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Lee Daniels’s Pimp Aims and Misses

Lee Daniels is …messy.


He’s talented and wealthy and successful. But also, real damn messy.


Daniels came to mainstream notoriety after directing the 2009 critical hit “Precious.” It’s clear he likes to tell stories about people who aren’t normally on our collective radar. Which is probably why he executive produced a small independent film starring Keke Palmer titled “Pimp.” Palmer plays a young girl named “Wednesday,” ( Wen for short). On the surface this movie is about a female pimp, trying to survive in a neighborhood where opportunities are scarce. Wen is the daughter of a small-time pimp and is also one of his workers. Five minutes into the film Wen’s father dies leaving his family to fend for themselves. Wen, having been taught several aspects of the “family business,” becomes a pimp and tries to fill her father’s shoes. 


Eventually, Wen’s girlfriend Nikki played by Haley Ramm (X-Men, Disconnect, Into the Wild) offers to turn tricks in order to make money for the household. Wen feels trapped by her circumstances until she meets Destiny played by Vanessa Morgan (Riverdale, Degrassi). Wen believes Destiny can make her more money and get her out of the ghetto. Unfortunately, Destiny already has a pimp (who she is trying to shake down for more money) and he is a dangerous sociopath. Wen, Nikki, her mother, and her girls have to deal with the consequences of their reality in a very real and heartbreaking manner.


Wen’s character regrettably falls into a very aggressive lesbian trope. In an attempt to never be like the women who work for her father, She decides she’s going to follow in her father’s footsteps and be “one of the boys.”  She exhibits a healthy dose of cringeworthy performative masculinity mostly through bravado, impulsivity, and misogyny. Wen believes that adopting this machismo persona will keep her from ending up like her father. The truth is, the same system that ruined her dad is also set up to eat her alive, and no amount of thug grandstanding can prevent that.


…it’s a common misconception that creates a narrative that it’s ok to be violent to lesbians and assault our bodies because if we chose to “act” like men then we must surely be able handle violence like men.


I am sensitive to the way lesbians are portrayed in media because representation (when properly done) can shift community perceptions and influence social norms.  We should retire the stereotypes that lesbians seek to be “manly” or “boyish” in an effort to emulate men in order to fit into a man’s world. Loving a woman isn’t an inherently masculine trait, so there’s no need for a person who loves women to solely exhibit those characteristics. Lesbians aren’t trying to be men, it’s a common misconception that creates a narrative that it’s ok to be violent to lesbians and assault our bodies because if we chose to “act” like men then we must surely be able handle violence like men.  This misconception ends up being particularly dangerous for Wen.


“Pimp,” Lee Daniels (2018), IMDb

Wen and Nikki’s relationship also falls into predictable heteronormative constraints.  We see the aggressive “manlier” lesbian taking control of the relationship, the family, and the business. Without the boundaries that bind heterosexual interactions, within many lesbian relationships, there is no need for one partner to constantly be dominant and one to be the submissive. Lesbian relationships are unique (especially those that are divorced from the patriarchy) because there is no blueprint for how we are present for one another. None of that was shown in this film, and quite honestly it was a major missed opportunity.


Wen is a stereotype.

Her girlfriend Nikki who blindly follows her around is a stereotype, and Wen’s callous unfeeling addict mother is a stereotype.

The story would have been more impactful if Wen could have found her OWN identity and manifested her sexuality in a way that conformed with her authentic self, not the person she believed she had to be. I question the need for these kinds of overdone caricatures. We know that people living in poverty and engaged in illegal activities aren’t one dimensional. We also know that there is a great deal of social, economic, and political conditions that created this perfect storm of violence and exploitation. None of these systems are explored, discussed, or acknowledged in this film. Half the story was told, and it was told in a way that lacked nuance and depth. There is so much more to lesbian culture, sex worker dynamics, and the struggle to climb out of poverty.


In the hands of a someone with a more socially conscious agenda this movie could have been wonderful. However, it comes across as just another sad story about a one dimensional character in an urban setting.  We deserve better representation and our stories deserve to be told with more thought and nuance, it’s 2018 time to liberate the idea of who and what a lesbian is because we need to be seen as three dimensions if we want the world to acknowledge our humanity.


Cover photo: IMDb

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