"My Crown Too Heavy Like The Queen Nefertiti": A Black Feminist Analysis of Erykah Badu, Beyoncé Knowles, Nicki Minaj, and Janelle Monae Open Access
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With the "controlling images" of the Jezebel, the Mammy, and the Sapphire constantly reiterated in movies, television shows, and popular culture, serving the interests of what bell hooks has identified as white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy, a consumer has to wonder if there is any way for Black women performers to thrive and empower other Black women while working within these constricting institutions. Although pop culture is the predominant cultural space where these controlling images and stereotypes have been reproduced there are many Black female entertainers who attempt to challenge and undermine such representations. Scholars such as hooks and Patricia Hill Collins introduce us to the diverse forms of black feminists and black feminism by showing how black women from all walks of life produce and engage black feminist practice. In common cultural discourse, however artists such as Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, Meshell Ndeogeocello are upheld as leading black feminist entertainers of our contemporary period while artists Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé are denounced as disempowering to black women and merely reproducing dominant racist, sexist, and hetero-normative stereotypes of black women. Much Black Feminist scholarship has focused on Black women's resistance to the patriarchal, racist structures that continue to police and attempt to restrain Black women's bodies and freedom within material social and political realms, but less scholarship focuses on the ways in which Black female entertainers produce Black feminist knowledge and empowerment within the realms of pop culture. The purpose of this study is not to show how Badu and Monae are the best examples of "true" Black feminism in the entertainment industry and how artists like Minaj and Knowles are tools of white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy. The purpose is to take the expansions of Black feminism that Collins, Davis, hooks, and several other Black feminist intellectuals, have articulated in order to reflect the broad ways in which Black feminism plays out in the popular music industry and to argue against the grain of critiques of popular culture to demonstrate how, despite its limitations, this realm of cultural representation and performance can be emancipatory for black women.