In 2019, OWN, the leading network for Black women, and the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) SeeHer movement, founded to increase authentic portrayals of women and girls in marketing, media, advertising and entertainment, partnered to encourage brands to apply an intersectional lens and help more Black women see themselves authentically reflected in content. Today, SeeHer and OWN announced the first-of-its-kind #WriteHerRight “Black Female Characters: Authentic Representation and Storytelling Guide,” which is the first co-developed resource from the partnership.
[See Link to uide HERE]
Designed to provide creative teams in advertising and entertainment with thoughtful ways to reflect Black women more accurately in media, the Guide features key questions and insights to illuminate the immense opportunity that lies in authentic representation of Black women and help empower storytellers to become more aware of potential blind spots and unconscious biases. The Guide also highlights the importance of investing in Black female talent at every level, including behind-the-camera, to ensure accurate reflections of Black women by fostering nuanced depictions of Black women in media, eliminating stereotypes.
“The stories we tell matter and play a vital role towards creating a more equitable society. This guide provides an actionable roadmap for creating authentic representation of Black women in media,” said Nadine Karp McHugh, president, ANA’s SeeHer. “The urgency and imperative of doing more to address the unique challenges that Black women face, which is related to how they are portrayed in advertising and entertainment, has grown exponentially since the partnership was announced in 2019.”
“Storytelling is a powerful tool that can inspire more Black women and girls to embrace the limitless potential they possess within themselves,” added Dr. Knatokie Ford, SeeHer Executive Advisor who spearheads #WriteHerRight. “It is imperative that critical moments are converted into momentum to catalyze meaningful and lasting change in how Black women are portrayed. Media bears immense potential to shift culture in non-trivial ways by mitigating bias that perpetuates mistreatment, injustice, inequities, and invisibility.”
“Now more than ever it is critical for content to authentically reflect the people it serves, especially women and in particular, Black women,” said Sheereen Russell, group vice president, ad sales/client partnerships/inclusive engagement, OWN. “Brands spend billions of dollars to influence thought and behavior; and imagine the power of those brands dedicating a portion of their spend to reflect Black stories and people. It is more than selling a product or service, it is about creating a meaningful connection and imprint to shift the cultural narrative. OWN is committed to working with SeeHer to help the creative community enact the important changes we need to see in our industry.”
“Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all. We want to feel seen and we want products and brands that serve our needs with transparency and choice, without being held to the narrow standard of ‘normal,’ a damaging descriptor that we are working to eliminate,” said Esi Eggleston Bracey, executive vice president and chief operating officer NA beauty and personal care, Unilever. “OWN and Unilever have partnered for years on key initiatives that serve our shared vision, including the launch of the CROWN Act, legislation designed to prevent discrimination based on hair texture or style. This new guide for marketers from SeeHer and OWN further illustrates the opportunity and potential to create truly inclusive offerings for underserved audiences.”
The Guide has several questions for storytellers to ask that fall into two main categories, which delineate between storylines and Black female character attributes that align with authentic representation opposed to perpetuating harmful stereotypes.
Examples of key “Affirmation and Inspiration” questions for storytellers to ask include:
- Does the story include a Black woman in a meaningful role?
- Does the story incorporate an intersectional view of the Black female character’s lived experience based on the multiple dimensions of her identity (e.g. race or ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, socioeconomic status)?
- Does the story underscore the humanity of Black women by incorporating themes that are central to the human experience?
Examples of key “Pitfalls and Misconceptions” questions for storytellers to ask include:
- Is the primary Black female character a sidekick or best friend to a white protagonist, and accordingly lacks a storyline of her own?
- Does the incorporation of a social justice theme make Black female audience members feel burdened more than seen?
- Does the story overtly or subtly perpetuate colorism – prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone?
The Guide was developed by ANA’s SeeHer through a unique process that incorporated evidence from literature reviews on content analysis, OWN original research, and surveys of OWN’s visionary talent who masterfully convey the beautiful complexities and intricacies of Black women’s stories. Key contributors from OWN’s leading talent include Paul Garnes (head of physical production for ARRAY Filmworks and executive producer of OWN’s “Queen Sugar” and “Cherish the Day”), Dee Harris-Lawrence (showrunner/executive producer of the Peabody award-winning “David Makes Man” and “All Rise”), Tina Lifford (actress “Queen Sugar”), Cheryl Dunye (director “Queen Sugar,” “David Makes Man,” “Delilah,” “Love Is___”), and actress/comedian Kym Whitley (“Raising Whitley,” “Girlfriends Check In”).
Executive leadership from the ANA’s SeeHer and OWN also provided input. Drawing from the creative expertise of OWN’s storytellers to devise an in-depth series of thought-provoking questions is a novel approach that lends to the Guide serving as a creative challenge with actionable insights. As brands continue to embrace their social responsibility to see and reflect the experiences of all consumers, particularly those who have been historically marginalized, the Guide serves as a robust resource to support efforts to leverage brand power to rewrite and reimagine the American story—where Black life is portrayed with deep humanity and care.
Clips from ‘Reflecting Black Women in 2020 and Beyond’
In August 2020, OWN and SeeHer hosted a groundbreaking virtual conversation that explored how to create impact in key aspects of the storytelling process in order to develop more authentic Black female characters. The conversation highlighted the importance of empowering talent who bring these characters to life, and listening to the insights of key production experts.
Tina Lifford – Respect the Black Audience | See Her | Oprah Winfrey Network
Link to view: https://youtu.be/E5Aw5Z9TXXE
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Kym Whitley – Hire Black Talent In Front of And Behind The Camera | See Her | Oprah Winfrey Network
Link to view: https://youtu.be/dzv9R_rs_Is
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Dee Harris-Lawrence – Marketers Should Be Specific | See Her | Oprah Winfrey Network
Link to view: https://youtu.be/VBJT8cBsS4A
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