Lens Of The People: African American Portrayal within Media

Good Afternoon, readers! Lens of The People is a column dedicated to the capture of the real-life scenarios and events of the local Houston area whilst also giving the thoughts and opinions of the Houston community itself its own voice to speak through.

African American media, as well as African American portrayal outside of their own platforms, has long been a source of discussion and debate surrounding the concept of representation and how much of it is enough, as well as the accuracy of that representation and how much of it is true to what it is to be Black. This is not to say that every show or movie created by an African American must make a conscious statement about the state of race relations and the Black community as a whole, but from the viewpoint of someone who is so, to see someone who looks like you blend in seamlessly with whatever may be going on in that particular story, show, or film goes a long way for myself and many others. That said, my question this week is that of progression. How much, and in what ways, do you think that we have progressed in the way of African American media, as well as African American portrayal within media as a whole? This is what the people had to say:

“My take on that is, African American media and television has progressed in a lot of ways, considering in the 1950s -1980s the representation of African American people in media was low, like only 6% of the people displayed were African American during the time. And even then African Americans were looked at in a low light and never really given the chances their white counterparts had. Now that times have changed, you are now starting to see movies and TV shows and other forms of media with casting being completely Black. It’s also changed in that it gives a new perspective on what it’s like to be Black with shows like Black-ish and Dear White People shedding light on the Black experience.” –Keendre Davidson

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“I think the shows that portray us have gotten better. They’re starting to present us in a positive way than in an ignorant way. It’s likely because African Americans have taken the reign to produce, direct or write these shows. The shows of the past held good portrayal, but they weren’t as intimate as the shows today. The lightings, the dialogue, the story lines, and the way the directors shoot the shows have become more intimate and show us reality in a much more personal fashion than your typical comedy. Even Black-ish and Grown-ish have become somewhat intimate despite being a light comedy show. The way in which we are portrayed now doesn’t seem as ignorant as it used to be in the television world. Now we portray other people of color and culture in less stereotypical ways, and I am glad we are making steps to progress past that.” –Brianna Adkins

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“I do believe that the representation of African Americans in media has progressed. There is an abundance of Black directors, actors and writers that are telling Black stories from their Black perspective. From Ava Duvernay to Lena Waithe, Issa Rae or Danny Glover, our story is only beginning to be told.” –LaRhae Black

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“I feel like African American entertainment now focuses more on middle class families. They slowly moved away from African American kids in poverty which I believe they should still highlight, because we still have a lot of African American families in a lower class standard. But they should highlight real problems for Blacks as of today. Since television is used as a platform to showcase things, they can always highlight the views and different perspectives while spreading the reality of how things really are for an average African American family. Especially for males.” –Zack Austin

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“I feel like we’ve progressed in terms of our own accurate representation of African Americans in media. When portrayed by other races, African Americans are still typically written within tropes and archetypes. The same can’t be said for Africans on both ends though.. But I also think we’ve regressed in terms of representation of the ideal Black family. In stories written by African Americans they tend to be too self-aware and dysfunctional or they tend to be broken/separated/MIA.” –Toluwa Sikaude

Photographer’s Thoughts

As a whole, I would say that African American media as well as our roles within various media forms outside of our own has improved. While many shows and movies produced by African Americans such as Dear White People and Get Out with a majority Black cast tend to shy away from typical quality of life type sitcoms and “typical Black” scenarios in order to focus on progression and social issues within our community. Shows such as Donald Glover’s Atlanta convey messages with a very matter of fact “that’s all there is to it” tone which is something I very much appreciate. All in all, I would say that there’s always room for improvement somewhere, but as of now I would consider African American media to be in its prime.

This was Lens of The People, a column dedicated to giving the Houston community a voice and a platform. Stay on the lookout for more, all made possible by The Forward Times!