While reading Michael Rogin's Blackface, White Noise (1996) I ran across numerous still shots of what Rogin refers to as "motion picture blackface." While Rogin's book discussed the presence of Jewish blackface actors in the beginning and middle of the 20th century, what caught my attention were two pictures of black men cradling dying white men. I was slightly taken aback when the captions described the black actors as "mammy."
I wasn't so much taken aback by the actual scenes but by the descriptions of men of color as "mammy." In my own academic excursions through black popular discourse I've gendered the mammy as a woman. My next train of thought, after seeing what I'd like to call a "MANmy," was if a MANmy was just another route to the Uncle Tom archetype. Docile, nurturing, and often considered a traitor to his own race, the Uncle Tom archetype is often linked back to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin (1861). While similarities can certainly be drawn, I haven't quite sold myself on Uncle Tom and MANmy being kindred spirits.
While I work through my ideas, a few instances of a contemporary MANmy representations come to mind: Marion Hill, LL Cool J's character from the early 1990s NBC Series In the House, Geoffrey, Joseph Marcell's character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Bernie Mac's title character on The Bernie Mac Show. These men, hardly considered soft or a pushover, still exude something (don't quite know what yet) that softens their masculinity so that it is accessible and consumable to a mixed audience by displaying mammy-esque characteristics that conceal their more masculine qualities.
Of course, my investigation into the MANmy is hardly clean cut. The popular drag roles of Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx, and Martin Lawrence trouble any understanding or implications about gender and blackness that the MANmy may represent or complicate. To further trouble this (recently) celebrated and anticipated role of black men, one must also consider the shifting racial and power dynamics posited by a 'postracial' era of American public discourse. How do these characterizations of men of color resist or re-affirm markers of African American mens' contemporary experiences? Stay tuned.