Martha McCaughey defines the ‘Sapphire” representation of African American woman as being “evil, treacherous, bitchy, stubborn and hateful”. What differentiates the Sapphire from other stereotypical representations is that the Sapphire image, “necessitates the presence of an African American male”.
I thought that this last distinction was really interesting in terms of Stony and Cleo. These two characters seem to be at odds almost paradoxically.
Cleo has no illusions about mobility, or aspiring the middle-class dream. She even says to Stony “we ain’t nothin’ but ‘hood rats. Now I can live with that. You can’t. The ‘hood is where I belong.” What is interesting about Cleo’s character is that she doesn’t necessitate the male figure; she wishes to embody the male figure or masculinity. Similarly, at the end of the film when Cleo is literally driving the car when the three women are fleeing the police, she serves to represent masculinity or the male figure the other two Sapphires (Stony, and Frankie) need. Cleo serves as the most transgressive character because she defies heterosexuality as the norm, which was unprecedented for the time.
Stony is the least transgressive character. McCaughey reinforces this in her article by stating, “Unlike the other main characters of Set it Off, Stony and Stevie live in a house not the projects. They are on the road to being middle class…” Stony is the one character that has the most chances at upward mobility. She attempts to control her sapphire within, she agrees to rob a bank the first time but after that she feels that’s enough. Stony represents the Sapphire character that constantly seeks a male figure to help her reach successful mobility and thus freedom. After her brother Stevie’s death, she sees her last chance for upward mobility through her relationship with Keith. Ironically enough, thanks to her absence in the murder of Luther, her chances of getting out alive increase.
The idea of spaces which was brought up in class is also interesting for this movie because of the fact that the Frankie, Cleo, Titi and Stony could be viewed as Sapphire’s in one sense or another. Most of the time the four women meet in the garage. This is transgressive place because it goes outside of the traditional domestic space for women. The women talk about issues that go against legality in the garage. The garage is also a place for lesbian sexuality.