“Miss Representation” Viewers: Welcome to the Media Justice Movement!

This post is cross-posted with www.MissRepresentation.org, in advance of the film’s debut tonight on OWN, 9pm (8c).

In Miss Representation, actress-activist Rosario Dawson talks about how important it is for women to write their own stories. This is equally important in entertainment and in journalism alike.Yet as I discuss in the film, today’s media climate is extremely toxic for women and girls, and for people of color. That’s because the main purpose of TV programming today is not to entertain, engage or inform us. Sad but true: the purpose is generate sky-high profits for the six major conglomerates (Disney, Time Warner, NewsCorp, Viacom, CBS and General Electric) that own and control the vast majority of what we’re given to watch, see, hear and play in newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, movies, billboards and video games.

As a result, women are misrepresented and marginalized as op-ed writers, front-page news sources, lead anchors, and broadcast journalism commentators… that is, when they aren’t missing entirely (as decades of research document). Scripted entertainment isn’t much better. As filmmaker Nia Vardalos wrote at WIMN’s Voices, Hollywood studios ignore data that show that audiences actually do want to support films with strong female leads, calling the success of “Sex and the City” and “Mamma Mia” “a fluke.” When Nia tried to follow up her hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with a new script, studio execs pressured her to change female leads to male characters—exactly the opposite of the kind of climate Rosario Dawson is rightly calling for.

And as I discuss in “Miss Representation” and write in Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty Pleasure TV, reality TV pretends to be about “real people” acting on “real emotions,” but is beyond inauthentic. Viewers think they’re listening to the voices and witnessing the experiences of “real women,” but

what we’re really consuming are regressive, 1950 stereotypes that product-placement advertisers and networks script through editing and production tricks. A decade of these hyperedited, manipulative reality shows have used real girls’ and women’s voices as props to portray us all as stupid, bitchy, pathetic golddiggers desperate for men—and to portray women of color in particular as ignorant, hypersexual, “ghetto” “hos.” (If this were truly “reality” TV, we’d see far more smart, self-assured, passionate young women like “Miss Representation’s” Devanshi Patel starring in their own shows, and far fewer young women like Snooki from “Jersey Shore.”)

This would all be really depressing if there wasn’t something you could do about it. Luckily, there are many ways to change the media for the better. So, after you watch “Miss Representation” and leave the theater or turn off OWN, you shouldn’t simply get angry— you should get active.

First, you can find and support positive, challenging, critical journalism and entertainment that represents women in all their diversity. There is a vibrant independent media community in America where women and people of color are reflected as experts, and speak in their own voices — just like Rosario Dawson encouraged. Put down People and Us Weekly, and pickup non-commercial magazines like Ms., ColorLines, World Pulse and Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture. To counteract to the damaging news media content discussed in the film, don’t rely only on mainstream newspapers and TV for your news – also seek out non-commercial alternative journalism sources you such as GRITtv with Laura Flanders, Free Speech TV and WINGS radio. Read online media and blogs such as Women’s Enews, WIMN’s Voices, Feministing, Racialicious, Feminist.com and Duly Noted, to name just a few, and watch video remixes at Pop Culture Pirate and Feminist Frequency.

Next, you can get involved with a dynamic, emerging media justice movement in America that needs your energy, support and participation to transform the media for the better. In 2001, I founded Women In Media & News, the first national women’s media analysis, education and advocacy group working to increase women’s presence and power in the public debate. (As one part of this work, I have conducted multimedia lectures and workshops on gender, race, class and sexuality in the media for more than 100 high schools, colleges, non-profits, and conferences across the U.S. and Canada, so if you’d like me to do a media literacy event in your town, be in touch!) A lot has changed in the decade since I founded WIMN, giving you even more opportunities than ever before to make a difference. Programs like Seattle’s Reel Grrls and New York’s People’s Production House teach journalism, radio and filmmaking to girls, people of color, and low-income people, to help silenced communities tell their stories… just like Rosario Dawson encouraged. The Media Literacy Project in New Mexico can help you get media literacy education in K-12 schools, and has online toolkits adults and kids alike can use to become active, critical media consumers. And the Center for Media Justice in Oakland and the Media Justice League in San Antonio are fighting to hold media companies accountable to your needs, advocating for fair media policies such as net neutrality, so that the internet and other information communication technologies are equally accessible to all, and remain a forum where each of us can write, podcast, videoblog, and communicate our realities on our own terms.

From all the organizations and indy media outlets above, to the national Media Action Grassroots Network, women and people of color have spent decades working to combat media bias and to create better, broader, more diverse media. Now that “Miss Representation” has shined a mainstream spotlight on this crucial advocacy, it’s time for you to join the movement. Welcome!

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