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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