The following is our first of a series of GUEST BLOGS for NEWSONE.COM. If you would like to submit your own guest blog for consideration to be published on NewsOne.com, click here.
Congratulations to Yalanda P. Lattimore!
For more by NewsOne Guest Blogger, Ms. Lattimore, go to www.dryerbuzz.com
We are two months into our new Essence Magazine subscription. Magazines appear to be making a stable comeback after a brief slippery slope that we called The Dog and The Bone Syndrome — where major publications competed with bloggers and amateurs offering free online content. With that, decided to renew our household subscriptions, one being Essence magazine. The daughters are young ladies now and of course I could consider each issue as research.
The first issue to arrive at the house had Jada Pinkett Smith on the cover. The second had Jill Scott. I noticed how each issue came with it’s own little controversy before I could even let air slip into the pages. Jada was denouncing divorce rumors again. Jill Scott defended the murmur about her afro. Really? This is the essence of black women that I’m letting into my house. Is this our conversation? It is. Every day all day.
I grew up with magazines all over the house. Magazines set my imagination on fire. The late John H Johnson, publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines, was always mentor in my head. I keeps his narrated autobiography on my tablet when I wonder about why I do what I do. When Essence magazine came along, I made room in my mind of mentors for Susan L Taylor. Ok so I’m old school.
Being old school brought something to my attention as I browsed through the issues of Essence. Naturally since I love advertising, the ads stuck out more than the articles. One such movie ad (pictured) jumped off the page at me:
My first thought was “why is this woman staring at me?” It was so obvious the ad intended for her to connect to the reader. But wait. This is Essence magazine. The reader looks like the woman who is not making eye contact, which is Viola Davis. At that very moment I remembered a conversation I had with Angela Bassett four years ago about Hollywood (sorry to name drop). Angela Bassett was in Atlanta making an appearance as part of My Black is Beautiful, a touring event to inspire women.
Bassett told me about some of the tricks Hollywood loves to play with movie posters, such as making black actors appear smaller than their counter parts. I guess eye contact is the new thing. But then something else Angela and others said during My Black is Beautiful hit me. You can check out the panel in the link. Question today is why is this resonating with me four years later? Because years later, even with all the changes at Essence magazine, the problems of our image in media are still with us.
I tweeted, instagrammed and facebooked the ad asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” With a comment here and there, a conversation got started somewhat on twitter. There are always those who are quick to say, “don’t rock the boat,” and “let’s just be thankful.” However I am that person to quickly tell them to #gositdown. We are rocking this boat.
Viola Davis was one herself to say in some form or fashion not to rock the boat when women began to rise up about the movie The Help. In fact she told Tavis Smiley “our mindsets are destroying black artists.” Is my mindset destroying these black models because I want them to be able to make eye contact in advertising? Is the photographer telling them to look away black girl? Is the photo editor following a formula?
Davis even asked Smiley if she must always be noble in the choosing her roles. Click the link to watch it as it is a pretty good interview. Explains why some actors are always working and why some rather wait.
Let me say this to Viola Davis: girl they got you in this movie ad in Essence Magazine not making eye contact with your target audience and THAT IS MESSING WITH MY MINDSET. There must be a formula at work here. I’m just saying.
After I became inquisitive about the Won’t Back Down ad, I closed the issue with Jill Scott on the cover, her beauty staring back at me. Then I opened it again and began to flip page by page. Is there a formula at work here? Do black women not make eye contact in advertising? BAM!
There it was ad after ad. In the first ad of the sequence above, the Black woman is in the foreground with no eye contact, but her counterpart is in the background making eye contact with reader. Huh? I grabbed the previous issue with Jada Pinkett on the cover and BAM!
There it was again. Both ad sequences feature an ad with Queen Latifah. She is not making eye contact in either one. Even the little lunchable girls is looking away. I can’t even focus on her product and had to study to see what she was selling. Don’t tell me eye contact does not make a difference because it does. Peep the ads below. Don’t tell me you don’t feel different, pulled into, and engaged with the ads below. These ads were also found in Essence but few and far between.
When I started DryerBuzz, I hit the red carpet as a photographer. I quickly learned what sells and what doesn’t. Becoming a storyteller for African American women and men, quickly cut my invites and DryerBuzz was deemed a black publication. I just couldn’t stand by and watch the industry ignore the beauty in our stories. Today we try to advance towards diversity, but what is diversity when formulas like this exist?
I feel beautiful and connected with the ads above with eye contact. Essence is in no position to rock the boat, but, there must be formula at work here. We know advertising and media discriminates against women, but really? At the same time, are there levels and degrees of discrimination and programming within women? I’m not surprised. I’m just trying to be subtle and act like it is a conspiracy in case some of my readers can’t handle the blatant truth.
When thinking about it, are ads imitating life or programming it? Do we as Black women walk around not making eye contact. We do! Some of us go out of our way not to make eye contact. I know you have heard sisters talking about how some women break their necks to look away and not give a warm greeting. We always talk about how brothers greet each other even as strangers while women carry a scowl.
Since I’m always at networking events, I can tell you this is true. I have seen women park side by side, headed to the same event, and not greet each other. Whatever happened to “you had me at hello.” Oh wait, is that not a black thang?
Used to be, if you walked into a room and saw another woman, you knew you had an ally. Just back from a round of conferences, I can tell you — gone are the days — to some degree. Perhaps women, who will not make eye contact or share a warm greeting, keep their heads so buried in magazines where ads tell them they are secondary instead of primary.
There is a formula at work here. Don’t get it twisted. Given, it might be more business than personal, still it’s messing with our minds. All formulas can be tweaked. Your challenged today and everyday is to make eye contact and warmly greet each other.
I gotta go make some more buzz. But we’ll pick this conversation up in the comments below. Look around, do Black Women make eye contact?
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