The Room Where It Happens, And Black Journalists Aren't Invited
Last month after becoming the first African-American actor to ever win at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama since the very first ceremony in 1995, Sterling K. Brown (who plays Randall Pearson on Dustin’s new favorite television drama This Is Us) went backstage to speak to the press about his recent win and to answer their questions. While he was doing so, it was brought to his attention by journalist Jaleesa Lashay of BlackTree.TV that there was a complete lack of representation in the press corps of non-White reporters.
Props to Jaleesa Lashay for asking a question that clearly wasn’t the easiest for her to ask, and to Sterling K. Brown for not shying away from it and realizing that representation is needed for both the reporters asking the questions and for the people like himself who are answering those questions. Even the ones that sometimes make you want to disappear into the bushes like Homer Simpson.
There have been and still are many horror stories about how Black journalists and bloggers are treated at film festivals and conventions compared to their White counterparts. From being the only Black person in the room trying to get the job done to having their press credentials ignored/disrespected and not let into the room at all, there are many variations of this and the list continues to resemble a receipt from CVS, in that it gets longer and longer. And not just in newsrooms when it comes to entertainment news coverage, but in newsrooms of all kinds regarding all stories.
In the eyes of far too many people, and especially those who hold positions of power and influence, Black success and talent is seen and treated like a fluke. Much like the success and talent of women is seen and treated, and how many an article is published filled with shock and amazement over the fact that women actually leave their homes to go see movies that largely focus on other women and help make those moves financially successful, Black success and talent (despite the many, many, many examples there are to choose from and discuss in great detail) isn’t always viewed as something that has consistency or as something worth nourishing or paying attention to. And not just when it comes to working in films or television or journalism.
As we get closer to the release date for Black Panther and as its press tour kicks into high gear, many questions have rightfully been asked about what can, should, and will be done to make sure that Black reporters will be present and available to interview its cast and crew, as well as to ensure that more diversity will be present in newsrooms and at press tours for all films and television shows, and not just the ones that have the (insert gender and ethnicity here) cast members about the (insert gender and ethnicity here) issues. Many questions have been asked and will continue to be asked about what news organizations can and should do to include and encourage diversity in both their newsrooms as well as their readerships, the kind of increased diversity in newsrooms that the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite has been asking for and demanding not just on the sets of films and television shows, but in the boardrooms where decisions about films and television shows are made. If only to avoid having reporters ask tone-deaf questions like Salim Akil, showrunner/executive producer for Black Lightning being asked what his thoughts are about those who consider his show to be anti-White (yes, really!), or how one article by reporter Peter Howell (the same Peter Howell who made Tom Hardy have to remove his eyeballs from his forehead after rolling them so hard because of this question about Mad Max: Fury Road) about Moonlight and its writer/director Barry Jenkins, and his refusal to dumb down how the characters live and express themselves simply for the satisfaction of the audience, or code-switch. Except Howell thought the actual term was coat-switch, which Twitter had a whole lot of fun with once they discovered this error.
More reporters, journalists, and bloggers who aren’t just able-bodied White men being allowed to enter the room and do their jobs to the best of their ability can prevent writers/producers/directors/actors from having to deal with questions and articles such as those, or at the very least, not having to deal with questions and articles like those as often as they do.
It would also really help if people were to not do this and start complaining when creatives who aren’t White males are asked to bring their skills to the table so that they can write articles and/or tell stories from their perspectives, and go the “Why do they have to be Black/female/Asian/etc.? Why can’t you just hire the best people for the job?” And there were many, many variations of this being said when it was announced that Lucasfilm had hired David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the showrunners for Game Of Thrones, to produce new Star Wars content. We shouldn’t be upset about them being hired, because they’re talented and good, and asking for people who aren’t White or male to do what they were hired to do is just us asking for people to be hired simply because they’re not White and male and something-something-reverse racism-and-sexism even though those things don’t really exist.
Jamil Smith wrote this paragraph to help open his newest article for Time magazine about Black Panther and why #RepresentationMatters so much. The fact that it was a Black man expressing this viewpoint, and not another White journalist talking about how important representation is while probably getting many a side-eye from Black journalists, most definitely makes a world of difference.
If you are reading this and you are white, seeing people who look like you in mass media probably isn’t something you think about often. Every day, the culture reflects not only you but nearly infinite versions of you—executives, poets, garbage collectors, soldiers, nurses and so on. The world shows you that your possibilities are boundless. Now, after a brief respite, you again have a President.
Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it.
So if you’re in a position to bring more diversity into your news organization so that it doesn’t look like the cast of Reservoir Dogs, do your part and do what you can to make that happen. And if you’re in a position to demand more diversity from the news organizations and websites you support (while also showing your support to the news organizations and websites that have already encouraged diversity in their ranks and continue to do so), do your part there as well and do what you can to help make that happen.