She is wearing a hot pink nightie fringed by tiny hot pink feathers. Her big, brown legs are polished and wrap around the man lying beneath her. Her makeup is perfect. She turns toward the camera and seemingly growls.
The man lying beneath her, Eddie Murphy, seems to struggle under her weight with a horrified look. The two of them lie on the word "Norbit," crushing the movie title, making it sag like a well-worn mattress.
Above them, the ad asks: "Have you ever made a really big mistake?"
The poster is supposed to invite laughs. But for a number of women, black and otherwise, it's not funny.
In recent years, Hollywood has begun to make some changes in its portrayal and acceptance of black beauty. So you wonder why at this point does it release a film that stereotypes and makes fun of big black women? You wonder who is laughing.
Murphy co-wrote the story and screenplay for "Norbit," about a meek nerd, played by Murphy. Norbit is chased by his obsessed, jealous and overbearing wife, Rasputia, also played by Murphy (in a fat suit). The movie, No. 1 at the box office when it opened two weekends ago, drew harsh reviews from film critics and a series of protests from women and men who found it to be misogynistic and an outrageous characterization of large black women.
Geneva Mays, a real estate agent who lives in Suitland, says she is offended by the movie trailers that show the character Rasputia flying though her bedroom and landing on Norbit, crushing the bed in the fall. "I think it's demeaning to women," Mays said. "I think it's demeaning to women in general because we are all the same. We are just different colors. Women are women, regardless."
Thandisizwe Chimurenga, a community activist, said the movie shows how society feels about large black women. "I'm a big woman myself," she said. The irony, she said, "is there are a lot of men who do like large women. I've been pursued by all kinds of men." She added: "The billboards to me look cute. I was, like, 'Go ahead, girl, do your thing."
Sitting two rows from the back of the theater at Laurel Cinema 6, Tamara Taylor, a certified medical technician who lives in Baltimore, laughed at some scenes in "Norbit." She had come for herself to see the movie to understand it better. Afterward, Taylor decided it wasn't the character's size that made her ugly.
"Rasputia, I think she was funny as far as being jealous, but she was abusive. That made her ugly," Taylor said. "At first, I thought he was intimidated by her size, but he was really intimidated by her ways, her mouth. . . . I think Norbit liked the other girl because she was soft and frail. I think he loved Kate," played by Thandie Newton, "not because she was small, but she was peaceful."
Some found that the juxtaposition of the two women conjures old questions about skin color and beauty (Kate being lighter skinned than Rasputia), about the light and dark images that haunt so many races and the fairy tales that imply the more fair the complexion, the more beautiful the woman.
"I find it vaguely irritating how Eddie Murphy is given free [rein] to depict the cliched, overbearing, domineering black woman without any complaints," wrote a blogger on Salon.com. "Hell, I'm white, and even I'm offended by this depiction. Where's the outrage at this inside the black community. Am I the only one who finds a mammy-esque element in Rasputia?"
In California, activist Najee Ali led a protest of the movie and called upon Murphy to apologize.
"Eddie Murphy's character, we feel, is offensive to African American women and it perpetuates those negative stereotypes that large black women are violent, unattractive, promiscuous and buffoons," Ali said. "There was not one positive trait that character portrayed. He gave no balance to his role."
He said, "When you juxtapose his portrayal of large, black women with Tyler Perry's portrayal or even Martin Lawrence, those actors played large black women, but their characters were warm and loving to their families and communities."
The ad campaign is damaging to the black community, he said, and to have the movie released during Black History Month was disrespectful. Ali, executive director of Project Islamic Hope, an advocacy group for social justice and civil rights, said the protest was organized by black men to help defend black women. "Beauty and talent among African American women come in all shapes and forms, from full-figured women such as Aretha Franklin and Jill Scott."
Murphy, who has been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in "Dreamgirls," has not responded to the demand for an apology, Ali said.
A publicist for Murphy said last night, "We have no comment on that issue."
In one scene in the movie, Rasputia lies poolside in a bikini, her large belly overlapping her pink bottoms, her breasts spilling over. She is drinking an Icee and talking to Kate, who lies there in a blue, well-fitting bikini.
"You too damned skinny," Rasputia says to the skinny Kate. "Look at you! See, most men like a woman that got a little 'mmm, mmm,' a little hey, hey. You ain't got nothing. You just skin and bones, just sitting in that chair all bones and skin. I feel sorry for you."
And as she speaks there is a tiny moment of realization that Rasputia has a healthy self-image. And, secretly, her large ego is refreshing and in some ways matches psychological studies that show black women generally have a higher acceptance of higher body weight than other women.
Larger black women in African American communities are often celebrated. Shapeliness is something to be adored.
"It is actually somewhat surprising that African American women continue to have a high body image even though the standards of the dominant cultural forces point toward more European standards. The ultimate blond-haired, blue-eyed, 5-10, thin white woman has for many years been the standard off of which all other beauty was based, judged and validated," according to a report released by Vanderbilt University's psychology department.
Some women look at the billboard and celebrate Rasputia's beauty, knowing that even if she lost weight, she would never meet the expectations of a culture that looks to the 5-foot-10 blond, blue-eyed standard of beauty. Knowing that if you looked hard enough, you could find ugly in a 5-10 blue-eyed blond woman. Ugly, we know, lies beneath the skin.
And you wonder how long will it take for this country to accept beauty in all its forms. Then you watch "The Last King of Scotland," and see a white man fall in love with a black woman who has no European features, and you walk away hopeful that others in the audience will also see the real beauty in black women whose features are not pointed.
Then you look around and you find change: Ads for Dove soap, part of a worldwide campaign changing the definition of beauty, feature "real women with real bodies and real curves." Women of all sizes in white underwear smile from billboards. And more examples: "American Idol" contender Jennifer Hudson is on the cover of Vogue. And actress Queen Latifah is a Cover Girl. And supermodel Tyra Banks says she is happy with her new weight, and tells the paparazzi and whoever called her fat to "kiss my fat [expletive]."
And you look at the "Norbit" ad one more time and laugh.