Arisha Hatch, “Olivia Pope Notwithstanding: Strategies to Transform a TV Landscape…”

Arisha Hatch, “Olivia Pope Notwithstanding: Strategies to Transform a TV Landscape…”

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Once again, my name
is Arisha Hatch. I’m the managing director
at Color of Change. I just want to thank
Professor Rose and the Center for inviting me
here today to speak. Color of Change is
the country’s largest online black civil
rights organization with close to a million members. We were founded in the
wake of Hurricane Katrina and do campaign work that ranges
from criminal justice work to economic justice work, as
well as media accountability work. Today I’m here to talk to
you about our media program, represent.colorofchange.org. And I’m happy to
be here to do that. The reason that Color
of Change decided to launch a media
program was because we saw, in a very real way,
how media was influencing the other campaign
work that we were trying to do in other areas. We live in a world
that is oftentimes hostile all towards
black people, a world where black people
are routinely denied the benefit of the doubt. We see this hostility played
out in places like Ferguson, Missouri and Sanford, Florida,
where the taking of black lives doesn’t result in
proper investigations by the police or
timely arrests, where the murderers of
unarmed youths are justified by unreasonable,
unwarranted fears. We see this hostility played
out in our economic policies, racially charged campaigns to
drug-test welfare recipients and cut food stamps. We see this hostility
in our everyday lives, in the culture of
our everyday lives– trying to rent an
apartment, or hail a cab, or shop in department
stores, or apply for a loan. And although black
people are fighting every day for that
benefit of the doubt, we do so in the face
of a television media culture that
continues to reproduce this culture of hostility. Here is just a quick snapshot of
how black people are currently represented on television today. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] -You are a dumb ho. Shut up. -Yeah, you want to hit me? -[BLEEP] -Get the [BLEEP]. -No, no, no, no, no. -I will [BLEEP] you up. -No, no, no, no. no. No! No! No! No! Stop! Stop! -I see they got your name right. -Wasn’t sure he could spell
“scary” without adding an E, but he managed. [LAUGHTER] -The review’s first
line reads, quote, “When Shonda Rhimes
writes her autobiography, it should be called, ‘How to Get
Away With Being an Angry Black Woman.’ ” -(RAPPING) Black history, our
forefathers paved the way. Here’s 28 reasons to
hug a black guy today. Number one! We deserve a chance. 2 through 28? Slavery. [LAUGHTER] -We are now hearing from the
notorious owner of the LA Clippers, Donald Sterling. -You don’t think that. You know I’m not a racist. -(SINGING) Bitch, it’s hard
for a bitch, it’s hard. For a bitch, it’s hard,
it’s hard out here. A bitch, a bitch, a bitch. -Whoa. -[SCREAMING INDISTINCTLY] -Y’all better [INAUDIBLE]. [SCREAMING INDISTINCTLY] -Y’all, don’t do that. -No, no! -Hold on, that’s my wife! [MUSIC PLAYING] -How to get away with murder. -Here we go. -Trapped inside of
every white girl is a strong black woman
ready to bust out. No self-respecting black woman
would ever hide herself in this if she wants to
keep her black card. -Did I not raise you for better? How many times have I told
you, you have to be what? -(WHISPERING) Twice– -(SHOUTING) What? -Twice as good. -Twice as good as them to
get half of what they have. -Richard Sherman’s
getting all the attention with an epic rant. -(SHOUTING) When you try me with
a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you gonna get. Don’t you ever talk about me! -I think he needs some anger
management courses, Andy. -We can do it. [INTERPOSING VOICES] -Bitch. Mother [BLEEP], [BLEEP],
you [BLEEP] bitch! Yo, bitch! Come here! Look out. Get off me! -Somebody got love
for they lord savior. -Baby, that’s Jesus. -Back in the slave
days, my love life would have been way better. Massah would have hooked
me up with the best brother on the plantation. And every nine months, I’d be in
the corner having a super baby. -This woman knows
that young girls getting pregnant in the
African American community now, it’s about 70% out of wedlock. She knows and doesn’t
seem to care, Ebony. That’s my problem with her. -Bill– -Let me finish my
point before you talk. -OK, let– I want to address– -Let me finish my
point before you talk. -I want to address
something you said. -Can I finish my point? Then we don’t have to have an
interview, if I can’t talk. -OK. OK. -This is the scene,
rather, from Sunday night, when looters were going
from store to store, taking merchandise,
everything from tire rims to athletic shoes. All those charged face
felony burglary charges with bonds set at $50,000. -I’m an American. I’m not an African American. I’m an American. -Listen up. I’m going to need my
family to be black. Not black-ish. -So what is the new black? -The new black doesn’t blame
other races for our issues. -I’m about to go on air. OK, here’s how we angle it. Black women aren’t ugly. We’re invisible. -Nobody cares about
that story anymore. -I care. I have a niece that
wants to do porn. Porn. -You know, there’s a
complete double standard, a completely
