Movies and television are often criticized for not showcasing enough diversity. One Pittsburgher got tired of seeing the same images of black women in mainstream media, so she started a project aimed at debunking stereotypes, specifically those of black women. Essential Public Radio's Deanna Garcia met with Brittany McBryde to discuss her first documentary film.
Deanna Garcia: Tell me about your film The Image of Black Women.
Brittany McBryde: It started as an idea of bringing a new voice to the topic of diversity — my voice, specifically. There were a lot of things growing up that I internalized individually as "maybe I'm different, maybe I'm the problem," when in reality it was that the current state of the media and the programs we see don't allow for a lot of diversity, especially when it comes to minorities, be they African American, gay or Latino, or whatever, so I created this film to change that narrative.
DG: You tackle stereotypes in the media in your film by speaking to a number of black women, who've seen the same sorts of stereotypes played out in the media…
BM: I, as a black woman, was kind of passively brainwashed into automatically associating certain things with black women. For example, when you watch TV, there is always a "sassy black friend." You can't watch a show without the sassy black friend or the person going "Mmm mmm, no you didn't!"
DG: In your film, we hear from a lot of different women sharing their experiences being a black woman. Who's in your film?
BM: I have an assortment of different women from different industries and professions who are lending their experiences with racism and self-identity.
DG: What gave you the idea to do this film?
BM: The idea came from talks with my niece. I have an 8-year-old niece and she is very precocious. She recently had a situation in her class where someone did not like her, and she asked me, "Well, is it because my hair's too puffy? Because I know people don't like that."
It gave me pause. "Where are you getting it from that people don't like that?" That's why I'm so passionate about this film. It's not something that is unique to black women, although that is my story. I feel it's something that everyone can identify with: men, women, across all racial lines and all orientations. The media creates these messages that whatever you are, whatever it is, it's not enough, nothing is ever enough. Even to an 8-year-old, someone not liking her, which is so natural, immediately, because of the messages she's seeing of what is affirmed as beautiful and what is the standard it has to be, "I'm not enough and that's why people don't like me." Not, "I don't share my toys or I interrupt people," but that her hair is puffy.
So I took this on to say, "What is the black woman? Who is this person we've become so desensitized to?" We accept all of these images of reality every day without questioning them.
DG: What's changed over the years, why are these misrepresentations so prevalent today?
BM: I've noticed that within the past five years that society as a whole has become more interested in seeing the flair of the stereotype rather than a real person. You can see this in anything from reality TV to Jersey Shore, which doesn't even depict African Americans. But are most Italian Americans like that? Do all Italian Americans spike their hair up and go out on weekends and get into bar fights and have promiscuous sex and get into fights with women and men and throw up outside of cabs? Are these really accurate portrayals of Latinas? Are all Latinas Mexican with light skin and straight black hair?
I think that as we take a critical look at the messages that are out there and the representations of culture, even as we call ourselves diverse, are we really?
DG: As a minority myself, I know there are still some racially charged incidents out in the world today, but I feel like people don't want to talk about them. If you see something that is racially charged and you say something about it, you're accused of "playing the race card."
BM: It's very weird that we live in a society that is "post-racial," and I put that in huge quotations because I am someone who hates that phrase. We do not live in a post-racial society — that is an illusion.
DG: You have mentioned that this is your story. Tell me about that.
BM: I was born with melanin, and because I was born black I inherited stigmas that I had to be enculturated into, I inherited stigmas and stereotypes and roles that I didn't sign up for. Oftentimes, I feel as though racism is such a hot-button topic because certain people have not had this experience and it may be painful for them to take a realistic look at it. They instead would rather reject it and project it by [saying] "you're racist for bringing it up," instead of dealing with it with. "Well you know, I never did look at it this way."
DG: What is your hope for this film?
BM: If we lived in an ideal world, my hope for this film would be that it encourages everyone to exercise their voice and to express their reality in conjunction and harmony with other people. This is my reality as a black woman. The images I am bombarded with oftentimes overwhelm me and fill me with dissatisfaction because that is not the family, that is not the woman, that is not the hair, that is not the color, that is not anything that represents the love that I am.
However, this film is not an attack against those things. This isn't Amistad, you're not going to come and feel white guilt if you're white, or you're not going to come and say, "I don't know what that was about," if you're not a black woman. This is something that anyone can identify with and I really hope that what people take away from it is there's more growth to be had. There's more development and it takes all of us putting our voice in.
The Image of Black Women premieres at the August Wilson Center on Saturday, March 17 at 6:00 PM.