Oprah Winfrey convened four beautiful black actresses for a special “Oprah’s Next Chapter” episode. Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union conversed with Winfrey about the plight of black thespians in Hollywood. The ladies discussed all-things-discrimination, from overcoming “mean girls” syndrome to fighting for space to voice their opinions.
The conversation between the women was nuanced, complex and generational. There is an evident difference in the audiences engaging with Union compared to her seasoned peers, like Rashad and Woodard, but her presence at the table was essential to bridging the gap between millennials, generation Xers and our elders.
Some Twitter critics observed intense discomfort between Union and her colleagues. Their body language screamed irritation, while their words remained stoic and focused. This can be attributed to Union’s personal relationship choices or lack of professional accolades. Rashad, Woodard and Davis are much more accomplished than Union is, with Tony Awards and Academy Award nominations highlighting their extensive careers. Others insisted an actress of Union’s age – like Kerry Washington – was better-suited for the conversation since she’s had a progressive career with minimal setbacks.
However, what Union offers is a route to a larger sea – where women of varied generations discuss issues that plague us collectively. It extends past the solidarity needed to survive the movie business and into our personal relationships with female elders.
A disconnect exists between the mothers and daughters in communities of color. Mothers and daughters in the literal and figurative sense often exist without overlapping knowledge or experiences. It bubbles beneath the surface, never addressed until it explodes. Millennials converse with friends and peers about our issues, but don’t often bring these conflicts to our elders – afraid we’ll be shut down, shunned or told that we haven’t developed enough backbone to be considered mules of the world.
Cultural critic and writer Asia Brown refers to disconnect between elders and their off-spring as a “dysfunctional communicative relationship.” She attributes a longing for these conversations and the shunning that accompanies it to not understanding a shared path of patriarchy, racism and commodification. Brown writes:
We want our mothers to talk to us when it comes to the nitty-gritty. We need to be able to introduce foreign concepts to older Black women, without the prospect of being shunned or made to feel as if our perspectives are intolerable and non-negotiable.
Union is widening the canal for other conversations to stream through. Whether it’s sex, racism or simple dialogue about menstrual cramps, dialogues like those between Union and her peers, is essential for bridging the gap between millennials, generation Xers and our elders.