Editor’s note: While media and popular culture encompass many parts, including but not limited to print media, film and music, I focused the majority of Part 1 of the series on television, web series and digital media.
It’s a quiet Tuesday night in D.C., but you wouldn’t know it if you entered Eighteenth Street Lounge. Black women are decked out in heels and chic post-work attire, sipping cocktails with dainty names like “Belle-tini” and chatting with girlfriends. Soon enough, Washington Post columnist Helena Andrews ascends the stage at the front of the room with her friend, journalist and author Demetria Lucas D’Oyley, affectionately known as “Belle.” The two are ready to launch a Q&A session about D’Oyley’s latest book, “Don’t Waste Your Pretty.”
When Andrews opens the floor for questions, someone asks what to do about her cheating boyfriend. Another asks about “Blood, Sweat and Heels,” and D’Oyley clumsily dodges that query. But, then a woman asks about how we can better represent black women in media, and I tune in much more closely.
“If we want better representations of black women in media, we have to create those representations ourselves,” D’Oyley declares. “Television is for entertainment.”
Black women have been misrepresented, underrepresented and poorly represented in mainstream media for decades. This is not anything new. In 2013, Essence interviewed 1,200 women and reported that the images of black women we encounter regularly on television, social media and music videos are overwhelmingly negative.
It’s now not enough to say we are misrepresented, underrepresented and poorly represented. Now, we have to ask and act upon the question: what the hell are we going to do about it?
For part one of the series, I am tackling what is one of the bigger, more convoluted issues facing black women’s bodies: how we are represented in media and popular culture.
I struggled with the series’ opening—not because I couldn’t find information and insight—but because it felt nearly impossible to sift through it all to construct a narrative I believed would truly resonate with black women. Just because black women only make up two percent of lead roles on television does not mean there’s a dearth of information about that limited representation. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
So, armed with ten pages of interview notes, a stack of books and a growing list of resources others recommended, I still felt slightly ill-prepared to do this topic justice. I didn’t want to pen a laundry list of all the things going wrong—which would be an easy thing to do considering the state of black women in media and pop culture. Instead, I thought about the mainstream images we consume, the recent think pieces on the topic that brought social media to its breaking point, and how empowered we are now with digital media to represent ourselves in ways we can’t always entrust to others.
Next page: Hollywood’s History of Black As a Fad