XOTV WEEKLY: Black Misrepresentation in Film

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Black people and people of color are underrepresented on every industry employment front in 2016-17: a major one being the film industry. We all know that Black lives and aesthetics have been the forefront of society and our culture today but for some reason, we are still the last to reap the benefits and/or be credited correctly. This leads to the discussion on cultural appropriation; the adoption of an element or elements of one culture by members of another culture. This usually means the disadvantaged minority culture is being taken and reproduced for other cultures' benefits such as profit, recognition, or fame. For example, the Kardashians are always under fire for “appropriating” Black culture with their fashion, mannerisms, and even the men they date. Some describe it as a fetishization while they describe it as “appreciation.” 

But the difference between appropriation and appreciation is that a lot of these non-Black or brown people don't know or acknowledge the historical background of these cultural aspects that became trendy to society. Destiney Bleu, an independent Black designer, called Khloé Kardashian out on Twitter for ripping off her designs and using them for her denim label, Good American. This is prevalent in the film industry because it is the epitome of cultural appropriation and stereotyping. When I say that Black and people of color are underrepresented in industries, I also mean that we are misrepresented as well. Black people often get characterized as drug dealers, thugs, killers, loud, ghetto, poor, ratchet, or uneducated while white actors continuously are cast for more diverse roles. We started off as servants, which is just an extension of slavery, and now they try to paint us in a light that creates fear and more hate. Only a handful of Black films get recognized or even acknowledged every few years, Moonlight is one of the few that gravitated a lot of attention which ended up winning an Oscar in 2017 for best picture.

In the 2015-2016 television season, 74.6 percent of roles for cable scripted shows went to white actors, while 13.3 percent went to Black actors and just 2.6 percent to Asian actors. And it doesn’t stop there, behind the scenes is no different: 72 percent of the showrunners for new television shows in the 2016-2017 season were white men, while six percent were non-white men and four percent were non-white women. 

Now the problem with all of this is that underrepresentation and misrepresentation can be very dangerous to the Black community. No matter what the subject is, if one is being told that they are a certain way, they’re going to start to believe it. As I grew up and only saw little white girls in the productions I admired, I began to hate the skin I was in. I remember wanting to be white in order to do certain things because I really believed it was impossible for girls who looked like me. We see the roles Black people are constantly cast in and see those roles as our destined reality. From a young age, we are conditioned into thinking that lighter is better, and that kinky hair is bad hair. We consume all of this brainwashing information from the media, films, and TV shows we watch. We watch Black women be depicted as nannies who raised white children, less attractive and uneducated. But the Black women that became stars and well known were either mixed race or light skin which is still happening today. Light-skinned African American women are praised and represented more than a dark skin Black girl, this is colorism. There are times when celebrities are retouched in campaigns or magazines to appear lighter or they’ll undergo skin bleaching and plastic surgery in order to fit these European features that are so favored.

This is relevant now because it seems as though history just keeps repeating itself. We are in the year 2020 and are still having these issues. On top of that, the Black Lives Matter movement has created a change and inspiration for both reality and film. This movement has made companies and organizations publicly speak up against racism and if they did not social media would take care of the rest. Now with this comes a positive and a negative. The positive being that we have more support now than ever and I think it is beautiful, but we also can’t really pinpoint who’s being genuine and who just wants a superficial check. But regardless, I think it is a positive change because more Black people will be represented in various ways and in various settings. These recent events have opened the eyes to a lot of people, especially the Black community. It has forced us to stop settling. It resulted in companies and industries being forced to reevaluate and diversify, I just hope that this too isn’t a trend.

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About the Author

Melina Watson

Melina Watson is from Bronx NY and recently graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a Bachelor's in Film and Media, and you can call her Lina Lee anytime you see a camera in her hand. Currently, she works at Starbucks and occasionally freelances for Pushstory. Watson fell in love with the art of film because it was a place where she went to feel. Whether it was sadness or happiness, she would put on a movie to actually feel whatever it is she's feeling and that is what she wanted to do for others, make them feel. Watson wants to use this skill as an educational and humanitarian tool, her work reflects her background and culture. It is a way for her to escape reality and either expand or create her own. Film has given Watson an outlet to be whoever she wants to be and coming from the Bronx, where opportunities aren't presented on a regular, it is her goal to be able to give that to others by showing them there is more out there. 

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Incredible post. Thank you Melina for sharing!!


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