During orientation for a writing position I’d accepted, the manager wheeled in a rolling-cart/TV/VCR combo synonymous with training film torture.
There were sighs of relief from everyone in the room except me when he announced that viewing A Miracle on 34th Street would illustrate the department’s mission. Colleagues soon noticed my disconnect from sidebars about the movie.
Attempts to jar my non-existent memories began flying at me from around the room.
The plan? Nod in agreement after the fourth effort. I mean, this was orientation and the end of my probation period was still 30 days out. However, before I could pull it back, I admitted that I’d never seen the film.
The manager broke the room’s loud silence when he asked, “Your family never watched it during the holidays?”
“No, my parents had a preference for movies that included positive images of Black people,” I responded with respect-your-paycheck cordialness.
“But it’s a feel good movie no matter who you are,” he countered.
“I guess my parents disagreed.” I answered while handing him the television’s remote.
The audacious aspects of this experience encapsulate the relationship Black people have always had with media – outsiders expected to enjoy the view even when it ignores our existence.
Fortunately, there have been media depictions that have made us proud.
On many occasions, there is a courageous woman of color at the helm of these projects – proclaiming boldly that Black women are indeed worthy of purposeful programming.
5 Black Female Media Powerhouses Transforming TV Culture
Numa Perrier really appreciates Black women as well – our entire endless assortment.
As Black & Sexy TV’s director of programming and development, she protects the brand’s choice to feature every shade, shape, hair texture and disposition possibility. Even more eloquent is her commitment to affirming the desirability of each variation; without exception.
All Black women are beautiful. Period.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Numa discussed her stance: “…we’re always looking for people who just don’t feel like everybody else … some of these networks are like, ‘No, your hair better be perfectly laid, or you’re not a fierce black woman.’ But for us it’s like, how unique can you be? How natural can you be? How beautiful can you be as you are? It is something important to us.”
The Black & Sexy Movement has discovered an untapped niche. A market where audiences aren’t interested in reality show antics or after-school special morality.
They’re looking for their stories; the lives of regular folks – culturally rich, uniquely creative, eclectically beautiful, and sexy all day, every day folks.
Mara Brock Akil
For 23 years, Mara Brock Akil has been the driving force behind TV shows and films honoring the brilliant complexity of Black women.
Eight seasons of the hit Girlfriends has solidified its status as one of the most significant television shows in history, across generations.
It’s spinoff, The Game, ran for an impressive combined nine seasons on CW and then BET where a record 7.7 million viewers tuned in for its premiere on the network. Creating BET’s first hour-long scripted series, the award-winning Being Mary Jane, makes Akil responsible for another prestigious BET milestone.
ABC’s commitment to produce the pilot for her newest comedic project, Documenting Love, means there are more gifts, for us and about us, on the horizon.
In a recent interview with Fader, she reiterated that her commitment to impactful Black stories will continue to inform the new development journey she and husband, Salim Akil, have embarked on with Warner Brothers TV.
Full-bodied storylines will remain their primary goal: “I used to want to make sure that the powers that be could see value in us. That ain’t my problem anymore. If you don’t see us, then you’ve missed out.”
Anyone currently watching the dazzling rise of online media darling Issa Rae can hardly ignore the valuable contributions of her work. I mean, have you watched the HBO breakout hit, Insecure?
Her transition from independent mockumentary aficionada to mainstream media player has been a highly anticipated one for her early fans.
Her voice in media is unapologetically honest and according to Black audiences, unapologetically necessary.
Aside from hilarity, there is comfort in her elaboration of small yet significant details of everyday social encounters. Issa’s webisodes, videos and films feel like narrations of our own lives. Her New York Times bestseller, Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl – named after the extremely popular web series that started it all – provides a glimpse of a unique essayist as well.
Willingness to wrap her vulnerability in a variety of small downloadable packages, and then give us full-access, makes her work even more treasured.
It’s exactly what Black audiences have needed. Always.
Despite new major-league ventures, the Internet pioneer’s message will remain right in the pocket she’s created.
Her focus is clear: “For the majority of my life I cared too much about how my blackness was perceived, but now? I couldn’t care less. I’ve decided to focus only on the positivity of being black, and especially of being a black woman.”
ABC has become a solid landing space for Shonda Rhimes’ expansive interpretations of Black life. The network recently gave the green light to Deadline, her sixth show in the network’s primetime line-up.
Fact is, the Shondaland appeal is hard for anyone to ignore.
For women of color specifically, her narratives continue to remind the world of our uniqueness through the lens of fascinating, sophisticated, clever, and intelligent protagonists.
Shonda’s candid response to media comments that she is especially focused on substantial Black female characters, confirmed her commitment to meaningful portrayals: “Is the alternative stupid, weak women? Like – I don’t know any of those… and nobody asks, ‘How do you write smart, strong men?’ That’s not a question that anybody’s ever asked before.”
Ava DuVernay’s founding of the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement (formerly AFFRM and renamed ARRAY) suggests that she isn’t concerned with value validation from the powers that be either.
The independent film distribution and resource collective is dedicated to amplifying works by filmmakers of color and women from around the globe. “All of us should be able to see ourselves,” says DuVernay when she explains the initiative’s mission.
The first Black woman to win Best Director at Sundance (Middle of Nowhere), as well as, the first Black woman to direct a $100 million film (Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time), her big-screen career is an undeniably emblazoned one.
Ava’s small-screen work is equally affecting. Her TV series, Queen Sugar, was an impressive and impassioned debut on the OWN network.
Besides a beautifully authentic representation of Black lives, the show championed Ava’s continued commitment to transforming industry culture by decreeing that each episode would be directed by a woman.
It may be the only show in history to do so.
I can hardly wait for the next stop on her journey of unapologetic advocacy.