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Dear 'Diary': Black women are mad about you

Page 2 of 2 -- One letter I got, from Jennifer Alexander of St. Louis, wanted to know my ethnicity, because, she wrote, a black person would instinctively know certain aspects of ''Diary" to be true. People who wrote me similar notes were heartened to hear that I just didn't have the same experience growing up as they did.

These exchanges might sound trivial or self-evident, but rarely is black America engaged in a meaningful public dialogue about its own diversity and its many internal differences.

Something else we can learn from the ''Diary" phenomenon is that things in Hollywood look bleak for black women. According to a 2003 census from the Screen Actors Guild, African-American males accounted for 64 more starring roles in films than in the previous year while African-American women won only 14 more. That's something to worry about, and I think the droves that turned out for ''Diary" sense this. It's the only way to explain the heated response to its detractors. Fans made the movie number one, and they're proud.

Three years ago, when Halle Berry became the first black woman to win an Academy Award for best actress, she accepted her statue with a vow that doors would open for black women in Hollywood. Since then, Berry has since picked the door to ''Gothika," then the one to ''Catwoman," which is sort of a milestone: She can front a mediocre movie as well as any white star.

Despite Berry's promise of advancement, a lot of other great actresses -- Regina King, Kerry Washington, Aunjanue Ellis, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Gabrielle Union, Paula Jai Parker, Viola Davis, I could go on -- are languishing on the sidelines. Meanwhile, too many shiny parts go to Beyoncé, something that's both inexplicable and understandable.

White men run Hollywood, and when they see industrial fans blowing Beyoncé's hair extensions while she wags her hips and emits her police-siren vocals, a cash register drawer pops open. She doesn't seem capable of acting her way into a paper bag, but it's easy to cast her and her clones (hi, Christina Milian and Ashanti) because their ubiquity on BET and MTV make them preapproved for movie audiences. Meanwhile: Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard, where are you?

Right now is a good time to be an African-American man in the movie industry. Brand-new Oscar winner Jamie Foxx is the toast of Hollywood. Having played God in a movie, Morgan Freeman, also a recent Oscar winner, is widely thought to be God. Will Smith's ''Hitch" is the biggest movie of the year so far, and, I'm ashamed to say, Ice Cube's ''Are We There Yet?" is right behind it. ''Diary" writer Perry's star is on the rise. Samuel L. Jackson quietly scored a hit in late January with ''Coach Carter," while F. Gary Gray and Darren Grant, the respective directors of ''Be Cool" and ''Diary," are black men. So are the directors of the upcoming ''Beauty Shop," ''Guess Who," and ''The Fantastic Four."

To get better, more complicated stories told about black women might require more black female writers and directors -- and if you think things are grim for black film actresses, try being a black woman director. The discrepancy between the endless number of African-American women draped over rappers and the paltry number saying ''that's a wrap" is staggering. That's enough to make anybody mad. But when will someone get mad enough not to take it anymore?

Wesley Morris can be reached at  

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