorothy Dandridge was a triple threat just as Josephine Baker was. During the 1950’s in America she gained popularity within motion pictures which eventually led to her being the first African American woman nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Actress. During that time period she also endured racism despite being talented, sometimes she would have to enter and exit through the back doors of the venues that she performed at. During that time she paved the way for other African American actors to have equal rights when it came to performing by refusing to perform or act in a movie if she did not have equal rights as the other actors.
Singer and actress Lena Horne also was popular during the same time frame as Josephine Baker and Dorothy Dandridge and between the three of them the peak of her career lasted the longest. She was heavily involved with the civil rights movement. During World War II while oversees she refused to perform to a segregated audience of soldiers. Later on during the era of segregation she rallied with the NAACP and worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to pass anti-lynching laws.
Besides being beautiful and gifted those three women accomplished more than Marilyn Monroe ever did. It really baffles me that in this day and age young African American women look up to Marilyn Monroe instead of Lena Horne, Dorthy Dandridge, or any prominent African American actress that is relevant now. Young African American women have the perfect role models from the past and a few from the present but they still choose to idolize someone outside of their race.