The Emmett Till story has been told many times, many different ways but never before through a Black feminist lens and certainly not on mainstream television.
Women of the Movement, a story about the mother of Emmett Till and her fight for justice after his brutal murder, premiered Thursday on ABC and today on Hulu. Many of you might know, but if not, I’m a cousin of Emmett Till. So this was an important moment for me and my family. Seeing the first two episodes got me thinking about Black women in the media – the stories we tell and stories told about us.
Men have always dominated media, so rarely have the imagery and language been anything short of pornographic, hypersexualized, or otherwise undesirable. I’m currently reading Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism where the author, Safiya Umoja Noble explains how she discovered Google’s algorithm was biased when searching for “Black girls” and the top search results were links to porn sites and images of scantily clothed women. All of which were inappropriate for her young daughter and niece she was hoping could do some fun web surfing about who they are during their vacation. Instead, she had to opt for a more supervised outing to the movies. She goes on to explain how Google is not an unbias, factual search engine but rather a tech company influenced by paid advertisers. Do you know who those advertisers are? The most wealthy among us. They are able to influence what shows up in the media and consequently what people learn about the world and people in it. Much like newspapers have historically written bias headlines, digital media outlets carried over the same problematic representation of minoritized people. Furthermore, platforms like Google bury small blogs and stories by and for Black women further down the feed.
Historical characteristics that have been used to manipulate how society sees and understands Black Women, such as The Jezabel (hypersexualized and promiscuous woman), The Sapphire (The Angry Black Woman), and The Mammy (the obese loyal servant, think Aunt Jemima (not to be confused with Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie) are still being used today. Women of the Movement seems to have taken an intentional approach to address how we represent women in the media. This is seen with its opener showing a montage of women who impacted the Civil Rights Era, some just with their presence alone. In fact, before this mini-series, the story of Emmett Till reporting and depiction of the story has focused on his death. Women of the Movement chose to direct its focus on Mamie, less of her pain and more of her passionate love and purpose-driven life.
The irony in that is how Mamie herself used media to garner the support of the entire nation. In episode two you see the relationship she built with the Black press such as Jet Magazine’s trail-blazing journalist Simeon Booker. She had to place trust in the media to tell Emmett’s story – her story. They respected her and simply let her say what she needed to say. I’d argue that the media is a huge reason the masses know Emmett and will now know more about the woman whose son sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
The 6 episode mini-series is created by Marissa Jo Cerar and Will Smith and Jay Z are the Executive Producers. Members of my family including my cousin Wheeler Parker and my aunt Ollie Gordon served as consultants. Read more about Women of the Movement here. Watch the series on ABC at 7pm CST.
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