Emma Stone Passing Strange

We've often talked about the passive-aggressive racial compliment "You're not really black," and its varied iterations. More often than not, it's the the kind of comment that says more about the speaker than it does about the person.


Here's the same form rendered in a different, dare I say more socially accepted, form:

I guess what I'm getting at, and I mean it as a high compliment, is that Stone is a dude -- in the sense that she is building a career typically allowed to only serious actors in Hollywood. Guys in the industry unfairly get more leeway, whereas actresses are so easily boxed in at an early age, and few have been allowed or earned the freedom Stone currently enjoys. She can literally do anything, and she's getting opportunities to prove it in period dramas, high school comedies, adult romantic comedies, and comic-book epics. She's on her way to becoming a lucrative brand, an ironic but nevertheless well-deserved achievement considering her multiple talents and eclectic taste.

Alyssa Rosenberg objects:

I actually think it's more apt to suggest that Stone is on a trajectory to escape the permanent girlhood Hollywood foists on most actresses. Limiting actresses to stories that pit jobs v. love as if they're a choice, or that makes the question of whether or not someone is the One isn't just a female thing, or what femininity is made up of. Instead, it's a way of trapping actresses in the black-and-white terms of teenagedom, of walling them off from the full range of problems and joys women get to experience.

I think the most sympathetic understanding of the statement is "Emma Stone is now getting opportunities generally reserved for male actors." Let us stipulate that the writer was, indeed, trying to be complimentary.

Still I think Alyssa has a good point. Emma Stone isn't a dude, so much as she is a woman. The problem with this frame is that it insists that there is something remarkable about the individual, as opposed to there being something remarkable about our preconceptions of the individual's class. It's not so much that Emma Stone can "literally do anything," it's that Hollywood (and perhaps audiences) don't think women can do much of anything.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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