The month of October marks the annual commemoration of the history and achievements of members of the black community. With this at the forefront of thought this month, it is certainly worth asking ourselves: how far has the media come in its representation of black individuals?
It is clear that many media outlets are yet to layer the black characters they include in their narratives. To truly grasp the understanding of this gap in representation, I reached out to Vice President, Abisola Bishi, of the ‘Black Girl Book Club’ at Queen Mary. Abisola states that she thinks ‘true representation is a character that is fully-realised, with a creator that understands that while the character’s race is an intrinsic part of them and their worldview, it cannot be their only recognisable character trait.’
With this in mind, we must also think about the motive behind the inclusion of the black identity in the narrative. If black presence is produced as a clear-cut, single-layered story that does not develop and plays itself out to be the “token black character” of the narrative, then we must, as an audience, realise the damaging consequences this can have. Ethnic diversity is not an item on a checklist that can be marked off by including one person of colour. If the media industry is to truly represent individuals of the black community, the motivation must be to portray black characters with the depth, layering and the close attention that their identity deserves. This depth of character should be inclusive of all ethnicities, not the narratives of white characters.
Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ marks a new cultural footprint for the media. The film does not shy away from complex themes about race and identity; it tackles them head on and brings the issues affecting modern-day black life to the forefront. The film is beautifully crafted with people of all colours at its core. The film acts as an example of where true representation can take a film. Abisola states that while she believes representation is “changing for the better for black individuals in media, there still seems to be a level of tropism occurring in characters that actually becomes detrimental to effective representation.” The media should follow in the footsteps of ‘Black Panther’ and prevent the tropism that Abisola draws attention to. The true representation of black individuals in the media is of paramount importance, for it ensures that black youths have role models and see their presence, not their absence.
My other article for this month addresses an amazing writer and presenter named Reni Eddo-Lodge, the author of Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race; she too, tackles the complexities of race and identity head on without shying away from the big questions. Queen Mary’s very own ‘Black Girl Book Club’ is also paving the way with their work. Their Anthology Hive Mind is inspirational: “we are not a hive mind and yet we are a hive” is an integral statement to the road of true representation. The media must produce black narratives as multifaceted, not as one hive mind.
This Black History Month, considering the true representation of black individuals in the media is an essential discussion that needs to take place. As young minds, we pave the new generation of media; let’s make sure we do it correctly.