Working Black Media
Do you know who Tamala Jones is? What about John Witherspoon or Regina Hall? Are you familiar with K Michelle, Nicole Beharie, Ava DuVernay, Omari Hardwick, Roland Martin, Jamilah Lemieux or Rachel Noerdlinger?*
If you don’t, you don’t work in the African-American media. While these folks may not be household names in your household, they are well-known actresses, actors and media personalities in Black households. To write or edit for African-American media requires a sensibility that not only knows these names, but also allows for the intricate connections between them.
DuVernay, (pictured) now the director of Selma, one of the year’s most heralded films, was once a publicist who worked with some of the stars she now hires to act in her films. She and Gina Prince-Bythewood are among the very few African-American female directors working in Hollywood today. In December, DuVernay became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
To work in African-American media, you should know that, and you should also know that Prince-Bythewood, director of this year’s romance Beyond the Lights, also directed Love and Basketball, a veritable classic in African-American film.
Working in the mainstream media doesn’t always require this kind of knowledge of the African-American arena. Where it intersects with mainstream culture, of course; a writer at Entertainment Weekly will know who Chris Rock is, or Samuel L. Jackson, because they’ve achieved mainstream success. But that’s not always true, as this clip reveals:
Aside from this much-publicized error, a lack of newsroom/online/magazine diversity has led to other flubs. There is the misidentification of pics – one Black actress on a red carpet confused with another – and this year, tone-deaf fashion editorials on Kendall Jenner’s “new” braid hairstyle and Chanel’s designer urban tie caps (known as a “doo-rag” to most African Americans.)
There was also the time when Rihanna, obviously known to the mainstream, sported a hairstyle at the American Music Awards that was new to many viewers – her hair was laid flat and pinned around her head with jeweled bobby pins. African-American and Latina women immediately knew that Rihanna was sporting a doobie, a “style” most closely associated with preserving a freshly done straight hairstyle and not usually worn in public, unless it’s on the way home from the hairdresser.