Posts Tagged ‘OWN’

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:

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/AU_rJWQJP6E&#8221; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>

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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Pride and disappointment: Oprah Behind the Scenes

When I was a kid, I watched TV with my mother a lot. All the dramas of that time, both prime time dramas and daytime soap operas. But I loved watching Phil Donaghue’s talk show. He had these really intriguing people from a myriad of backgrounds. I loved the format; a host asking the most revealing questions, leading an audience yet also allowing them to ask questions. It was the audience that caught my attention mostly though, because it always had faces that resembled those of my neighbors and mine. And the show fed my young, curious and analytical mind. I was born a journalist at heart so Phil Donaghue’s show was a provision that fed that in me.

Oprah Winfrey back in the day

Yet, the game changed when along came this Black woman doing the same thing Phil was doing. Now it was no longer just the audience, voyeurs but the host, OprahWinfrey who I could identify with. I remember seeing her and thinking how much she looked like my kindergarten teacher, Miss Akebe, whom I loved.

Oprah from there to here

Instantly I loved Oprah, too. And I wanted to be just like her, in charge and telling stories, finding answers.

She's got her OWN thang!

Fast-forward to my big girl dreams, and Oprah is still the measure of possibility. Simply the best to ever do what she is doing, on her terms. In fact, this next chapter in her life is so ambitious and next level, it churns inspiration and faith into some kind of ‘dream big concoction” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sipping it on New Year’s day when she launched the Oprah Winfrey Network.

The 36th Annual NAACP Image Awards - Show

We celebrate Oprah and her intrepid living. We embrace her accomplishments as our own. We own a pride manifested simply because of her being, after all she epitomizes the very best of our people for the world to see.

And maybe that all equates to illusions of ownership. Maybe we believe we can claim Oprah…that she somehow belongs to us.

That would explain why I always feel a stinging pang of disappointment when I faithfully tune in. And though the inference is there in her selection of guests and topics for her show, the Oprah Season 25: Behind the Scenes gave us all clarity. As O herself coined for us, she gave us our very own “Aha moment.”

This program was to honor the 464 staff employed by arguably the most influential woman. (I would be remiss not to note how monumental that feat is for a Black woman). Oprah opened the program by saying, “Over the past 24 years you’ve seen me as the face of the Oprah show. But, I do not do this alone. Now meet the team behind the scenes, they are the best in the business.”

And then we got our “big reveal.” From all appearances, it looks as if only 5% of her staff looks like her, shares her roots. Still, more telling than that is the fact that her senior staff is void of ANY color. Hmmm.

I can’t help but feel some kinda way. Does this mean that in her estimation, the best creative minds, the most astute producers in the business do not look like her. On behalf of all the intelligent, talented, creative, tenacious, ambitious, capable and trained producers like me; I have to wonder almost like a child whose parent won’t claim them “why am I not good enough for her.”

Too deep huh? Maybe. Maybe not.

I can definitively tell you that producers often have just as much power (if not more) over the messaging and tone of productions than the hosts. Which is why I feel caught up in this quagmire of feelings back and forth between pride and disappointment when I look behind Oprah and see no Black women, no Latino representation nor heterosexual men in senior level production positions.

My feelings are further validated when one of her senior producers, a white gay male, adamantly fought against a segment he thought would give a platform to anti-gay rhetoric. This was his rationale…

“As a gay man, I have a strong opinion. We have 130 slots left to change the world; make our mark, I don’t understand why this would be one of them. We don’t just portray the reality on our show. We pick and choose what we want based upon criteria of how we want to produce the show.”

See, producers bring their perspective and experiences to their jobs just as much as anyone else. Is it wrong to feel Oprah owes it to her community, to ensure our perspective adequately represented? What does she owe the many little Black girls and boys who grow up training and aspiring to be like her if not empowering job opportunities? If Black women are not up to her standards, why not adopt a school of journalism at an HBCU?

Her philanthropy cannot be challenged. O gives unequivocally. But what of the missionary who does not see the value in those she shares gifts with? The exchange is only valuable when the philanthropist realizes there are gifts to receive from the recipient as well. No greater fulfillment comes from reciprocity that you can repay to your charitable giver.

Miss O summed up her next level living with her vision for OWN. She says it is “a network that empowers you the viewer to turn your dreams into reality.”

I wonder if I, as a viewer, will see myself enough to feel empowered.

Then again, maybe Oprah doesn’t owe me a thing…

Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls