Marilyn and Other Role Models

 Over at VibeVixen, an interesting post asks, ‘Why Are Female Rappers Choosing Marilyn Monroe Over Lena Horne?’ Given the recent tributes to MM from Brianna and Nicki Minaj, it’s a fair question – when R&B is (mostly) an African-American field, why are black icons overlooked in Marilyn’s favour?

I have often regretted that other icons are being forgotten, but this is not Marilyn’s fault. And it’s not just a racial issue either – even Elizabeth Taylor noted that Monroe was more ‘mythic’ than her. Furthermore, not all the media attention thrust on MM is positive. Fifty years after her death, she is still vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

VibeVixen don’t do themselves any favours by citing two quotes wrongly attributed to Marilyn (see ‘Misquoting Marilyn’ by Marijane Gray.)

The recent tributes to Monroe primarily focus on her glamour, which is recognised worldwide. However, VibeVixen is right to also praise Lena Horne for her talent, beauty and wit. Marilyn’s friend, Dorothy Dandridge, was another black icon of the era.

Maybe it’s more interesting to ask why black women are drawn to Marilyn on a deeper level. She was known for her progressive views on race in an era when segregation was still commonplace in parts of the US.

Journalist W.J. Weatherby asked his girlfriend, Christine, a young black woman whom he had met through the Civil Rights movement, why Monroe appealed to her more than other white stars. ‘She’s been hurt,’ Christine told him. ‘She knows what the score is, but it hasn’t broken her.’

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