Building on the momentum of Black storytelling

Getty Images
Getty Images

The appetite for Black stories has crossed over to mainstream appeal.

Over the past few years, we have witnessed visionaries including Jordan Peele, Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler usher in a new perspective across Hollywood’s writing rooms, using their creative powers to take back the narrative of Black America on film and TV.  

Just look at the breakthrough series “Insecure,” which captures the multi-faceted experiences of modern Black women. When the show premiered in 2016, star and creator Issa Rae told the LA Times: “We wanted to depict an authentic black female friendship … We’re just trying to convey that people of color are relatable.” The HBO hit will take its final bow later this year, capping five seasons of critical acclaim, averaging a 95% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

The appetite for Black stories has crossed over to mainstream appeal. Case in point: Disney Pixar’s first feature film with a Black lead and cast, “Soul.” The film, which depicts the cultural convergence of Jazz in the context of New York City’s rich diversity, received rave reviews and is up for a Golden Globe.

As our nation becomes more diverse, the demand for authentic content is growing stronger. But while Hollywood has made strides from the #OscarsSoWhite movement five years ago, two in three Black Americans still say they don’t see themselves represented in movies, while 83% believe that the media perpetuates negative stereotypes of Black people, according to a report by the National Research Group.

TV has been a silver lining. While Black Americans make up 13% of the population, Black talent accounts for the highest total share of on-screen time among any racial minority group at 18%, according to Nielsen. But Black representation on TV still lags on cable. That’s a big gap, as Black Americans spend more than 50 hours per week watching TV — more than any other group.

So how can we continue to increase the number of Black stories being told on Film and TV? 

1. Increase diversity of thought

While Soul is a great example of Black representation, the producers still consulted a “Black brains trust of creators” to avoid negative stereotypes. Why not just tap into Black directors or producers to lead the entire film?

There is a critical need for more diversity in existing decision-making processes — behind the camera, in the writer’s room and in corporate halls. We must create a pipeline of diverse thinkers and creators to lead projects and tell their own stories. We need to look within to ensure our teams reflect the changing face of America, taking off our unconscious bias blinders and engaging with employee resource groups and HR recruitment efforts.

2. Empowering black voices

Black stories come from experiences that reflect the reality and resilience of Black communities in America. These stories need to be elevated, while also broadening the narrative to include more authentic and positive depictions. Another Issa Rae interview excerpt captures her storytelling perfectly: “This is not a hood story. This is about regular people living life.” 

Black America is not a monolith. We need to expand our circles to include varied perspectives, bring in more Black creators and push ourselves to take the road less traveled. 

 3. Elevating black media 

Although Black audiences watch mainstream media, Black endemic media has always been a safe space. According to Nielsen, 81% of Black Americans believe that products advertised using Black media are more relevant Black media matters now more than ever. 

While mainstream networks have made strides in producing more Black-driven shows, networks such as BET, TVOne and Revolt have made this a priority for decades, continually programming to the culture, tastes and aspirations of Black America. 

Marketers need to diversify their media strategies to ensure they are not just reaching Black consumers in mass media, but also engaging them within contextually relevant places. 

Michael Roca is managing director for multicultural at PHD


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