Black women and girls are consistently portrayed in television, movies, music, and other forms of entertainment as wildly exaggerated stereotypes informed by racist and sexist systems of oppression.
The stories that are told about us are often not written by us, turning us into tragic or comedic or over-sexualized caricatures of who we really are; and these lies have real life impacts on how we access and are treated in the world.
“The images we encounter regularly on TV, in social media, in music videos and from other outlets are overwhelmingly negative and fall into categories that make us cringe — Gold Diggers, Modern Jezebels, Baby Mamas, Uneducated Sisters, Ratchet Women, Angry Black Women, Mean Black Girls, Unhealthy Black Women, and Black Barbies.”
Studies show how dehumanizing (or even nonexistent) portrayals of Black people in entertainment routinely lead to negative effects in the ways teachers, landlords, police, judges, bankers, employers, voters and others treat black people.
Resources via report by Essence
The Music Industry
The Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R Kelly” produced by dream hampton brings home the reality that when it comes to survivors, Black women are consistently the only ones showing up for other Black women and girls. Imagine that R Kelly’s career persists even though he married 15 year old Aaliyah by forging papers that lied about her being a legal adult in 1994, or his arrest in 2002 for child pornography when a videotape of R Kelly surfaced of him having sex with a 13 year old girl and the court case eventually found him not guilty in 2008.
And then there are the innumerable accounts and lawsuits of women confirming that R Kelly abused them when they were minors and the ever solidifying reality of him running a sex cult that keeps women against their will. It begs the question, how is it possible that people can know so much and care so little? The answer: R Kelly has preyed upon Black girls and our society, let alone the music industry, has never cared about the safety of Black women and girls.
Even with a powerful movement like #MuteRKelly, an initiative designed to stop people from streaming his music and going to concerts, and our Color Of Change campaign to push RCA, R Kelly’s record label, to drop him, his popularity persists. He persists because it is socially acceptable to abuse Black girls. He persists because at the heart of it many believe that these girls deserve what happens to them on some level, blaming them for their own abuse. R Kelly’s abuse of these women is not a secret, it is something people throughout the industry have known for years. Finally, this docuseries makes it so that everyone else can know too. Join us in the fight:
Television and Film
Despite the rise of new Black women stars who should be celebrated, the deeply entrenched ideas that Black women should be tragic, from cinematic servitude to enslavement, before they are recognized as compelling and an expert in their craft, also persists. Why is it that Black women always have to play someone with a perceived negative identity—slave, housekeeper, a victim of domestic abuse, villain—in order for them to be recognized as great actresses?
Despite the rise in Black filmmakers and content, the history of misogynoir — a specific form of sexism aimed specifically at Black women — has had an enduring impact, not just restricting the kinds of roles Black women play but the sheer volume of them, too.
Consequently, only 16% of major characters in last year’s top 100 movies were played by Black women.
What is clear is that Black women in entertainment need more opportunity. We deserve leverage to negotiate and be paid the wages we deserve. And equally important, the roles we deserve. Playing housemaids in The Help may have been an important part of pushing Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis to prominence, two hardworking Black women actors who have expanded on even those roles, there has to be culture shift across the industry. Executives, content creators and writers have a responsibility in ensuring this is possible. With huge success in Black focused films and shows like Black Panther, If Beale Street Could Talk, Fences and everything Ava Duvernay or Shonda Rhimes touches, now is the time for Hollywood to step up.
Pay Inequality in Hollywood
“If Caucasian women are getting 50% of what men are getting paid, we’re not even getting a quarter of what white women are getting paid.”Viola Davis