Laurie Toby Edison

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Montana Fishburne: Individuality and Representing the Group

Debbie says:

I’ve apparently come late to the Montana Fishburne party, since I just learned about the story yesterday. For those of you who’ve been living under the rock next to mine, Montana Fishburne is the daughter of acclaimed actor Laurence Fishburne, who is African-American. At the age of 18, Montana decided to perform in porn movies. Her father is furious and not speaking to her.

Montana is extremely articulate and clear about her decision. In an open letter released by Vibe Magazine, she says:

I was the one who reached out to Vivid. [Male performer] Brian Pumper had nothing to do with getting me started. I did my first video with him, but that’s it. I chose Vivid because they are the best in the business and I wanted to go to the top seller. And they have released other movies with celebrity girls like Kendra, Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. So, I wanted to go somewhere I knew I would be safe. People have it wrong. Doing porn is not about me becoming famous…it’s about becoming successful. Porn just happens to be the industry I was most interested in, so for critics to say I’m going about it the wrong way they are missing the point. I am making a buzz in the porn industry and in the mainstream, too. It’s leading me to more opportunities, so people can’t say that I’m not going to get anywhere.

Her right to do this is not in doubt, and it’s difficult to read that quotation and question that she’s making a conscious choice. No one can say whether or not it will work out for her, but that’s true of all choices we make at any age; sometimes the least controversial-seeming choices turn out to be the most dangerous, sometimes vice versa. So my basic reaction is “You go, girl!”

Andrea (AJ) Plaid adds a layer of complexity to the story at Racialicious. After discussing her own understanding of Montana Fishburne’s choices in the context of her own history, Plaid goes on to give us some racial/ethnic context, and then finishes with a superb analysis of the role of the woman of color in pornography and what kinds of obstacles Montana Fishburne may encounter. (“What’s not getting nuanced in this statement is the deeper notion of what Latoya Peterson describes as the Montana’s and Midori’s “double marginalization”: that “black bodies are devalued, both in mainstream media and in porn…”) Read the whole piece.

In the middle of her post, Plaid analyzes how Montana Fishburne’s racial identity affects public perception of her choices.

… to hear that [Laurence Fishburne]s] Black daughter is not only a sex worker—which is, according to some people, what one turns to only “out of desperation” or is the path of “those (read: poor, uneducated) women,” though some sex workers would state otherwise–is something some people just couldn’t imagine Papa Laurence doing because he’s just too righteous for that. Laurence, like my moms, are what some would refer to as “race people” those Black people who are proud and try their damnedest to do right by The Race™, including rearing children who won’t embarrass the rest of The Race™ by, in the case of Black women, staying sexually “proper”—meaning no “laying up” and certainly not doing it on video for millions to see. And when their child shames them—and by extension, The Race™—sometimes punishment is swift and, in my mom’s and Laurence’s cases, silent.

I completely get this, and at the same time, it is one of the hardest things about being in any marginalized group: Paris Hilton can star in porn flicks and she’s just a rich white girl starring in porn flicks, but if Montana Fishburne does the same thing, she stands in for all African-American women, or at least all middle-class-and-higher African-American women making that choice. Everyone white has the option of generalizing from Montana’s choice to the choices of Montana’s whole group. Everyone of color is strongly pushed to think about how to respond to her as a representative of their choices. Individuality itself is muted by the role of representation. Individual choices and individual public actions become more difficult.

This also makes me sympathetic to the people of color who are opposed to Montana’s choices. If she cannot escape the role of representative, similarly no one who is identified as being in her groups (in this case, people of color and African-Americans, especially conventionally beautiful young women) can escape being lumped in with her to some extent.

Despite the fact that she is chipping away at the bedrock of these issues by being so public, there is nothing immediate or dramatic that Montana Fishburne can do to change her ‘assigned’ role as representative of her identified group. For me, that means that her choice is even more courageous and challenging than it would be if she was white. So, along with Plaid, “I wish her much luck and success in her chosen path.”

8 Responses to “Montana Fishburne: Individuality and Representing the Group”

  1. lilacsigil Says:

    Gina Torres is her stepmother, not her mother. And yes, everything Ms Fishburne does in public is “every” black woman.

  2. Lisa Hirsch Says:

    There’s a Jewish equivalent about Jewish public behavior, representing in the saying about not being a shonda (shame) to the goyim (non-Jews, sometimes used derogatorily). Note the widespread horror and embarrassment in the Jewish community over Bernard Madoff’s thefts, and over that political corruption scandal about 18 months ago that involved arrests of rabbis, politicians, etc. in NJ and NY.

  3. Debbie Says:

    Yes. My mother, on hearing of an assassination or some other big crime, would always react with “let it not be a Jew.” And I remember feeling that way when George Wallace was shot in 1972, and I so wanted it to be (as it turned out to be) someone from the right wing rather than the left. This is one good way to look at the whole business of people from marginalized groups seeing ourselves/themselves as representatives. Thanks!

  4. Debbie Says:

    Thanks! I’ll go fix the blog to get the relationship with Torres right.

  5. AFRIMERICAN Says:

    Montana Fishburne is not being held up to represent all Black Females, or Black people. Paris has Millions for life but for someone who comes up under a well off parent that could actually do more for them in mainstream media is stupid, and insulting to her father.

    No one in their right mind gets a degree from Harvard to go down to skid row to suck dick for $2.00 a pop.

  6. Marlene Says:

    AFRIMERICAN,

    No, of course not. Someone with a degree from Harvard negotiates a deal with Vivid.

  7. mmr Says:

    This is an interesting blog entry and raises good points, but I also just want to add something in the defense of Father Fishburne–that quotation, about how “upright” black people in the public eye hold their children and themselves accountable to representing the entire race: I agree that that sucks, but I don’t think it’s fair to map that racist/racial reading onto Fishburne’s anger. I’m white and if I got into doing porn my father would be devastated. Devastated! And it would have nothing to do with me “giving white women a bad name” or whatever. Fishburne is a dad who wants his daughter to have a good life–yes, it’s just his own opinion that porn can’t be a good life, but it’s an opinion shared by millions and millions of fathers worldwide. If casting the daughter’s actions as representing/being responsible for an entire race is WRONG, then casting her father’s reaction as being keyed only to his race is also wrong. He’s just a dad.

  8. Debbie Says:

    mmr, I take your point. To the extent that I did cast her father’s reaction as being keyed only to his race (not what I meant, but not delineated clearly enough), that was just wrong. He is, in fact, just a dad and the dads that support their daughters’ porn careers are, to say the least, few and far between.

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