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.
I will no longer be silent about the lack of opportunities given to black journalists, in comparison to our white counterparts. Thank you @SterlingKBrown for your transparency. I am proud that I could bring this issue to your attention. #SAGAwardshttps://t.co/F0krErhYCy— Jaleesa Lashay (JA) (@JaleesaLashay) January 22, 2018
The fact that Sterling found it necessary to apologize for having not noticed the lack of diversity in the media room is the VERY reason why this conversation needs to begin with people of color. We have a responsibility to one another, and he recognized that in that moment.— Jaleesa Lashay (JA) (@JaleesaLashay) January 24, 2018
I don't think people understand the courage it took to ask that question in that room.— Jaleesa Lashay (JA) (@JaleesaLashay) January 23, 2018
I replayed the question over and over in my head BEFORE Sterling even came into the room to make sure it was phrased appropriately. To think of how to warn him that it was coming, so that it wouldn't take away from what this black man has accomplished.— Jaleesa Lashay (JA) (@JaleesaLashay) January 23, 2018
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.
Quick thread on being POC writer/journalist trying to navigate the ocean of Whiteness that is DC & NYC media industry: Young woman who works at major paper told me she’s only POC in her department. Pitches topical, relevant stories from diverse communities but always rejected 1/— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
Friend, person of color, approaches a major paper recently for writing job, writes on a wide range of topics. Editorial staff is mostly white. Like Leave it to Beaver White. Editor replies, “Oh I already have 3 [mentions his minority identity] writers.” Like we’re condiments. 2/— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
Another friend, a woman, person of color, asked to join advisory board of very influential think tank-esque group, which is mostly White. Her White colleague says she's qualified to moderate one of their events & accidentally blurts out she was brought on as “token Muslim.” 3/— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
I wrote a sober, researched pitch for a topical story. Was told people might see me as being “emotional” & “angry” bc I'm Muslim. Was told to make the story personal to prove my "expertise." White colleagues deemed objective, unbiased, have automatic expertise on everything . 4/— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
If we live in a representational democracy (where 90% of Congress & 44/45 Presidents have been White), then shouldn’t that reflect in the newsrooms, media landscape & Hwood which shapes & frames our stories, our heroes, our villains? Lot of work to be done behind the scenes. 5/— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
I bring this up not to whine & complain, which is the usual dismissive response to these discussions, but to highlight the tremendous talent out there, men & women of color, who usually work harder, better, faster & stronger (bc we have to) & just want the equal opportunity /FIN— Wajahat Ali (@WajahatAli) January 25, 2018
Before I get back to writing reviews, I do want to talk about something I learned at #Sundance18 : and that's access.— Joi (@jumpedforjoi) January 22, 2018
The good sis @ReelTalker and I talked about how it's interesting seeing who gets invited to what. And how indie pubs who are founded by black people get overlooked.— Joi (@jumpedforjoi) January 22, 2018
I'm privileged to have a day job that has access to a lot of media partners. So whenever I couldn't get access as Joi the Staff Writer, I got access as Joi the Brand Marketer who's also your client.— Joi (@jumpedforjoi) January 22, 2018
Not everyone has that level of access.
I hope that as we start seeing more films of color, that the press lines, and publicists and gatekeepers change too.— Joi (@jumpedforjoi) January 22, 2018
Update your "VIP" lists. Open your viewpoint. Give us the space to network across so we can start filling the room with color.
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.
I see ppl have forgotten to mention a few details about black media @ Sundance..y'all do realize that a lot of black media doesn't have the staff numbers or budget to send ppl there, right? To cover hotels, flights, etc?— Yesha (@YeshaCallahan) January 24, 2018
Dear @MarvelStudios @Disney I hope you're paying attention to the conversation on here about Black media and access. I hope you will give equal access to Black media sites, both print and digital for the #BlackPanther junket and red carpet premiere.— ReBecca Theodore-Vachon (@FilmFatale_NYC) January 23, 2018
If you love a writer, write a letter to the editor.— Kima Jones (@kima_jones) January 23, 2018
Let the editor know that you keep your subscription dollars with that publication because of the outstanding work from women writers published there.
ENTERTAINMENT JOURNALIST OF COLOR!! When you attend a press screening, junket, a press conference, a 1-on-1 #readtheroom ask yourself who has access, who doesn't, who is the publicist, what is the content, bring it to the attention of the talent if you can— Vza V. Complex (@ValerieComplex) January 23, 2018
Do what @JaleesaLashay did, BRING IT TO THR ATTENTION OF THR TALENT and other reporters. They are so use to the normalcy of whiteness that even PoC talent didn't even notice. The shit is sad— Vza V. Complex (@ValerieComplex) January 23, 2018
Where ever I go, I look around and take note. I make it known that I am an outlier and I am uncomfortable. We want to be recognized for our merits for our work, not to be a notch on your Diversity belt. Fuck alladat!— Vza V. Complex (@ValerieComplex) January 23, 2018
NO EXCUSES for major sites not hiring Black writers to cover Black Panther.— loudlysilent (@loudlysilent) January 30, 2018
It was announced in October 2014.
You've had more than THREE YEARS to reach out to Black journalists.
Literally no one's priority should be reading or sharing white writers' takes on this movie.
It’s not that these outlets aren’t trying to cover these movies, it’s that studios/PR reps are not giving them the access to the interview/screenings/set visits/etc. when they’re pitched.— Monica Castillo (@mcastimovies) January 23, 2018
It becomes a vicious circle. The outlet isn’t perceived to be a major player bc it doesn’t run a certain kind of coverage - typically what they can’t get access to. Writers can’t get better assignments on behalf of this outlet bc the publicist doesn’t think it’s big enough.— Monica Castillo (@mcastimovies) January 23, 2018
And it’s not about audience # s either. There are big Latinx outlets that couldn’t get a spot where smaller sites could, and it’s bc the PR reps don’t read/keep up w/ black & Latinx outlets. They’ve “never heard of it.”— Monica Castillo (@mcastimovies) January 23, 2018
And while I’m having a great time with my colleagues & friends at #Sundance, I’ve seen & heard pretty dispiriting experiences from other critics of color.— Monica Castillo (@mcastimovies) January 23, 2018
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.
I find it interesting that whenever someone publicly asks for POC creatives, there is whinning trolling voice that appears and says "It shouldn't be about skin color, it should be about skill…"— Jacques Be Nimble (@jnyemb) January 22, 2018
But we live in a heavily biased world and folks of color aren't given a shot.
Folks of color often don't even know these opportunities exist because they are nowhere near folks who make these decisions. And gatekeepers often choose folks who they relate to more and won't have to have "awkward conversations about race."— Jacques Be Nimble (@jnyemb) January 22, 2018
I say all of this to ask…— Jacques Be Nimble (@jnyemb) January 22, 2018
Don't be that troll.
If you see someone looking for a Black person, a woman, someone gay or basically anyone from a marginalized group, for a creative opportunity and you don't fit the characteristics, shut up.
I remember having a call on Twitter for women and/or POC artists/animators for a small paid project and all these guys appeared attacking me.— Jacques Be Nimble (@jnyemb) January 22, 2018
And I'm like dudes the story is ABOUT women and I want women working on it to challenge my blindspots.
I shouldn't have to explain.
When I told #DarrenCriss that I couldn’t cover/was declined creds to premiere of ACS:Versace w/c stars & tells struggles of a Fil-Am family seldom seen on TV, he took my phone & emailed the publicists. #speechless #PinoyPride @AsiansInHollywd @CAPEUSA pic.twitter.com/wreyde0oJn— Yong Chavez (@yongchavezLA) January 8, 2018
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.