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Why Diversity is important: Making African Diaspora Media as Diverse as it's Community

posted Dec 23, 2016, 7:39 AM by Rahni Jere Sumler   [ updated Dec 27, 2016, 2:34 PM ]

Consider the following:

What shows have you seen with a lead of color? The ones that are, where are they based?

More than likely, depending on your race, you cannot name many that are American mainstream movies.

Actress Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura the Communications Officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise

By NASA (Great Images in NASA Description) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

First non-stereotypical role for a black woman on television wasActress Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura the Communications Officer on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the original series, Star Trek in the late 60s.
Community DIary by Rahni S.

This is critical because representation reflects and reinforces the perceptions of reality. For example, according to Ava DuVernay's  documentary called "13th", majority if not all preoccupied notions of black men came from a 19th century American movie called "Birth of a Nation". This silent film served as white nationalist propaganda, heralding the KKK as heroic knights, where a white actor in black face depicts black men as depraved, sex crazed creatures that prey on white women. As an effect, it inspired the creation of the KKK and influenced hundreds of policy measures. Many of which, DuVernay claims, that still exist in our system today.

In the scope of things, the African Diaspora has had little control of media about them. According to research director Joseph Torres at Free Press, in 2003  there were only 18 African American-owned and operated full-power commercial TV stations in the US, representing just 1.3 percent of all such stations. One decade later, by 2013 they're all gone.

This noted lack of control allowed others to control narratives about African Americans. This created a distortion of reality for all Americans, influencing the treatment of black people and indicated by the stories about them.

Consider the media within Eurocentric and Asian cultures. Traditionally, they have had a degree of control over their narratives. As an effect, they vary from drama, scifi mythology, and period pieces.

Most African Diaspora stories seen in the mainstream reflect what the majority thinks of them: "coming up stories," period pieces focused solely on slavery and racism. They are designed in an attempt to get the majority to understand about "black struggle" or to identify with other people within the black community about black struggle. It is rare to find and document instances of sci-fi, mythology and varied period pieced about the African Diaspora exclusively.


To begin changing the view of the African Diaspora would require stories as diverse as the people. This can only be done by sponsoring stories from the community itself, similar to the African and Asian model. Many counties like China, Korea, and Japan encourage and sponsor pieces featuring their history and mythology. Several industries have been created by these homogeneous culture telling their story.


There are examples of media coming from the continent of Africa, however. Nigerian Cinema, or "Nollywood", is a movie industry based out of Nigeria, creating content from the Nigerian community. These were the first movies to premiere Nigerian actors in speaking roles. It is also the go to example for a voice from the African Diaspora, as it the 3rd most valuable industry in the world. The current age has spread so rapidly by taking advantage of the direct-to-video market.  To get more varied stories from our African diaspora will require looking at what is currently working in Nollywood, coupled with deliberate funding and support.