Essence Magazine Launches Filmmaking Contest to Improve Portrayal of Black Women

by Zenitha Prince
Special to the AFRO

    Essence Magazine Filmmaking Contest. (Courtesy Image)
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Essence magazine has challenged aspiring filmmakers to counter the distorted portrayal of Black women in film and television, and to showcase images of Black women that depict the beauty, bounty, triumphs and truths of their lives.

“We’re launching a short film contest seeking visions of Black women that are multidimensional, ones that are different from the stereotypical and often negative images that respondents in a recent, ground-breaking Essence study told us don’t truly reflect the totality of who they are,” the magazine stated in an overview of the contest on its web site.

According to the study, published in the magazine’s November issue, more than 1,200 respondents said an overwhelming majority of the images they encounter in traditional and social media fall into negative stereotypes—gold diggers, modern jezebels, baby mamas, uneducated sisters, ratchet women, angry Black women, mean Black girls, unhealthy Black women, and Black Barbies.

Conversely, respondents said they very rarely saw reflections of who they genuinely are: young phenoms, real beauties, individualists, community heroines, girls next door and modern matriarchs. 

Magazine officials said they hoped the study would help marketers and content creators to create more authentic images of Black women, a mission that is at the core of Essence.

“Our mission is to tell multi-generational Black women’s stories as no one else can,” Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. Bush said in a statement in October. “Essence is the space for Black women to be heard, seen, and affirmed.”

Contest participants are challenged to write and direct an original short film no more than 20 minutes long that presents an image of a Black woman that defies the stereotypes and offers a fresh, unique perspective. The deadline for submission is Dec. 5.

A team of Essence editors will choose the contest finalists and a panel of celebrity judges will choose the winner. Those judges include husband and wife producing team Mara Brockand Salim Akil; film director and writer Gina Prince Bythewood; producer Stephanie Allain; People movie critic Alynda Wheat; director and editor-in-chief of Shadow and ActTambay Obenson; filmmaker Ava DuVernay; director of development for 34th Street Films Amber Rasberry; screenwriter and director Dee Rees; “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” creator Shonda Rhimes and actress Regina King.
The winner will be honored at the magazine’s seventh annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon on Feb. 27, held during Oscar week. Past honorees at the event have included Oprah Winfrey, Halle Berry, Shonda Rhimes, Viola Davis, Suzanne de Passe, Kerry Washington, Cicely Tyson and more. 

The winning film will also be featured on Essence.com, with a portion played at the Black Women in Hollywood luncheon.

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