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Lights, Camera and Oppression: The Role of Media in Shaping Our Views

Three black women smiling and dancing

Photo Credit: Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Butler in "Hidden Figures." Hopper Stone/20th Century Fox.

The occurrences of social injustice locally and globally have pushed me to look deeper into how media can oppress, marginalize and at times empower our local, national and global community members. Social consciousness and self-awareness of power and privilege are important when consuming and producing films, news, music, radio, and TV, all of which are considered media. Media is often a reflection of a storyteller’s worldviews and self-interests through the depiction or broadcasting of realistic and fictional stories. Yet the depiction and broadcasting of these stories are often flawed because not everyone’s worldviews and self-interests are well represented. When we watch, listen and read media content, we should keep in mind what stories get told, who gets to tell them, how they are told and what stories are considered most important. Systems of oppression that exist when the cameras are off are harder to to see when the cameras are rolling.

Though systems of oppression are harder to see in the media, the issues related to media’s contribution in perpetuating them are not new. Hiring practices and working environments have been cited by activists and social scientists as possibly contributing to the lack of diversity in the newsroom, which is predominantly white and male. Meanwhile, the lack of equal recognition and value for music, films, news and TV shows created by people of color and other marginalized groups has been criticized as well. Yet what is also very important is the way in which the media, especially news media, delivers these stories. In entertainment, the depiction of minority and marginalized identities are saturated with stereotypes and incomplete characterizations. In the news, language choice and media bias when delivering stories about historically marginalized communities have often had a negative impact. For example, mainstream media coverage on immigrants and refugees is very problematic, often contributing to xenophobic and racially insensitive attitudes in the public and in politics.

We should focus on empowering diversity in media and increasing diverse perspectives and stories. There are many benefits to diverse and inclusive media. Three of the most critically and commercially successful films of the year so far--"Fences", "Star Wars: Rogue One" and "Hidden Figures"-- either feature diverse casts or tell the extremely complex and fascinating stories of minority and underrepresented groups. In other words, having diversity and inclusion in media is not only equitable and empowering, but also an economic gold mine. To accomplish this, however, we who watch, listen, read or create media must look and listen with a critical eye, and not just a desire to be informed and entertained.

©Jahi Mackey

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