Avent: Positive Media Images of Minorities Need Reinforcing

Says community can help by role modeling; investors, advertisers by overcoming bias
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Soul of the South CEO Edward Avent said that his multicast broadcast network does African American-targeted news and political talk and portrays a positive image of the African American community, but that it needs that community to watch, tweet and tell everyone, including advertisers, that they are interested in that positive image.

Avent was a panelist at a Minority Media & Telecommunications Council Access To Capital Conference session on "the Impact of Media Images on Investment in Communities of Color." 

He was asked about advice to help improve that media image, which he conceded in the case of black men was frequently negative — low-slung pants and a gun rather than a brief case. Avent said that community itself had to be role models. "We have to pull up our pants. It is on us to keep educating, keep mentoring and keep role modeling so they know what good looks like." He said having a tat on your neck or knuckles is not the way to get a job and support a family. He says he tells his kids no earrings or tattoos or braids so they don't "get caught up" in the stereotypical imagery.

Avent said it has been tough to pitch his channel and that he has to overcome vestiges of bias among advertisers and investors.

TV One executive Maureen Guthman said the key to media representations should be "authenticity."

She said one show that represents that is Orange Is the New Black. She pointed out that none of the African American or Latino or white women in the show were "ordinary." They were all different people with different backgrounds, and that rings true. "Life is this tossed salad of people and experiences," she said. "That is what people respond to. And we respond to that, advertisers will, too."

Both John Gibson from the Motion Picture Association of America and Jason Lagria from Asian Americans Advancing Justice think the media are starting to get the message that diversity is good business, not just good social policy.

Gibson pointed out that last year was the year of black films — 20 of them, 13 from major studios — including Belle, from Fox searchlight, which starred a black woman, was directed by a black woman and was written about a black woman based on the true story of a black woman. He said one way to improve the media image of people of color was to support movies like that "en masse." He said more such films would be coming down the pike.

Lagria said he took note of the commercials in the last Super Bowl. One had different people singing the National Anthem ("America the Beautiful," actually) in different languages, the other was a Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial family.

He said businesses are starting to understand that diversity sells. He pointed to a study that showed that the more diverse characters there were in a show, the higher the audience, that that there was a "sweet spot" of diversity that made business sense.

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