Do negative portrayals of Black women in movies affect how teens view them?

Michael RichMedia expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use. Last week, he discussed Guitar Hero and age appropriate song lyrics.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: I was made to feel ugly and repulsive (because I am a Black) when I was in middle school up to high school. I was treated like this by people of all races, including other Blacks. I want to know–do the negative portrayals of Black women in movies affects how teens view Black girls and women?
-Miss Represented, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A: Dear Miss Represented,

In short, the answer to your question is yes: Media portrayals of Black women—or any other group of people, for that matter—affect how teens view them, regardless of whether the teens are themselves part of that group. For example, for a Black woman, media affect both how other people see her and how she sees herself.

Research suggests that when we are exposed to images repeatedly and over a long period of time, we internalize these images and measure ourselves and others against them. Therefore, when people are exposed to media that consistently portray people of color as less successful, less beautiful, and less worthwhile than White people, they tend to internalize those ideas.

Fortunately, there are conscious efforts underway by filmmakers to bring more diversity into media images and to portray people of many races and ethnicities in positive, healthful ways.  And while there’s no way to undo the humiliation you were made to feel as a teen, you can help the young people in your own life by guiding them toward media choices that represent members of all races in a positive light and by helping them think critically about the media they consume.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician

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One thought on “Do negative portrayals of Black women in movies affect how teens view them?

  1. *comments taken from Children’s Facebook fan page*

    Robin Howlett
    i don’t know if disney produced this movie but cinderella had a black princess, played by brandi , the fairy godmother was black too, whitney houston played her.

    Susan Devita
    It’s wonderful- and I’ll be at the movies tonight to see her kiss the frog. One thing I remember about growing up watching the Disney Fairy Tales–all the princesses were sopranos. I have had a low, rich singing voice since I was a little girl—-exactly the same as every Disney villain!

    Viola Rockhead Kimball
    As a black female myself, talking about this STILL is a big WHY to me. I’ve seen black woman portrayed in a lot of positive rolls. I don’t know why the color thing is still an issue. I find it very sad.

    Stacia White Dale
    it was about time! I think this will be a positive thing

    Kelley Crocker-Kirschke
    I don’t think color of skin should be made into an issue. If we could go for variety of colors on tv show. It will benefit to us as kids can learn to accept each other no matter where we are coming from..

    Twana Partain
    I’ve not yet viewed “The Princess and the Frog” (although I probably will since I am a mom of 4 girls). However, with the exception to Mulan (and I say this loosely), most Disney movies with females as the main character usually portray women in general as “needy” and “lost”. Even Disney Princesses on Ice blatantly enforces that the “she” will be… See More “complete” when she finds her “knight and shining whatever”. This is so dissappointing to see that we allow our daughters (and our sons) to be brainwashed in this manner. My 5 year old son watches tons of this Disney stuff and always comes up with the same answer… girls are weak. And yeah… I can’t believe we are discussing this either!

    Rebecca Hersey-Blake
    i’m totally with u viola. people making it an issue is becoming the issue. having a multiracial family myself, it is so frustrating to my husband and i that this is still such an issue, and hope it doesnt come as an excuse to our four children.

    Viola Rockhead Kimball
    Rebecca as long as we teach our kids to be proud of themselves NO MATTER WHAT. They will be fine. I won’t let my 3 make it an issue. I want them stronger than that. That’s where we come into play as parents.

    Denise Graziano
    I love Princess movies .. dont care what the Princess looks like or the prince for that matter … I love when my girls play princesses cause I want them to always believe they are princesses and to be treated as such .. with that being said .. the hype about the Princess being black or the Prince being hispanic is crazy .. why cant people be happy there is another Princess and another classic in the making!

    i didn’t know there were portraying black women as negative..if we keep segragating each other how in the world will we be one world?

    Mel Gooch
    I grew up when every girl was a princess! Iwas a “blap” black american princess, my friend karen was a “jap” jewish american princess, and my friend sharon was an italian american princess!

    Ahhhh? Can we please have an example of the “negative portrayal” that is evidently so prolific in our society before I respond to this nonsense? She’s a princess! Nobody cares what color she is as long as she ends up with the prince.?

    Quetcy Alma Rivera
    I have biracial children and have taught them that that “mix” is that magic that contributes to their beauty! W|HY is this an issue!!! The story is beautiful…a sweet story…and the focus is on the ethnicity? COLOR? Have we not progressed at all?

    Mel Gooch
    honestly seeing my friends has more of an impact, I think somehow we dont think children can think for themselves, I hope we arent looking to disney to parent our chilldren

    Laura D’Ambrosio Hagerty
    I’m with you Viola and Kelley…..there should be no issue. Human beings, supposedly the most intelligent form of life on our planet (you have to wonder sometimes though) should be beyond this sort of thinking. Just check out the variety in every other living form…flowers or fish for example…and it’s the variety that leaves us in awe. It’s what… See More iis and what’s meant to be. It’s small minds and narrow thinking that have taken the world to this very unfortunate place. Let’s only hope that we can influence our children from here on so that they will live in awe of the beautiful variations the human race possesses. and it will be as if it never was an issue, so much so, that history, with regards to this subject, will baffle them.

    Sarah French Murray
    I agree with the folks who said that talking about it as an issue is making it an issue. Maybe it’s because Disney has a history of portraying negative black characters (the crows in Dumbo comes to mind)? But seriously. It’s the 21st century. We have people who are wonderful role models in the world of every color, and we have people who are … See Moreterrible role models in the world of every color. Who cares what color their skin is? And it’s not like this is the first minority princess either…Mulan was not only Asian, she was also the strongest female by far. Jasmine was Middle Eastern. And Ariel has the distinction of being not only red-headed but also digitally challenged (just kidding!). Those fins…

    Mel Gooch
    yes I think its being made an issue! color and gender are things you cant control, the rest you can.

    I am amazed at how this is still a burning bush in society. In my sociology class the role of African American women is a major discussion point. Why is society not protraying the positive role models such as Michelle Obama, Condoleeza Rice, Oprah, Maya Angelou..etc and how far African women have progressed and stop protraying these women as victims?

    Just look out in your communities to find woman of all diverse backgrounds who have done wonderful things and made achievements in their lives.

    Trysh McCusker Ferguson
    we are all the same under the skin.. what’s on top shouldn’t matter. I agree though, the fact that we are STILL talking about this is sad.

    Jennifer Patnoe Lampron
    its about time there is a black princess in a Disney movie!

    Sarah French Murray
    Honestly…I think if someone were to press me, I’d come up with more African American female role models than Caucasian ones.

    Nitza Hidalgo
    Now we need a hispanic princess!!!

    Carla Williams Mangiacotti
    Go Disney..Its about time!

    Dayna Antenucci
    I would rather we touch young women of all races to love themselves& be self sufficient and not have them believing that a “prince” will come along to rescue them.

    Viola Rockhead Kimball
    What kind of question is ” Do negative portrayals of Black women in movies affect how teens view them?” why is it always about black and white. No one race in my mind is better than another. AND just because 1 person from 1 race does something bad u can’t blame or hate the whole race.

    Laura Ashley
    Of course it does and I am very glad Disney has made an effort to bring positive message to young black females as well as they did for the Native Americans with beautiful Pocahontas:) Can’t wait to see the movie, when I comeback from Disneyland of course lol

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