Meditation on Media Images

DIYProjectsMontage2
Like all of us artists/activists – folks who want to make positive change in the world – we have so many things we’re juggling – relationships with a significant other, generating income, having time to ourselves, cooking-cleaning-health, the list is endless really.

And I have a predilection of saying “yes!” to a lot of things and people. I ’m blessed with a fantastic community of like-minded people. But since my time is limited, where would I like my focus to be the most? And it’s not casting (although I do love helping actors get work – I owe a huge debt to them), or being an acting coach, or being in the Entertainment biz in general and all that entails (competition, high stress, less time to myself, energy sucking). What I most want to focus on is related to media and my vast experience in all aspects of it, and in fact is heightened by it because, frankly, casting directors have to face stereotyped roles every single day. We have to support writer-producers – especially those creating comedies – who make a living off stereotyped roles. And that’s been weighing on me. For a long time.

My life’s work now is to examine media images and deconstruct them. I’ve self-produced 4 projects now (with the help of many generous friends who have either donated money or time and/or helped me with housing when I could no longer afford LA rent). Each of them is about an “outsider” who wants to find their place in society but is thwarted by their own confusion about who they really are and their insecurity in how others perceive them. I know this subject well. I’ve lived it my entire life. Being the daughter of a refugee (not just an immigrant but a refugee) carries a lot of baggage, conscious and subconsciously. Plus, growing up, I never saw myself in the media. Marcia Brady I was not. And boy did I feel inferior because of that. I still do.

The Real Man is my most favorite, I think because the subject matter is so urgent. I also think it’s because I created it with Darryl Dillard, who is near and dear to my heart. He’s really the first black man I’ve been intimate with on many levels, and in seeing the struggles he’s faced as well as the stupid stereotyped and utilitarian roles he’s had to audition for (cop, thug, prison guard, womanizer), I felt compelled to tell our story. It’s about a black actor who vows to only play uplifting roles and the harsh consequences he faces when he breaks his own rules.

Today, I listened to a broadcast of On Point on WBUR, an NPR station here in Georgia. It was entitled “Are Black Men Doomed?,” named after the book written by Professor Alford Young Jr, who was the main guest. The wonderful Kimberly Atkins interviewed Dr. Young on the subject of black men in particular because statistics show clearly that they are disadvantaged – in employment, incarceration rates, physical and mental health and even life expectancy. Dr Young posits that society in general believes that it’s up to black men to want to change your lot in life. That it’s up to them to fix it. The experienced researcher instead thinks it’s time for the rest of us to see black men differently and change ourselves.

Well, as you can imagine, I was rapt by this hour program. Young suggests each one of us can help by going out in our communities and interacting with all walks of life. And I do that already. A lot. Since moving to Atlanta, I find myself frequently in diverse crowds, often times where I’m in the minority. In fact, I am most comfortable in these situations. So I thought, “I’m already doing what he suggests, but how can I help even more?”

 

Well, there is a way, but some might think it “dangerous” or “reckless behavior,” which is part of the problem.

Since moving to Atlanta two years ago, I’ve been warned by white friends of mine who live in the suburbs to “be careful where I walk.” That there are “certain areas” I should avoid. Nothing specific was said, just that I should beware, and I should never go by myself, heaven forbid. I have not heeded this warning, of course, but still, it does stir up feelings of fear, even for a brief moment. My inner voice always says, though, “that’s ridiculous and just prejudice talking.” Because of my background – basically, my father and his family were destroyed in the Holocaust – I abhor fear mongering and putting people in boxes.

I live in a “transitional” area of Atlanta proper (also couched language). I’m a walker and I take the MARTA. I love walking all over the city and I go far and wide. A few of my neighbors have warned me to “watch out in this area and never walk at night.” I don’t heed their warnings. I’ve walked in many cities, at all times of day or night, and I do so without fear.

One route I’ve taken numerous times is in Kirkwood. There’s a small privately owned market on a corner, across the street from an urban garden. On this corner, there is always a group of black men congregated. They are laughing and talking. My boyfriend, who is black, thinks they are up to no good and I should not go by there anymore. The only thing I really think about when I walk by is “I wonder what they think of me, this white middle aged woman, walking through their turf.” But they probably think nothing of it. Who knows? I don’t stop to talk to them. That would be strange. Or would it?

This past week, I walked through a new area for me, as I strolled from downtown Atlanta back to where I live, in Reynoldstown. This area looked very much like the area as depicted in the TV show “Atlanta,” created by Donald Glover, who is originally from Stone Mountain, GA, one of the suburbs. This area is downtrodden. It’s not trendy Virginia-Highland or Midtown. This, many would say, is “the ‘hood.” I wasn’t worried at all walking through this area. There was, however, a large group of black men congregated outside a dilapidated house. They filled the front yard and were also on the sidewalk and leaning on parked cars. I walked by as I usually do, smiled and said “excuse me” as I passed a couple of men who kindly moved out of the way. Nothing else was said. No one looked at me strangely, or if they did, I didn’t notice.

I guess now my big question is to Professor Young, if I want to make a difference in this fearful, racist world, do I, instead of passing by, engage in conversation with these men? Like, I really want to know their take on the world. Should I just ask?

– Cathy Reinking YourItFactor.net

Writer, Casting Director, Closet Activist Who Wants to Do More