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The Miss America Scandal–29 Years Ago Today

July 23, 2013 Leave a comment

vanessa-williams-miss-america1On July 23, 1984, the first black Miss America relinquished her tiara, replaced by the runner-up, also a black woman.

The multi-talented Vanessa Williams was crowned in 1983, the first African-American winner in the pageant’s over 60-year history.  (Click here to watch her crowning.) But eight months later, nude photos of her cropped up. Penthouse editor Bob Guccione snapped them up and put her on the magazine’s cover with octogenarian comedian George Burnspenthouse_williams

As the scandal grew, Williams tearfully stepped aside, replaced by Suzette Charles, Miss New Jersey and also African American. Click here to watch her performance in the pageant’s talent competition.

Suzette Charles

Suzette Charles

Williams bounced back, launching a career as an actress and singer and earning multiple Grammy, Emmy and Tony nominations. Her 1988 debut album “The Right Stuff” spawned the hits “The Right Stuff” and “Dreamin.” Her second album 1991’s “The Comfort Zone” was a chart-topper and sparked the number-one hit “Save the Best for Last.” In 1995 her song “Colors of the Wind” from the animated film Pocahontas won a best original song Oscar.

On T.V. Williams played the role of the scheming diva Wilhelmina Slater on ABC’s Ugly Betty from 2006 to 2010. She received three Emmy Awards nominations before she moved to the network series Desperate Housewives and 666 Park Avenue.

Williams on Ugly Betty

Williams on Ugly Betty

Charles didn’t fare as well. She reigned as Miss America for only seven weeks, and continued with a modest singing and television career.

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Devious Maids–Is it Good for Latinos?

June 24, 2013 Leave a comment

devm_promo_03The new Lifetime series Devious Maids debuted last night amid a swirl of controversy. The show, brought to cable by Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry and co-produced by actress Eva Longoria, follows the stories of five LA maids. Click here to watch Sunday’s pilot episode in English or Spanish; it’ll be available for viewing later today. Read show recap here.

Eva Longoria

Eva Longoria

Like the award-winning movie The Help, Devious Maids has become a lightning rod for discussion of women of color in Hollywood. Is playing a maid the only decent role for a black or brown actress on the big and small screen? Twenty million Latinas live in the U.S.–so why focus the only show featuring five Hispanic actresses–and a Latina writer and executive producer–on domestics? Maybe because that’s the scenario the mostly-white elite who run Hollywood are most comfortable with–the Latin American men and women who clean their homes, take care of their children and tend their gardens. But what about the millions of Hispanic doctors, lawyers, teachers, entrepreneurs, and a Supreme Court justice!?

The-Help-Viola-Davis

On the other hand, why not air a show that features five smart, gorgeous, hard-working Latinas that highlights the stories of this country’s millions of domestic workers? Maybe the series doesn’t exploit the stereotype, but turns it on its head. The white employers are more one-dimensional and unrealistic than the flesh and blood maids! And as the Oscar-winning actress Hattie McDaniel famously said, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.”

Follow the debate here.