ATLANTIC CITY — The Black Lives AC group had to book a powerful speaker to get people’s attention Saturday afternoon with temperatures in the 80s and partly sunny skies.
Donnetrice C. Allison, an associate professor of communications and Africana studies at Stockton University, was an ideal person to talk about the portrayal of blacks in the American media.
The topic was the subject of the August forum by Black Lives AC, which is held on the third Saturday of every month.
Allison was paired with visual artist Glynnis Reed, of Atlantic City, who showed that black women could be presented in a nonstereotypical fashion. Many of Reed’s images showed black women in nature.
To an audience of about 30 people, Allison talked mostly about black portrayals in television and movies. She also touched on music.
Even though the more troublesome portrayals took place in the past, Allison said even modern depictions have aspects that deserve to be examined.
Black people in the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” a silent movie that glorified the Ku Klux Klan, and during the 1950s on television in “The Amos ’n Andy Show” were portrayed as lazy.
During the 1960s, TV and film portrayals were less offensive but still problematic, she said.
In the 1960s, actor Sidney Poitier seldom had movie roles with other black actors, although that changed when he also produced and directed.
“Julia,” which starred Diahann Carroll and was the first time a black actress was in a lead role, was criticized at the time for being in its own world and not portraying the racial unrest in America. “The Cosby Show” received the same criticism during the 1980s but was a much more popular show appealing to white and black viewers.
The 1970s saw black men in lead roles in movies including “Shaft,” and once that was a hit, a series of other films, including “Coffy,” “The Mack,” “Superfly” and others followed. While it was good that black actors were able to work, the movies were written and directed by white people, Allison said.
Allison said the cycle repeated itself during the 1990s in movies with black directors. “Boyz n the Hood” was the breakthrough in 1991.
“John Singleton (the film’s director) was the first black director ever nominated for an Academy Award,” Allison said.
But, “Boyz n the Hood” was quickly followed by more of the same, where black people were portrayed as gangbangers and drug dealers in films such as “New Jack City” and “Menace II Society.”
While Allison applauded Kerry Washington playing the lead role in “Scandal,” the first time a black actress was the main star of TV drama since the 1970s, she noted the lead characters of “Scandal,” “Being Mary Jane” and “How to Get Away With Murder” are all powerful, brilliant women whose personal lives were a hot mess.
Even popular musical entertainers, such as Beyonce and Nicki Minaj, are worthy of scrutiny, Allison said. She questioned whether their star power beyond entertainers that came before them is because they are sexualized. Allison questioned if the overt sexuality in their performances was by choice or necessity to market their music.
“Nicki Minaj used to be fully clothed,” Allison said.
Allison contrasted Beyonce and Minaj with singer-songwriter India Aire, a beautiful woman who sings, plays guitar, writes her own songs and has meaningful lyrics but is always fully clothed. With the exception being her debut CD, she never has had the multiplatinum sales of Beyonce.
Decades of negative media images of black people has led to a subconscious pro-white, anti-black bias, which has been proven in studies, Allison said.
Reed, a visual artist who’s a native of Los Angeles and now of Atlantic City, said strong black women are both inspirations and don’t fit into the stereotype that most people have of black women.
She referenced and showed pictures of first lady Michelle Obama, 6-foot-tall comedian Leslie Jones, of “Saturday Light Live” and “Ghostbusters,” and bassist and singer Meshell Ndegeocello, who writes about her bisexuality in lyrics; and talk show host Amber Rose.
Reed showed samples of her own work, which frequently placed black women in a natural or nature setting to enhance their beauty. She showed some self portraits on glynnisreed.com.