Posted by: delphine criscenzo | October 21, 2012

“And the Winner is …”

As the authors of Media and Society tackle the controversial topics of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and Race this week, I have the feeling that they tried to pack too much in so few chapters. The references and the experts they cite are often one sided and I caught them a few times stereotyping or doing the exact thing they are trying to denounce in these chapters. They claim on page 353 that they are “drawing our attention to the way the media and culture construct these differences for us,” instead I feel that they are becoming part of the system and culture that construct stereotypes and broaden the gap between groups.

In 2011, I got the chance to attend a talk by African American film maker and producer Spike Lee. His talk was just a few days after the Academy Awards and he was upset because he felt that another Award had been given to an African American for a role that perpetuated stereotypes. Indeed, Octavia Spencer won best actress in a supporting role for playing Minny Jackson in “The Help.” Lee explained how Hattie McDaniel had won for her role in “Gone with the Wind,” Denzel Washington received an award for “Training Day” but not for his outstanding performance of “Malcolm X,” Halle Berry for “Monster’s Ball” and more recently Jennifer Hudson for “Dreamgirls” and Mo’Nique for being the mother of “Precious.” Spike Lee comments came to my mind as I was reading our authors explain on page 396 how African Americans were “beginning to gain a foothold in Hollywood from which to represent themselves.” They went on to say in the same paragraph that “this shift is also evident in the acknowledgement of African American film stars at the Academy Awards in recent years.”

When one knows that all the judges for the Academy Awards are white, of European descent, one understands the complexity of still existing stereotypes as identified by Spike Lee and all the work that remains to be done before media representations reflect the complexity of all the individuals within one group.

As journalists, how do we make sure that we are not perpetuating stereotypes?

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