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Images of black women skew negative, study finds

Posted: Sept. 22, 2017 | Tags: African-Americans


Photo by Angela Swartz, IRW

Dana Gills, Saidah Grimes, Erin Horne McKinney, Kendra Hatcher King, Charisse L'Pree Corsbie-Massay and Candace Queen discuss depictions of African-American women in the media.

WASHINGTON — Only 13 percent of African-American and Caucasian millennial women think African-American women are portrayed positively in the media.

That’s just one statistic from a new study on depictions of African-American women in advertising, news, reality TV and other media. 

“We’re in such a great time of black-girl magic. It’s not the best portrayals of us, but they’re multifaceted.” — Erin Horne McKinney, Black Female Founders


CNN’s footage of black people rioting and looting to protest the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, prompted Kendra Hatcher King to initiate the study. 

Despite other peaceful protests in Ferguson, negative images are what stick with viewers, Hatcher King, vice president of marketing engagement at advertising firm SapientRazorfish, said.

“It’s, ‘look at these people, and I’m afraid, and I should be afraid, and I deserve any treatment I get,’” said Hatcher King at a panel at the National Press Club on Thursday. 

Hatcher King, the American Advertising Federation and the historically black sorority Zeta Phi Beta Sorority commissioned two studies — this was the second — to dig deeper. The University of Missouri’s School of Journalism surveyed more than 500 women for the report, “From Bad Girls to Housewives: Portrayals of African American Women in the Media.”  

Full study results will be released in late October, said Ayanna Jackson, who oversees the advertising federation’s diversity and education initiatives.


Other panelists said some TV shows are including more female African-American leads, but they’re not necessarily positive portrayals. 

Erin Horne McKinney, founder and CEO of Black Female Founders, said, “We’re in such a great time of black-girl magic. It’s not the best portrayals of us, but they’re multifaceted.”  

Putting diverse groups in charge of creating content can help improve perceptions of African-American women, she said. 

Hatcher King fears primarily seeing African-American women on reality TV is starting to “reshape womanhood among African-American women.” She sees girls aspiring to be reality TV stars instead of pursing their education.

Still, TV and movie producers make content that has proven to sell in the past, said Dana Gills, a film producer at LionsGate Entertainment.

“The only color people in this industry care about is green,” she said. “We have to do a better job as consumers to show up to support the things we want to see.”

Being vocal on social media can also help dictate what TV shows and ads get made, said Candace Queen, founder of Blacks in Advertising, a group that aims to empower black advertisers.

The panel fell during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Legislative Conference, which looks at issues impacting African-Americans and the global black community.

The advertising federation also published a white paper called Reality TV: Entertaining, but no Laughing Matter. The paper looked at how portrayals of blacks on reality TV affect public perception of blacks.

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