By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — News media outlets across the country continually project images of black males in police mug shots or committing a criminal act.
In an effort to change that perception, the National Association of Black Journalists recently launched a nationwide Black Male Media Project initiative whose goal is to help change the narrative that depicts the lives and images of black men in the news and in society.
To further that effort, the Black Journalists Association of Southern California (BJASC) held an “Images of Black Men in Media” on June 2 at the Screen Actors Guild headquarters.
Participants included entertainment and media personalities “Queer Eye” host Karamu Brown, “Access” West Coast correspondent Scott Evans, actor and comedian Lil’ Rel Howery and TMZ producer Van Lathan. The discussion was moderated by BJASC Vice President Jarrett Hill.
Participants noted that the availability of cutting edge technology currently on the market has made it easier for aspiring writers, filmmakers and directors who desire to create positive images of black males to pursue that goal.
“This is a unique period of time upon us,” Evans said. “Yes, there’s a welcoming to the table for African Americans, specifically for black males, but no one is going to save us. It is our responsibility to show who we are. If you have a YouTube channel, you can craft your own stories — you don’t have to wait for doors to open.”
“We need to create platforms from the top down so that our narratives are controlled by us,” Lathan added. “We need to form a coalition so that we can tell our own stories.”
The panelists agreed that sitting back and waiting to be “discovered” by Hollywood is not a proactive approach.
“The great thing today is that anyone with the desire can direct, produce, star and write their own material,” Howery said. “When I was on “The Carmichael Show,” I was really inspired by Jerrod Carmichael, the show’s star, who was regularly writing scripts.”
Howery, who recently wrote and stars in the new Fox sitcom ‘’Rel,” encouraged audience members to explore positive material about African-American males that could be brought to life on the screen.
“There are so many stories about African-American men that remain untold and so many layers that we could play with,’’ he said.
“I think we should be proud of who we are because we bring culture and relevancy to the table,” Brown said. “We’re not standing for things that happened 12 or 15 years ago and we definitely will not stand for it now.”
Brown said that because his show pushes the envelope by promoting the inclusiveness of gay men in the media, black males that were hesitant to reveal their true sexuality have been emboldened to come forward and reveal the truth.
“There are black males that have contacted me and said, ‘I saw your story and I’m coming out,’” he said.
Evans said that early in his career, he was perplexed by the image the news business wanted him to project.
“I used to live in Greenville, South Carolina, and I was told, ‘We really appreciate the diversity you bring to the table. Continue to bring your perspective to the screen.’ To me, the translation was ‘black it up.’ I had an issue with the fact that I had to be a mascot for blackness. I didn’t want my representation to be the only one on the air.”
During the discussion, a clip of Lathan confronting rapper Kanye West during a recent live TMZ interview was shown where West glibly declared that slavery was a choice. The clip immediately went viral and generated national discussions in the media.
“Kanye expressed his point of view,” said Lathan after the explosive clip was shown to the audience. But Lathan pointed out that celebrities with a public platform need to be more responsible with their words.
“We have to relate messages in an informed way and not ones that come across as sensational,” he said. “I realize that our culture is fascinated with celebrity and that Kanye is a genius musician, but every lane ain’t his. There are people out here working in our community right now who are combating problems every day.”
Lathan, who is known for debunking misconceptions about black men in the news and as the host on his podcast, “The Red Pill,’’ said that his Southern upbringing influences his outspokenness.
“When you go forward in your life as an African American, you realize your experiences come from a lot of pain,’’ said the Louisiana native.
Lathan recalled that as a youth, his grandfather pointed out a local tree where black men had been lynched.
“Our ancestors were survivors who went through a lot of degradation, but it is because of their trials and tribulations that we can draw strength from them today.”
Despite strides made by blacks in Hollywood, Howery observed that many blacks still suffer from the ‘crabs in a barrel’ mentality.
“Black men and women need to celebrate each other,” he said. “I saw a clip of Tracy Morgan talking about our co-star, Tiffany Haddish. I tweeted about the mad disrespect. You open the door for folks and you get mad about it? We need to see more veteran celebrities embrace our fellow actors and actresses who are newly breaking into the industry.”
Brown said he will continue to tell stories that include gay males as well as stories of his heritage.
“I am inspired to share my truth and I walk through this world as a gay man but first as a black man,” Brown said, who said that he is raising two sons. “I support positive images of black males, black women and family. I love me and I love my community and to me, that’s what is most important.”