different experience that a certain element
of this country has the privilege of, being
treated like human beings. And other– and the
rest of us are not treated like human beings. Period. And that needs to be discussed. That is the story. [END PLAYBACK] The clips we just saw paint
us a pretty good picture of a single year of black
representation on TV. Obviously, black
representations differ slightly than what the Latino media gap
that we just heard described. For us, it’s less about
invisibility and more about how those
representations influence people’s implicit biases
about black people. I know those images
are a lot to take in, but Olivia Pope not
withstanding, Mary Jane Paul not withstanding, Annalise
Keating notwithstanding, we still repeatedly see
scenarios, representations, and stereotypes that are
harmful and that are actually training people,
day in and day out, how to perceive an
interact with black folks and the expectations that they
should have for black folks. Television is
powerful in that way. It can educate us to
overcome prejudice, or it can teach
people to perpetuate stereotypes that contribute
to that discrimination. For some people, their deepest
relationship with black people is the relationship that they
have with black characters or individuals on television. When TV shapes inaccurate
and stereotypical perceptions about black people
over and over again, we see the impact of
those perceptions spilling into the real world,
scenarios that define so much of the black
experience in the real world, in school classrooms,
in doctors’ offices, in banks, in job interviews,
wherever– and, of course, in the criminal justice system. And it doesn’t matter
whether people at the studios and production houses
intend this real world harm to be the effect or not. This is the impact. This is the harm. So how exactly is TV
contributing to real world consequences for black people? How are people learning
not to give black people the benefit of the doubt? There’s a whole system
apartment at play, and we’ve delineated
the various actors in the system to inform
our campaign strategy. The first actor in this
scenario are producers. These are the people
at TV networks or at production studios who are
actually creating or approving harmful content. They could be network executives
or directors or writers, but they all play some role
in making media happen. Next we have the vehicles,
the actual media vehicles. A vehicle could be a
specific television show or a certain kind of
character type of trope. The sexy Latina, the angry
black woman, the thug– these are all vehicles of
misrepresentation. Those vehicles then form
perceptions in people’s minds about black people. A perception might be that
people are unjustifiably angry and inherently violent. We saw that in the
Richard Sherman clip, in the Real Housewives
and Love & Hip Hop clips, in the coverage of Ferguson. The idea is spread
across reality programs, scripted programs, news media,
but somewhere along the line, someone decided it was
OK to run programming that pushes this idea. Research shows that those
perceptions actually drive decision-making by
black people, other people, and white people. And so those decisions
lead to real world impacts. Black people bear
the burden of all these unfair, dehumanizing
media portrayals in the treatment they face
every day that sends a message that you’ll never be given
the benefit of the doubt, some of the things we talked about
earlier– employment rejection, clearly harsher sentences,
harsher treatment in the justice system
and by law enforcement. The impact is felt in job
interviews, in the classroom, in the courtroom, and
in our neighborhoods. It’s everywhere. And so we frequently refer to
this as our theory of harm. And we can identify
this clear progression of media production and
impact which results in clear harm for black people. But that’s not it. There’s another
part of this arc. And right now we’re
sort of talking about this arc in the context
of how dehumanizing media gets made, but it also applies
for pushing responsible media through the system. You can see sort of
on the front-end, it’s sort of starting
with social structures. There are social
structures in our society that go back to before the
founding of this country, from problems around capitalism
itself to white supremacy, and so on. But whatever those
social structures are, that whole culture we live
in privileges certain kinds of motives. A profit motive, for
example, would be one motive. We think of profit motive
when we think about the media industry, because
it’s important but not completely determinative. And then those motives
also create certain kinds of systemic issues or certain
systems in the industry about who’s hired and not,
who’s listened to and not, which audiences are valued,
and which audiences aren’t. At every step of the
media production process, this happens. Where Color of
Change feels like it can play a unique
and effective role is at getting in between
producers and the media vehicles they would create to
stop them from being created or to support good media
in being created and put out there. And we can also attack once
the media is out there, to interrupt the
influence it has by trying to remove stuff
that’s already out there or having a negative effect. This is one example of a
