Oh, Mary

A Work In Progress

June 9, 2020
Aleah Appling

My sister and I were on our way home when we heard Beyoncé’s lyrics blaring through the car: “Brown skin girl… your skin just like pearls, the best thing in the world… I’d never trade you for anybody else.” My sister and I looked at each other in shock; we’d never heard lyrics like these. “Your skin is not only dark, it shines and it tells your story…keep dancin’, they can’t control you, they watchin’, they all adore you.” 

That song is the first time my skin tone has ever felt not only accepted, but truly celebrated. And I’m 23 years old. It’s the first time I’ve heard someone I didn’t know, say that the color of my skin is beautiful. It’s the first time I felt proud to stand out for something that I typically felt insecure about. When I think about this song, I think about a young, brown skin girl having the opportunity to hear that song and feel affirmed, because currently, that affirmation is rare.

In addition to music, many people look for affirmation through various forms of entertainment. I love movies and TV shows specifically because they not only impress people with new views and thoughts, but also reflect society during the time in which they are created. Excluding the current protests that are transpiring across the nation, and the history of Black people in the US, I could tell you that Black people and people of color (POC) in general are not given the space, nor the respect to truly succeed, in the film and television industry. When the media generally categorizes Black men as either athletes, rappers, or thugs, it reflects society’s notion, that that’s all they can be. Sure, I have friends that are aspiring NFL stars, but I also have friends that are currently selecting med schools, and finishing up their first year of law school. But you never hear or see those stories in the media.

Movies, TV shows, and video games shape childhood understandings that easily meld themselves into adult morals, and when POC aren’t seen in those, it doesn’t allow children of color to see themselves integrated into society, nor does it allow white children to understand how POC fit into their world either. When Mr. Rogers dipped his feet in the pool with the Black police officer, Officer Clemmons, in 1969, it was considered a cultural breakthrough. And if those are our low standards for media, yes we have progressed. In 2012, Doc McStuffins was the first show centered around a 6-year old African-American girl who aspired to be just like her mother and played “doctor” with her stuffed animals. In 2019, Jake from State Farm is Black, and the first animated spy film centered around a black spy, Spies in Disguise, was debuted. Disney finally got their act together, and started featuring more and more shows with black people and POC, and now it’s basically a standard to have a diverse cast on their shows.

What about TV-14 and beyond? We have been blessed with shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, who portray both women and men of color in commanding positions of power, as doctors, politicians, and as lawyers. But those shows are thanks to Shonda Rhimes, a powerful titan in the television and film industry, who happens to be a black woman. When she cast Grey’s Anatomy, she filled it with African-Americans, Asians, and Latinos, because that is the reality of hospitals. But when that reality isn’t shown in the media, it doesn’t help anyone. 

Beyond POC characters, Shonda builds complex POC characters. Difficult women, difficult men with complicated lives, who by being highlighted on TV, show POC that they can and deserve to be complicated beings, because they are. Black Panther can’t be forgotten either. With its powerful cast of black actors, it was the first movie to show people what black men can be and are: superheroes. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse featured a mixed Latino and African-American superhero; but yet again these amazing feats were only pulled off because they featured POC directors and producers.

Shows like Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vampire Diaries, and Glee have been accused of using people of color as sidekicks; funny, simple characters who give sage advice to the main, white character. And even newer shows still portray characters in offensive ways. For all the hype that the show All-American receives, if you are Black, you’re either an athlete, a thug, or someone who was lucky to make it out of the hood. It fails to highlight everything that Black people are and can be like artists, scientists, politicians, adventurers, kind neighbors, helpful parents, and people deserving of respect and safety no matter what they choose to be. 

As a PR firm, we all have a responsibility to both the consumer and client to reflect safe and respectful views of all people from all walks of life. And that doesn’t start in just TV shows and movies, it starts in newspapers, advertising, and broadcast. Diversity, inclusion, and celebration are all important factors to creating successful, dynamic, and positive brands. And as an industry that uses the media to spread our clients’ stories, everyone should ensure that we are spreading stories that are transparent, inclusive, and compassionate. Only by celebrating people’s differences and appreciating everyone’s contributions can we achieve true equality.