Archive for October, 2011

Where My Girls At? Images of Black Girls and Girls of Color in Media

So, I shared before how I’d had the distinct honor to attend the Oprah Winfrey Network Doc Club screening of MissRepresentationand its subsequent taped discussion on the Rosie Show. The reviews have been phenomenal and garnered lots of calls for action. I absolutely loved the doc. It served the purpose media, especially documentaries, have to not only call attention to an issue, but empower as well.

MissRepresentation’s overall premise is familiar to most, yet the critical component is the campaign to strategically use information as teachable moments. This will definitively build a movement to change the portrayal of women by/in the media. What’s more amazing is that the film is a catalyst for funding organizations such as the Women’s Media Center to continue the discourse, advocacy, media literacy and research. Simply powerful.

While watching, I was hard pressed to keep track of all the fascinating and inspiring quotes.

Pat Mitchell, President and CEO for Media Former President & CEO of PBS shared this insight, “The media is the message and the messenger, and increasingly a powerful one.”

“You can’t be what you can’t see,”  was a quote from Marie Wilson, founding President White House Project

And though I sought us out, I must say the lack of diversity and representation of Black women and girls beyond the narrow lens of reality TV, albeit the mainstream go –tos like Miss Winfrey and Soledad O’Brien, was obvious.

It was only when I heard the reference to symbolic annihilation that the documentary fully resonated with me and connected to what is my life’s work; empowering girls like me in urban America to use critical analysis to navigate beyond media and cultural messages. Girls Like me who are portrayed as “bad girls”, violent, angry, poor, uneducated, low-class and “ghetto.” Black women who are “successful” or who meet the standards of beauty are held up as seemingly novelties, with no connection to urban America.

So as soon as Rosie invited questions from the audience, I jumped to speak to that point. In the midst of a studio full of white women, I could feel the discomfort in the room as soon as the words came from my mouth. But it is a necessary conversation, and if we are to truly tackle media’s exploitation and misrepresentation of women, there must be intentional inclusion of perspective from all women, pointedly those who have the least voice in shaping their own stories in the mainstream.

Carol Jenkins, journalist, producer, and founding President of the Women’s Media Center gave such a poignant response that penetrates to the very essence of why this matters so much. Watch our exchange in this video:

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Still, a few days prior to the MissRepresentation screening one of the oldest and most prominent girl-focused organizations hosted a Twitter chat on media images and girls. I noticed there and in  other arenas exploring the topic, somehow race and culture are skirted around. This troubles me.

What about you… do you agree race and culture belong in this conversation? What are the media images that you most connect/resist? Are they tied to you as a woman or to your experience as a fill in the blank woman

It apparently troubled others like Bessie Akuba Winn-Afeku, founder of She is Me Program. Now we have both linked arms to collaborate and host a Twitter chat dedicated to examining the images of girls of color in media and to offer best practices that resist stereotypes, empowering girls to create their own messages.

That is the goal of #girlsmediachat which will take place on Twitter Thursdays, 8p CST, beginning Nov. 3.  We hope you will join us, share your perspective, recommend guests/topics, and invite others.

Follow us on Twitter

Girls Like Me

She is Me Program   

Please share and follow the hashtag #Girlsmediachat

Also, MissRepresentation is now a movement. Take a moment to take the pledge to join the fight!

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Missrepresentation—what we need to see on TV!

As soon as the link popped into my Twitter timeline, I was compelled to see what MissRepresentation was all about. I watched the trailer and immediately recognized this documentary was speaking to me, about me and for me. For goodness sake, what woman has not felt slighted and exploited by media because of her gender? In today’s society one of the most powerful forces in the universe, feminine energy and perspective, are discounted and played cheap by media powers that be.

But I think the world had better get ready to reckon with women everywhere as Missrepresentation has remixed our view, put the spotlight where it belongs. The film made its debut at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was subsequently picked up by the mighty Oprah Winfrey Network as a part of its documentary Club. Before January 2011, there has not been a space for this kind of film on network television. That is not until a woman owned a television network. Marinate on that thought and absorb the powerful impact…

I can hardly express how excited I was when I was invited to screen the film on the Rosie O’Donnell Show, taped here in Chicago at Harpo Studios. Without giving away too much, I will say the statistics that are revealed in the film, the incredible testimonies, pull you out of the graphic haze of American media. It forces us as viewers to give a critical eye to the portrayal of women in the media and how this shapes our society.

Missrepresentation is a conversation-starter. Yet, beyond the revelations, shocking stats and information, the take away is that everyone who watches will have clear direction on next steps. It is a film that empowers with the knowledge and belief that we can make a difference to change the media landscape to be better for our daughters and future generations of boys and girls alike. Each viewer understands it is our individual responsibility to do so.

So much of the film resonated with me, but more than anything there was a phrase from one of the doc’s sources. It struck me and held me captive. It is because of the implications of this phrase is what pushed me to create my program Girls Like Me. I caught my breath in an Oprah “aha moment,” that I’d been given a name, a way to articulate what I have felt since I was a little girl watching television.