campaign that we’ve run. A couple of years
ago, Oxygen began loading a pilot of a so-called
reality television show called All My Babies’ Mamas. So reality television continues
to be a wild, wild, West, when it comes to portrayals
of black folks, as we’ll hear from Jen
Posner, more about next. The banner of reality,
even though we know that on most shows, there’
very little reality about them, is providing cover to
profit from exploitation without consequence. This then impacts the
rest of television and what’s OK to
do on television. It becomes sort of
a vicious cycle. So our goal is to expose
what’s going on and to act. So back a couple of years
ago, Oxygen, in early 2013, Color of Change
learned that Oxygen was promoting a new reality
television program called All My Babies’ Mamas,
featuring rapper Shawty Lo and his unconventional
family of 11 children by 10 different women. They even gave the
women nicknames, like Fighter Baby Mama, Shady
Baby Mama, Baby Mama from Hell, and my favorite, Wannabe
Bougie Baby Mama. Within weeks of
this announcement, more than 47,000 Color
of Change members stepped up to say that
degrading and dehumanizing shows like this are unacceptable. And after conversations with
Color of Change campaign staff and hearing from
thousands of our members, Oxygen Media executives made
the right choice and halted production of the
show, keeping the show from ever seeing a single
minute of air time. Oh, these are the Mamas. Bravo currently boasts the
most affluent, educated, and engaged audience on cable. In April, millions
of people tuned in to watch Real Housewives
of Atlanta villain Kenya Moore finally “get the beating
that she deserved,” quote. The fight was promoted for
weeks by Bravo following a redundant promotion formula. Calls to the police were
leaked to the press, usually Radar Online, followed by
promotional teasers released by the network. And of course, the
episode was re-aired for five weeks as
Bravo cleverly linked in the Real Housewives
of Atlanta reunion season to include a three-part reunion,
a “secrets revealed” episode, a “husbands tell all”
episode, and of course, multiple one-on-one interview
specials with executive producer Andy Cohen on
his late-night show Watch What Happens Live. Cohen, who, in the past,
dubbed himself the biggest shit-stirrer on the
planet, responded by acting shocked and appalled
by the physical violence and declared a “no props” rule
for future reunion episodes. In doing so, he
continued to refuse to acknowledge both the
disturbing pattern of violence across all of his
reality franchises and the particular harm it
perpetuates for black people. Just a few weeks ago, only
days after being reassured by NBC executives
in the front office that no physical violence
would occur in this season’s upcoming Real
Housewives of Atlanta, blog reports surfaced
of a violent altercation on another Cohen black
reality franchise property, Blood, Sweat, & Heels. A bottle was allegedly
cracked over one of the cast member’s heads. COC has called for and
continues to campaign for an end to the physical violence on
all of Bravo’s black reality television shows, but violence
isn’t the only problem with Bravo’s franchises. While everyone was
focusing on the weave pool, you can take a look
at this next clip and check out the other
representations of black women that were also present
in that episode. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] -Now, you get this a lot, right? People think that your– -Sometimes -Butt is fake? -Do they look new? -Cynthia, from a
sex-deprived husband to an uninvited house
guest, this season, your world was thrown
for a fibroidian loop. But in true Cynthia
fashion, you still managed to give us great
hair and even better face. I mean, I actually got a lot of
comments about your twerking. David from Long Island said,
you ladies are two stops away from being 50. If Miley Cyrus is
in her 20s, is it appropriate for women
your age to be twerking? -You know, I love to see
penises that are oversized, as everyone knows. -My current landlord
did not have a right to try to evict me, because
I was not late on my rent. You try to throw me out! -Say, huh? -You tried to throw me out! -Come on, break it. -But I’m still here! -Give it to me, now! Break it. -I’m still here! [SIREN BLARES] –[INAUDIBLE] has a much smaller
home than she was in before. But the real trip was
she has this brand new convertible white
Bentley outside. And she says that her guy
in Africa gave it to her. -I’m not the one that had
sex with a convicted felon. -You gave me $700 a month. -Because you were
spending all the rest of the money on gambling and
the Home Shopping Network. -Want everybody to
be here at what time? -11:00 AM. -Oh, no, no, no. That’s unacceptable. I’m sorry. -Once again, Phaedra,
Kandi, and Porsha are late. -Where is everybody at? -You’re late, bitch. You just got here. -Am I late? -Paulo, you have
charges against you for bank fraud and
identity theft. What can you say
about your case? -We’re just gonna
let it play out. -Your vagina’s so rotten,
no one will claim you, OK? -Maybe you should
stop being a whore, and I wouldn’t call you one. -That’s your problem. -OK. -That is your problem. -I call, as I said,
a spade a spade. -Then you need to
