Oprah Winfrey Network and National Research Group released a survey examining how Black women see themselves portrayed in media. Among the findings, they say that while advancements have been made in the quantity of representation onscreen, the quality of that representation must reflect the true diversity of the community.
Ninety-three per cent of respondents said they want to see more complex portrayals of Black people on screen.
Media can and is making a difference, according to the survey, with 71% of respondents expressing diversity in media as having the “biggest effect” in making them feel more confident and prouder. As a result of progress on that and other fronts, nine in 10 black women say they feel “a newfound strength and power to make change.” But more work is needed.
Shawnika Hull, a media professor and behavioural scientist at Rutgers University who is also VP of Media at the University of New Jersey, stated, “We want our media to empower us for change. We want to see the richness of who we are reflected back at us. It’s not just about seeing ourselves on screen, but what media is saying about us.”
Professor Hull was one of nine experts who provided comments for the NRG/OWN study.
Of those surveyed, 81% feel that the media stereotype of the “strong black woman” leads many to expect them to be “stronger than others.” As a result, 66% of black women feel that they are judged more than others if they make mistakes. Therefore, they are held to much higher standards.
Jacqueline Stewart, Chief Artistic and Programming Officer of the Academy of Motion Picture Museum and Professor of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Chicago said “There is a pressure on Black women to be strong and to have the strength to survive anything. Vulnerability makes people relatable, and there’s a lack of content that features the vulnerability of Black women.”
Of those taking part in the survey, 95% said they want to see more stories about Black joy, rather than Black pain and struggle, with healthy romantic love the top theme those responding wanted to see, at 58%.
In addition to the nine subject experts, the survey gathered insights online from 713 Black American women over the age of 18. It was commissioned in May of this year by OWN, which partnered with NRG on the research.