Oprah Winfrey Network and National Research Group released a survey today examining how Black women see themselves reflected in media. Among the key findings are that while strides have been made in the quantity of representation onscreen, the quality of that representation needs to reflect the true diversity of the community.
Ninety three percent of respondents said they want to see “more complex portrayals of Black people onscreen.”
Media Professor & Behavioral Scientist at Rutgers University Shawnika Hull said, “We want our media to empower us for change. We want to see the richness of who we are reflected back at us. We want varied representations of ourselves. 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 observations for the NRG/OWN study.
Media can and is making a difference, according the the survey, which found 71% of respondents expressing that diversity in media “has the biggest influence” on making them “feel more confident and proud.” As a result of progress on that and other fronts, nine in 10 Black women report feeling “a renewed power and strength to make change.” But more work is needed.
For instance, 81% feel 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 they are judged more than others if they make mistakes. Thus, they are held to a higher standard.
“There is a pressure for Black women to be strong and to be able to survive anything,” said Chief Artistic and Programing Officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Museum and Professor of Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Chicago Jacqueline Stewart. “Vulnerability makes people relatable, and there’s a lack of content that features the vulnerability of Black women.”
Of survey respondents, 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 gleaned 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.