New York: New American Library, 2004
Reviewed by Gerardo Del Guercio
Darrious D. Hilmon’s second novel Divalicious enters the backstage lives of three Hollywood actresses and the competitive world of mainstream television. Angel Hart is a career driven woman that understands Hollywood politics; Erika Bishop cannot escape her mother’s oppressive expectations; and Faith Molaney’s overnight success has created dissention among her peers on the set of Brave New World. Together Angel Hart, Erika Bishop and Faith Molaney discover the role that race plays in Hollywood success, and how ideal television scenarios are often not accurate reflections of real life situations. My review will explore Hilmon’s three protagonists and the function that race plays in their relationships with one another.
Angel Hart, Darrious D. Hilmon’s most complex character, has enough stage experience to realize the link between race and professional advancement. During a heated debate about affirmative action, Afrocentricism and television, Angel exclaims that reverse affirmative action is
Angel Hart uses the collective “we” pronoun to express a unified African American sentiment that defines reverse affirmative action as wrong for the reason that white Americans continue to profit from a market economy based on slavery and coercion. Hilmon encapsulates white America in Angel’s application of the word “they” that connotes a cleavage in American race ideology that separates black and white as two divergent entities. Angel Hart has endured enough of the backstage racial conflict and struggle that African American entertainers have undergone since minstrel shows to believe that reverse affirmative action is warranted. Hilmon implores his readership to view black performers as serious entertainers who have battled every racial stereotype to achieve stardom. Black entertainers are therefore not figures who simply provide laughter by enacting typical racial labels. Black artists are talented individuals that must be respected on an even plane with white performers.
Tension on the set of Brave New World ensues when the Wellington Broadcast Network announces the hiring of the young, white and blond Faith Molaney. Jasper Wellington’s choice shocks his cast given that
Hilmon enforces the suspicion concerning the casting of Faith Molaney when it is discovered that she and Randall Hunter are engaging in an adulterous affair. Faith’s role in Hilmon’s novel is simple: she is to signify the forced union of blacks and whites in American media. The significance of this union is not intended to promote racial harmony, but to increase the viewing audience of Brave New World. Hilmon purposely establishes a productive bond between Angel and Faith and a destructive one between Faith and Erika to argue that race does not always determine whether a group shall co-exist peacefully. Hilmon’s objective leans towards the idea that wealth and success are not factors in eliminating racial inequality. What would end racism is the type of friendship shared by Faith and Angel.
Darrious D. Hilmon conflates the blurred line separating fiction and reality through Faith’s stalker, Jimmy. Jimmy’s obsession with Faith compels him to follow Faith’s television career and to break into her home on two occasions. Jimmy’s fascination for Faith culminates in a deranged assault against Faith to beat her to the point where she will submit to Jimmy’s need to begin “grinding away”  inside of her. Faith eventually escapes Jimmy by kneeing him in the crotch and having him arrested after an altercation in her apartment. The crazed stalker sub-plot demonstrates that certain television viewers are inclined to believe that the attention they allot to Hollywood personalities can actually be reciprocated. Faith’s encounter with Jimmy is a noteworthy one that advocates how glamorous mainstream figures are vulnerable to destruction by the very people who have helped make them rich and famous.
Erika Bishop tries to maintain an exclusively black agenda for Brave New World. Erika makes her opinion on Jasper Wellington’s choice to introduce a white leading actress to the show extremely clear: “[t]his is our show, Angel…and we have an obligation to our community to make sure that it doesn’t become some watered-down, rainbow-colored piece of crap” . Establishing a racially biased tenor to Brave New World becomes somewhat unsettling in view of the fact that it assumes that certain communities should watch particular programming and that some programming must exclude particular groups. Erika fears that a larger, racially diverse audience would inherently lessen the percentage of black content on a show that she considers indicative of the African American community.
In order to lead an enjoyable lifestyle Erika must resolve the contempt that she has for her mother. Victoria utilizes her daughter to attain the level of accomplishment that she was unable to achieve by constantly demanding more power when white newcomers such as Faith Molaney have “two and a half more minutes of screen time”  than Erika does. Victoria’s stance turns out to be racially skewed when she states that it is fine if Angel occupies the limelight over Erika because “at least she’s in the family” . Faith is barred from Victoria’s family circle and warns that “[i]f you’re not careful, they’ll be naming that show Faith and Those Two Black Girls before you know it.” . Erika finds strength by defying her mother’s wishes to abort the out-of-wedlock child that she shares with Randall Hunter. Keeping the child triggers a spiritual awakening in Erika that transforms her into an unselfish human being.
Divalicious concludes with the baptism of Hope Bishop (Erika’s newborn child) and the cancellation of Brave New World. Hope repairs the fragmented relationships that have plagued the novel’s characters from the very beginning. Pastor Woodson reunites Erika and Victoria by reminding Victoria how “[g]randparents are the history teachers” , and that “[t]he relationship between a mother and daughter is a special one. “In you, Hope will see her future self” . Angel Hart’s responsibility of being Hope’s godmother has finally supplied her with the family she so desperately lacks, and taught her that children are “spiritual guides” to godparents in a similar fashion that godparents are “spiritual guides” to the child. Hope has instructed Faith that life is a generative process that commences with birth, progresses to adulthood and then rejuvenates itself in childbirth generating a spiritual amelioration for humanity. Although death eventually occurs, one’s influence remains eternal through the teachings they embed in their children. The cancellation of Brave New World is consequently a new beginning for Faith, Angel and Erika. Hilmon’s divas now have the chance to discover whether their success was a result of the Wellington Broadcast Network’s money or a product of their individual talent by beginning a new livelihood on a different arena.
A major problem Hilmon finds with American media is that “the producers of [television] show[s] aren’t interested in anything even close to the realities of black life in America” . American programming, according to Hilmon, continues to be defined and filtered by a white Eurocentric perspective that manipulates black point of view to satisfy the requirements of a white dominated entertainment industry. Hilmon’s Divalicious examines this dynamic through an African American standpoint that terminates with the argument that white producers use their large sums of money to integrate a white tenor to television shows including programs like Brave New World that on the surface appear to be meant for the black American community. I advocate that white producers utilize mass communications as a means of maintaining certain pre-established norms that imply that African Americans inevitably appear different when in the presence of whites.
Darrious D. Hilmon effective novel advances the notion that mainstream personalities endure the same hardships as their viewers encounter in their everyday lives. Everyone who watches television drama has in some fashion been affected by the divorce, extra-marital affairs, unwanted pregnancy and disputes among co-workers that Faith, Angel and Erika have undergone. Hilmon provides readers of American satire with a concise story of three actresses who, despite their fame, suffer typical domestic problems. Faith Molaney, Angel Hart and Erika Bishop differ from their spectators in that members of the mass media intertwine the public and domestic lives of television icons. What inevitably occurs once the public and private spheres are conflated in this way is the erasure of privacy and a tendency towards judging celebrities on the roles they normally embody in films and television shows.