Here’s How You Can Help Redefine The Stereotypes of Black Women in Media
Mar. 29 2016, Published 2:34 p.m. ET
Some of the highest rated reality shows include Oxygen’s “Bad Girls Club” and VH1’s “Basketball Wives,” and according to activist and writer Sil Lai Abrams, that is a problem.
Abrams is working to change the perception of women of color in society with a forthcoming documentary titled Redefining HERstory.
Her personal hardships as a teenager and as a victim of assault that led her to self-publish her book No More Drama. In her book, she discusses her inspirational story on how she overcame obstacles and came up with Self Empowerment Principles in Action (SEPIA). Abrams is also the founder of TruthInReality, a media advocacy organization aiming to change the media depictions of women of color, with emphasis in changing the violent stereotypes. She believes that storylines seen in reality television can cast a negative view on how women of color should be treated.
Read below to learn more about the motivation behind Sil Lai Abrams’s upcoming documentary, Redefining HERstory and why she needs your help to make it a reality.
Her Agenda: Was there any single event that happened during a reality show or a media depiction that encouraged you to create the HERstory documentary?
Sil Lai Abams: This documentary is a natural extension to Truth in Reality. [There was] a truth in reality when [Basketball Wives star] Evelyn Lozada suffered that infamous head bump with her then husband Chad Johnson. At that time, I was writing about relationships for Ebony.com. Even though they say ‘don’t read the comment section,’ of course I read the comment section (laughs). I was really appalled at the way in which Evelyn’s behavior on Basketball Wives was being used to justify the overall use of violence against Black and Afro-Latina women. It was very clear to me at that point that a negative association of Black womanhood was being made based upon a negative portrayal on certain reality shows whose primary storyline consisted of women who were economically tied to a man for social status. So that was when I decided there had to be a change in our media representation.
People [have] to understand the impact that these stereotypes [are] having on society and on Black culture. [These stereotypes are] being used to justify physical harm on our bodies. The Redefining HERstory documentary is a natural extension of our work. The most effective way to combat a dominant media narrative is by countering it with an alternative media narrative.
Her Agenda: One of the things I found very powerful watching the campaign trailer was the statement at the end of the video. You said, “Stop allowing other people to tell our story. It’s time for us to begin redefining HERstory.” Where did the inspiration behind the title of the documentary come from?
Sil Lai: I can tell you what it symbolically means. All of us as individuals are charged to define ourselves, because we all come from some place. Sometimes those places are not healthy and the messages we get about ourselves are not accurate. Through our maturation process we need to redefine ourselves for ourselves first to become clear about who we are. “To know thyself,” is an ancient saying that is very important. Until we know ourselves, how do we know what to stand for and what we will do in this world beyond just existing? HERstory was natural. I didn’t realize at the time how popular HERstory as a standalone word was. Redefining history is a masculine pronoun right there. What I like about HERstory personally, was that it’s not only a nod towards history but feminizing it; so it’s our story, her story, my story, your story. It’s about redefining the individual story and the collective story of women of color.
Her Agenda: Why do you think now is the time for you to create this documentary? Why now in 2016?
Sil Lai: Part of it is because no one else is doing it. Particularly, in 2016, through this Presidential race and seeing the polarization in this country, what we are seeing today is an awakening of consciousness, very pro-black consciousness. But [there’s] also anti-white supremacy as an institution. I believe it makes this a very good time to tell a story because people are absolutely fascinated with the imbalance of power. It is timely. People are starting to talk about the issue of representation in a broader sense, and that’s a great thing. It provides a doorway for us to get in and talk about how the system of the use of oppressive/racist stereotypes have become entrenched and solidified in media.
People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. How successful can any campaign be if we are not going to get to the root of the cause? Particularly when you have a figure like Trump or the entire GOP, for example, putting in our face their anti-black stance and their pro-white stance, it’s an energizing time for us. Media representation has to become a part of the larger conversation outside of individual portrayal of specific mediums. It goes beyond lack of racial/gender diversity in the Hollywood C-Suite. It has to be looking at the larger message and how can we incorporate certain tactics to see the change that we want to see.
Her Agenda: What’s been the most challenging thing about raising the funds?
Sil Lai: The most challenging aspect about raising the funds has been pushing our message outside of the network of influence that I personally have. I’m not an Internet sensation or a twitter sensation with tens of thousands of followers. With these Crowdrise campaigns, the initial money comes from people you know. And then it requires those individuals to share the information with their friends. That’s our focus, to really spread the word and to engage younger people who are much more active online in this issue. [We want to] be more focused in our message so that millennials do not think of our work as outdated. What we are focused on is that all of our stories can be told.
Our goal is $50,000 and I believe we can reach that. It’s going to require as many people as possible to share and make a contribution. A $10 contribution goes a long way. That’s really what we’re looking for- that grassroots movement. This is not a Truth in Reality movement, this is a movement for us, about us.
Her Agenda: What is your goal after raising the funds?
Sil Lai: The initial $50,000 will go towards continuing the research and development of this film because I don’t have small dreams. I never think small when I do things. We’re looking for distribution and partners. I want a deal with Netflix, I want a deal with Amazon. This will go to the festivals. This will be a work that will be used to empower another generation and an existing generation. We are on a timeline so people need to take action now.
Her Agenda: What would you say to women struggling with self-identity?
Sil Lai: It doesn’t matter where you’re at today. It doesn’t matter where your struggle is today. Whatever it is that you’re dealing with can be overcome. In the case of someone who is struggling with a life-threatening illness, that is something that cannot be physically overcome. The change that can occur is in our mind in [terms of] how we view our circumstances. Within every situation, even if you feel powerless, you are not powerless. You choose your response to anything that occurs to you. And [know] that we are always the architect of our life. Don’t judge yourself based upon where you are today, but look towards the examples of women who have overcome, who have blazed the trail of life in general, and look to seek their wisdom. It’s up to you to take that step to redefining your story, and that’s ultimately what this is about. [It’s about] giving hope to an entire group [including] some who may be struggling and feeling powerless to affect the world around them. We are capable of doing so much more than we often give ourselves credit for. The truth of the matter is as long as you have air in your lungs and a heartbeat, you can always push forward.
If you are interested in donating toward her campaign, click here! The last day is March 31st.