The Hallmark channel is making year-end headlines for all the wrong reasons. Their decision to pull and subsequently reinstate Zola’s advertisement celebrating a lesbian couple’s marriage reminds us why representation matters.
For Black women, turning on the Hallmark channel this holiday season is also unlikely to result in seeing our story on screen: only four of their 21 original productions include Black leads.
As someone who works in Hollywood to diversify writers’ rooms and consult on how to tell more authentic, nuanced stories featuring people of color on-screen, Hallmark’s missteps provide an apt reminder to take stock of where Black women stand in 2019.
Black women continue to set trends and shape popular culture through our art, our activism and our work, but our influence on the United States’ cultural fabric is often overlooked and undervalued. For all we give to our communities, our families and our society, we struggle to see our investment in expanding opportunities for women be matched with respect, just compensation and decision-making power.
Black women are one of the best organizing forces in the country—where we lead, the Black community follows. Yet, in the arena of public opinion and public policy, Black women too often see little return on their consistent investment from policymakers.
Tarana Burke launched the #MeToo movement in 2006 and did the hard work for 11 years before white Hollywood elite sent the hashtag viral as a call to action against sexual harassment by Harvey Weinsten. As she gains the national recognition she rightly deserves, she continues to remind movements of the importance of listening to women of color.
This year was also a banner year for Black women breaking down barriers in the television and film industries to fight for the stories of Black men and women to be told in Hollywood. Black female content creators like Lena Waithe, Issa Rae, Jada Pinkett Smith and Ava Duvernay are fundamentally reshaping the content we see projected in theaters or streamed on our favorite device.
Duvernay’s groundbreaking Netflix series “When They See Us” forced national conversations about media accountability and how Black people continue to be vilified and stereotyped to justify the racially discriminatory infection in our criminal legal system. Yet simultaneously, we hear of the emotional toll being the only Black woman in the room and biting your tongue has taken on powerful women like Gabrielle Union. That she still has to take professional hits—she was recently fired from “America’s Got Talent” for using her voice in a space she was hired to do so—for confronting racism and misogyny in 2019 is devastating.
What Black women need is more than a seat at the table. They need to be seen and valued and heard at the table, with the confidence to speak truth to power without retaliation. Better yet, our tremendous contributions should be matched with political and economic power. Channing Dungey’s decision to cancel ABC’s top performing reboot of “Roseanne” after the show’s star “went on a racist Twitter tirade” targeting Valerie Jarrett showed us what accountability looks like when Hollywood makes business decisions based on values, not ratings.
The fight for racial justice is constant—and it requires working to confront inequality in our workplaces, news cycles and entertainment choices.
Shirley Chisholm vaulted into Congress a little over 50 years ago—and made history as the first African-American woman to do so. Her rally cry resounded then and does now, too: “Unbought and Unbossed.” Her legacy dually reminds us how the issues impacting Black women domestically and globally in 2019 will not end overnight, and that we all must commit to actualizing justice in whatever ways we can while we have limited time on this planet.