Journalists discuss portrayal of Blacks on film, TV

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists led its annual discussion on Black Hollywood at WHYY in Center City on Wednesday. — TRIBUNE PHOTO BY ROBERT MENDELSOHN

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) hosted its 6th annual Monitoring Hollywood panel, “Black Power or Black Stereotypes?” furthering a dialogue about the state of Black images on television and the movies in 2013.

The panel featured eight media professionals — ranging from writers to movie directors who discussed the portrayal of Black women as mistresses in shows like “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane,” colorism in Hollywood and the need for creative independence among Black filmmakers.

“Monitoring Hollywood was originated by the media monitoring committee of PABJ six years ago. We wanted an event where Black folks [could] talk about how we’re portrayed in Hollywood,” saidPABJ President Johann Calhoun. “So I’m happy as current president and former committee chair to see this event six years later still thriving.”

The meeting room at WHYY, where the event was held, was filled to capacity, with students, media professionals and educators, as the panelists shared their insights.

The general response as to whether such shows as “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane” perpetuate stereotypes, was that they were not necessarily so, but instead a reflection of societal reality.

“Women can relate to ‘Being Mary Jane’,” said actor Christopher Mann. “We’ve seen people get caught up like that. “That stuff happens on a daily basis.”

If Black people are unsatisfied with what is being portrayed on television, the panelists agreed they should make it known through their actions.

“If you want to see something different, vote with your eyes, ears and dollars by watching something else,” said NewsWorks writer Solomon Jones. He noted that although he does not watch the shows, mainly because he prefers thrillers, he is glad to “see Black people working and that “it shows a portion of the human experience.”

Another key topic was discrimination against dark-skinned actors among African-American directors.

Specifically, the panelists debated whether or not Lupita Nyong’o would’ve been cast for her role in “Twelve Years A Slave,” if the movie was directed by an African-American instead of an Afro-Brit.

“Yes, because she was so phenomenal in the role,” said director Rel Dowdell.

Monica Peters, PABJ Vice President-Print, disagreed. “No, she wouldn’t, if it was an African-American male,” she said, adding that because “the Black community is in denial [that] there’s an extra layer of systematic racism against dark-skinned Black women,” Hollywood is “quiet” about it.

But, according to anchorwoman Jennifer Lewis-Hall, there is a dearth of not just dark-skinned Blacks in the media, but Black folks in general — in front of and behind the camera, presenting an even broader issue to be addressed.

“There are fewer African-Americans working now than there were in the early 2000s,” Lewis-Hall said. “So we have some work to do.”

She charged the audience to encourage youth to begin creating their own content and to support the Black content that is being produced.

“Make sure that if that’s important to you, that you do something about it, to continue to educate the next generation and expose them to what you do, get them interested in writing and reading and producing and being directors,” Lewis-Hall said. “And I also want people to know that how you spend your money and what you choose to do speaks volumes. This is a business. We’re 13 percent of the population, but we buy 12 percent of the movie tickets. Go see a movie, whether you like that movie or not expose yourself to it so you can debate about it … that’s a way to support people in the industry. You have to effect change that way as well.”

Other panelists said more autonomy is necessary to address the imaging issues — that Blacks should be proactive in creating their own content.

“We don’t have to play the white man’s game, we can succeed without them,” said activist and attorney Michael Coard. “Let’s do our own thing.”

Jones said this independence is important, but added there would have to also be a sustaining force in order for it to succeed.

“I am hopeful that our people will continue to progress in terms of the images we put out about ourselves and that we won’t depend so much on Hollywood giving us a chance, that we will create our own chances as we’ve always done,” he said. “But we need our people to support it. We can talk about all day and night long that we want something different, but if we don’t support something different, then that something different can’t survive.”

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