look in the mirror. -What do you need me to do? Do you need me to pull down
pants and kiss your ass? OK, then. I just told you I apologize. -I do like it when
you kiss my ass. -I just feel terribly
that it happened. I really do. [END PLAYBACK] That was just a brief clip
from the one-hour episode. But we cut out a seven-minute
segment on twerking, a full segment on CP
Time, and the fact that black people can’t
be on time, as well as multiple segments on
financial irresponsibility of several of the characters. We see these same tropes–
black people as violent and dangerous, as bad parents,
as financially irresponsible– repeated on local
and national news. Recently our partners
at Media Matters monitored local news
stations in New York City. They found that the
four major broadcasting stations in New
York over-reported crime stories involving black
people between May and August of this year. Late-night broadcast
on weeknights covered murder, theft, and
assault stories involving black people at higher rates
than the rate at which African Americans have
historically been arrested for those crimes
in New York City. News media is powerful,
painting a vivid picture of the world, its viewer. And when that picture
contains an excessive emphasis on black criminality, it can
be very influential in shaping harmful racial attitudes. According to UCLA professor and
media scholar Travis L. Dixon, heavy exposure to black
criminality on the news leads viewers to harbor an
elevated fear of black people, subscribes to the
stereotype of black men as violent and intimidating,
and endorses punitive measures to address black crime,
including quick judgment of suspects, tough prison
terms, and a rejection of programs designed
to counteract institutionalized racism. And when those perceptions are
acted upon in the real world, young black people like
Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, and Ramarley Gram
can find themselves in the cross hairs
of abusive police and racialist,
racist vigilantes. We’ve been in contact with each
of news stations in New York City to discuss these
findings and ask them to commit to changing
their reporting in crime. Several of the stations are
committed to doing better, and we’ll be working with
them in the coming months to make change. Color of Change will also
be publishing a report card on news coverage of
black crime, and our hope is to see improvement
in NYC news coverage that currently
serves to dehumanize black people, especially black
men and boys, in that city. In scripted TV,
we’re in a moment where we’re seeing
a lot of progress with shows like
Being Mary Jane, How to Get Away with
Murder, et cetera. And we’ll see if this commitment
to hiring black actors and showcasing black
leads is here to stay, or it’s only a passing trend. Our work at Color of
Change is not just about getting dehumanizing
portrayals off, but also about getting
humanizing portrayals on air, and we’ve worked with
those inside the industry with the same in mind. Last winter, Color
of Change celebrated the success of our work to
hold executive producers of the television
show Saturday Night Live accountable for the absence
of fair and accurate portrayals of black women on the show. At the end of
2013, after penning a powerful letter,
later made public, to SNL executive
producer Lorne Michaels, we sat down with NBC
Universal executives to discuss SNL’s failure
to address the exclusion of black women from the show. SNL responded to our
concerns and to the comments of our members by hiring not
only one new black female cast member, Sasheer
Zamata, but also added two black female comedians,
one of whom, Leslie Jones, is now a cast member,
from the writing room. The decision by
Saturday Night Live to hire these
talented black women was an important step
in the right direction and shows that our
members’ voices were heard. But that change was
only allowed to happen after one of the
cast members of SNL sort of messed up and
blamed black women not being prepared
to be on the show, for executive producers
to change their mind. We are also working with news
directors, reality TV editors, and we’re even starting
to join writers’ rooms of scripted shows to shift
media before it goes on air, and to work with
content creators at the point of creation,
not after the fact. We will also continue to
attack harmful media once it’s out there to interrupt
the influence it has had and to demonstrate our power
to those who have previously been able to continue
this harm at no cost. Our strengths come from
combining a critical media analysis with mobilizing
the public in rapid response situations, confronting media
outlets directly and boldly, and advancing a
system change agenda. And we’re working toward a
very different media landscape 10 years from now,
where characters like Olivia Pope and Mary Jane
Paul aren’t extraordinary, but are more the
norm, characters that are more full,
complex, nuanced, and fresh. The goal here isn’t just
to have positive characters of black people, but to
have truly human people that we can identify with. We are combining all
these different capacities to change the media
landscape and its rules enough to improve
black people’s lives. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

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