Recently, a video surfaced online of former actress Maia Campbell appearing to go through a relapse or experiencing a mental health break. The video shows Campbell missing a tooth, wearing a black bra, pumping gas, and describing an alleged rape. For people born in the 1980s, what makes this painful to watch is that we saw Campbell – and all of her beautiful dark-skinned glory – star as Tiffany Warren in NBC/UPN’s In The House featuring LL Cool J and Debbie Allen, from 1995-1998.
What’s even more heartbreaking is the realization that a person – “friend” (a rapper later identified as “T-Hood”) or otherwise – was quick to record a troubling interaction as opposed to finding a way of being helpful. In the day of hoping to find popularity from a viral video and using a person’s pain as fodder, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
Campbell, unlike many struggling with addiction and mental illness, has a well-documented drug use history that’s been repeatedly played out in public forums. According to the Huffington Post, Campbell has struggled with bipolar disorder for her entire career, but everything began falling apart when she stopped treatment in 2010. That’s when drugs started, coupled with viral videos and multiple arrests.
In 2010, for example, Campbell was arrested for theft and sent to a mandatory mental health facility. Afterward, she voluntarily lived in a residential treatment facility, with the goal of living by herself again. It was during this time when Campbell agreed to appear on “Iyanla: Fix My Life” in 2012. The intention of the taping was to have Vanzant help Campbell process guilt, shame, the relationship with her daughter, Elisha, and to move on to a healthier, more productive future.
In a heartbreaking scene, Campbell opens up:
There’s a lot of pain that goes into my story, you know? A lot of issues with my mom. A lot of times when I was out there runnin’ the streets that I bumped into the wrong person and they brought me down.
Vanzant immediately replies, “no, no, no, no, no” and pleas with Campbell to take responsibility for and accept her past decisions, instead of merely blaming others.
“You had bipolar disorder,” she says. “You were thinking on your own, and you weren’t taking your meds. And what did that result in?”
“Chaos,” Campbell replies.
This isn’t the first time Campbell’s troubled life has appeared in the spotlight. In 2010, she was filmed by two unidentified men, while also seemingly on drugs. What’s more, the narrator of the video made sexual requests for oral sex and asked Campbell to show her breasts, to which she reacts strongly against, noting “don’t ever talk to me like that again.” As the men continue asking her questions, she comments, “I lost a mama, and I’m looking for my daughter.”
The viral video, like others, are painful to watch and yet, so many of us happily do. We say we want someone addicted to drugs and/or experiencing a mental illness to go to therapy and counseling, then share the video with a lighthearted caption that reads, “get better, Maia.” It’s as though many of us are treating Campbell’s experiences as laughing matters.
They are not.
There’s also a troubling trend of Black men filming Campbell, a Black woman, as she’s obviously not well. She is taken advantage of in her most vulnerable state; and these are turned into viral videos, tweets, and memes all for fodder with rarely, if ever, an intention of genuine assistance. What I saw as pain many of those videotaping apparently saw as laughter. Men who made sexual references, showed her to the homies, referenced strippers, and continued to emotionally push her. Men, whether intimately knowing her or not, who likely didn’t care about her rise in the 1990s and obviously did nothing to prevent her decline in the 2000s.
Men like T-Hood, who recorded and shared the latest video.
As a response to the backlash he received for not helping Campbell (and contributing to her mental state), T-Hood posted a video defending his poor choice of exposing the vulnerable star. “Y’all n***as would not be mad if I posted a white girl,” he said, “Just because she was a black actress from back in the day, who we already all know from Redan. She been on the block for years. We been knew this b***h. She been doin’ dumb s**t.”
But that’s just the problem. If it’s obvious that a person is acting in ways that brings personal harm, why agitate that harm? Why create a video of a person that you know will receive “likes” instead of help, and “retweets” as opposed to conversations around drug addiction and mental health?
Then, to claim that no one would care if she were white is laughable at best. White women, especially ones struggling with addiction garner more support and empathy than anyone. That’s because white womanhood is already considered innocent, so any attempt to save them is paramount and our society rushes to save them – even Black people. The recent rise in deaths among middle-age white American women due to opioid use [pdf] – and the empathy, coupled with non-criminal, investment and rapid responses – show this.
Our community needs to be more sensitive when it comes to untreated mental illness and subsequent harms to one’s own body. This is especially true of a person who has publicly opened up about drug addiction and struggling with bipolar.
To be sure, we are already well aware of the taboo surrounding discussions of therapy and mental health in the Black community, and with viral videos where people pass along fake sympathy, we are dangerously perpetuating a problem that can quite literally cost lives.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and The Root and has written for the Atlantic, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.