The almost universal negative depictions of African Americans in the movies–especially the depiction of African American males–and how this is affecting the self-images of black children, is a disturbing problem. Many movies today show negative stereotypical images, usually involving gangs and violence. A negative feed back loop has been created in this culture, where art and movies attempt to imitate real life; then real life begins to reflect the art and movies of the time, usually the ghetto life. Kids who see this “ghetto lifestyle” again and again think that is what they should aspire to be like. Even many middle class youths, who have never lived in the “ghetto”, aspire to live the “gangster” lifestyle, thanks to Hollywood. More stories need to be told.
Hollywood producers seem fixated on telling the “Ghetto” story, the “sports story”, the “slavery” story, and the “racism” story in their movies. These stories are a valid subject for artistic expression… but what about other stories? There are so many other stories to tell about the black experience, and so many other ways to stretch our imaginations about what is possible. How can children who are constantly bombarded with these predominantly negative images escape reflecting these ideas and views in their lives? How can we expect them to change if all they see are negative depictions of the people that look like them? We at Dream Power International realize that a whole generation of African American kids could be blocked from experiencing their unique gifts, dreams, and purpose if they continue to buy into the images put out by Hollywood
It’s hard to find good family and kid-friendly films that do not portray African Americans in negative or stereotypical roles. Usually it’s the traditional fare of gangsters, ghetto life, kids with guns, kids in prison, etc. that you will find in the video stores. Or it’s the stereotypical story of the black kid playing basketball. Basketball is a positive sport, but is that all we can ever show black kids doing? I know there are black kids all over America doing all kinds of things; things we never see in film because Hollywood has decided what is and what is not “black”. For example, I heard about an eleven year old African American kid who was a pilot. Now that would make an interesting movie and a positive one that might inspire all kids. But we rarely see these types of images of African Americans in film. And even worse, many in the African American community have exclusively embraced the stereotypical images put forth in the movies as truly defining what it means to be “black.”
My personal experiences in the video store
So I’m in the video store trying to find some family fare with a few African Americans in it. Other than “Akeela and the Bee”, or “Are We There Yet?” all I see are movies like “Confessions of a Gansta” where A small-time crook remembers the chain of events that led to his downward spiral as he prepares to kill his father in a Harlem basement. Or “Gang wars”, a documentary about the violent life of rival gang members in Little Rock, Arkansas. As I continue to peruse the aisles, I see the faces of black men as gangsters, men with guns, thugs and criminals. Then I come to a movie called “Animal”, with a large image of a dark-skinned African American male on the cover. It’s about a reformed criminal who tries to deter his son from a life of crime. That’s a laudable plot, but what kind of subliminal message is being sent to my son and to all of us as we see that title on the box? Why Hollywood video would even allow these kinds of movies in their stores is amazing to me.
I know the titles I mentioned above are not all children’s films, but even if you go to the children’s section, hardly any of the films have African Americans as the main characters. There may be a “token” black character in many of them, but seeing that over and over again is sending the subliminal message that blacks are less important than others.
Let me give another example of the problems with black images in the media. There were two South African movies that incidentally came out at about the same time. One, called “Duma,” is about Xan, a young boy growing up in the wilds of Africa, who finds an orphaned cheetah cub that he must return to its natural habitat.
The other film, “Tsotsi”, chronicles six days in the violent life of a young gang leader in Johannesburg, South Africa, who ends up caring for an infant whose mother he shot.
Can you guess which of the two movies featured a black kid as the main character? I think you know the answer…the one about the violent, young gang leader.
Kids Imitate What They See in the Media
So, thanks to the media, kids begin to associate being black with poverty, the “ghetto,” cruelty, crime, and jail, etc. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in many cases.
Many youngsters today try to emulate the “gangster rappers” from the latest rap video. The rapper’s lifestyle is presented as “cool” and profitable. Being from the hood, and indulging in a lifestyle of drugs and violence is presented as a desirable thing. Producing music and videos of this type has in fact led to quite a lucrative business. So then you have kids–and I know some of them–who come from perfectly healthy middle class families but begin to embrace the “gangster” life style. Next thing you know, they’re skipping school, doing drugs, drinking, and becoming sexually active at an early age.
Countering the Problem
We at Dream Power have decided to be a proactive force in countering the problem of negative images of African Americans in the media. We are working on a children’s film called: “Star Kids: Awakening to Purpose”
“Star Kids: Awakening to Purpose” is about four children from the stars who must discover and find the last four pure spiritual elements of peace, truth, love and unity. In the process of doing this they discover their gifts and life purpose which is to use these elements to heal the world and save mankind from destruction. They are pursued by mysterious agents who are bent on obtaining the elements to use their opposites, fear, hate, chaos and deception as weapons. This film might be the first in a trilogy of films.
The film will accomplish 3 things:
1. It will communicate to all children the four positive values of peace, truth, love and unity.
2. It will present African American children in ways we’ve never seen before, doing things we rarely see them do, e.g. sailing boats, being creative, caring for the earth, taking initiative to solve problems, etc.
3. It will serve to raise the awareness of the problem of negative images of African Americans in media, and catalyst for discussion and problem solving.