It was so powerful for me, that I jumped up to ask the first question when Rosie opened the floor to the audience. If I don’t get left on the editor’s cutting floor, you’ll be able to hear for yourself what struck me so.

Still, my question is but among the millions you and others will have after watching. I know you will hear the call of action, too. So take a moment to view the trailer, then be sure to tune in to OWN, Thursday, October 20 at 9/8 CST. I can’t wait for us to watch it collectively and move the discussion forward!

In the meantime, take the first steps in challenging the media’s portrayal of women:

Like the MissRepresentation FB page

Follow MissRepresentation on Twitter

Now take the pledge to represent!

Occupy Wall Street Head Count: Who’s representing the 99?

For weeks now I’ve been observing Occupy Wall Street along with the rest of the world. I’ve sat back, a bit stand-offish, watching my Twitter timeline, news and the internet pulsing while I just try to grasp who/what this movement is about. True to my character, I’m always down for some opposition to any form of oppression and the status quo. The momentum OWS has created can only be attributed to the disenchantment of the American people. So in principle, #OWS has my moral support. But…

For one thing, I read an article which was bemoaning appearances of solidarity from entertainers such as Kanye West, but lauded that of others. The main gripe was that Kanye flaunts his material possessions in his music and dresses rather flamboyantly. Hmmm. Even as I consider all of this, I have to recognize Kanye is in no way comparatively as wealthy as billionaire bankers or those who own the media companies which distribute his music.

So, if Kanye is not a part of the 99% because he is rich today, then who makes up the 99%. Is there a certain income bracket that qualifies in that number? I have to ask. If rappers or athletes who grew up in poverty are now not allowed to represent for that faction, who gets to make that call. Who is setting the bar for the 99%?

See, I still need clarity on a few other things like the vision of outcomes. For me, growing up poor, I need to connect a few things. I need tangible follow up actions and demands that impacts the working class and the poor.

Now, I understand what it means to have presence in a march and/or demonstration, still what are the demands/action plan beyond that? What are the desired outcomes?

Because honestly vacant houses, evictions, no access to preventive health care and jobs, compounded by the shittiest education in the world has been reality of many Americans.

I mean, clearly, Katrina aftermath painted the picture of a huge percentage overlooked in the equation of slices cut from the American pie.

And while there may be those who require statistics to relate to the way poverty and systematic injustice crushes a large percentage of us, there are those who are living it. Everyday… for generations. Among that class of people, mortgages, 401Ks, college tuition, jobs are as familiar as Mars water. I mean, there’s some talk of it all, but the likelihood of experiencing any of it is yet a distant possibility in their lifetime.

This is what I am closest to. More than those who work on Wall Street, and little more than those who are typically identified as the middle class, I can relate to the working class and poor.

And many among us are asking the questions. If the 99% are rising up now, did they not feel any outrage or cause to do so after Katrina or perhaps at the fallacy of our education system- the perpetual pipeline to prisons that also profits not only corporations but middle class law enforcement personnel and rural blue collar towns across this country?

Isn’t it natural to look for the thread, feel compelled by a need to understand how #OWS trickles down to folks who are truly at the bottom, those who have been systematically locked out?

It begs the question, is there a flaw in the mathematics of the 99%?

Historically, working class/poor have ALWAYS marched and protested. Let us not ignore the history lesson of poor Blacks. We lead full revolutions that benefit America, yet marginalize us in terms of policy and systematic injustices.

They may not feel inclined to join the current “struggle.” Perhaps they have a hard time occupying anything when they have to report to a job everyday that only pays minimum wage with no benefits in which to take off to occupy a doctor’s office with their very sick child poses a calculated, catch 20/20 decision. Perhaps they want to join, but must occupy the home registered to the ankle bracelet they are forcibly wearing due to house arrest. Or maybe, even, they cannot afford bus fare to ride to the areas where the occupation is taking place in their cities. These maybes are very real for many. Can you relate to that?

Now don’t misread my commentary. There are those who believe as I do, that it is not cool to allow anyone else to fight your battles. We want nothing more than to take our swing in the ring with institutionalized injustice and systemic oppression.

Still there is the quandary: if we go all in, will we be invited to the table when they slice the pie or will get the traditional crumbs?

I’ll admit, #OWS has my admiration and appreciation. There is power in its symbolism.

And while, I am still left with doubts of how things will play out for poor Blacks in the hood, it pleased me to see this well stated article that addressed some of my concerns. And this one really is impressive.

What about you? Do you think Americans can side step historical context of racial oppression and how it feeds the system to unite in a fight that revolutionizes our country in a way it has not since the Revolutionary War?

And I promise not to sit idly by waiting to see, I’ll join and give support (resources/expertise). On the other hand though, the Black hand side, I’ll keep posing these questions.

While we’re contemplating, these maybe convincing for some

Perhaps if our President moved beyond rhetoric and offered decisive leadership, the movement would swell to a full-blown revolution. Maybe….