By Phyllis Armstrong
“It feels amazing to be recognized for work that I love to do, and that is celebrating multicultural America,” says Vanessa K. DeLuca. The former editor-in-chief of ESSENCE Magazine is a strong believer in the power of journalism to transform lives when it fairly represents people of different colors and cultures. “That’s what I live for. It’s not so much about the glitz and glamour of the job. It’s more about making sure that these voices are supported and elevated.”
The co-founder and president of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association sees the mission of moving the needle on diversity in news and entertainment as more challenging than ever before. “In my mind, it is a crisis. I believe there is an economic, social and political crisis that has been created by the lack of [diversity in the] media,” says David Morgan. He points to the Kerner Commission Report released 50 years ago that emphasized the impact the lack of media diversity had on social discord. He now sees a worsening picture for a nation with a 40 percent minority population. “Civic engagement is so tied to a vibrant local media. What we’re seeing is the whittling away of all those small, independent media that are so important.”
The association’s leaders and the honorees called for greater representation of African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and other minorities in media executive offices and boardrooms. “In 2042, we’re going to a majority-minority country. We need to make sure that the people in power in news media are diverse. It’s really important,” says Soledad O’Brien, CEO of Starfish Media Group Television.
As a former CNN news anchor, O’Brien has seen and heard it all when it comes to media decision makers underestimating the interest viewers have in seeing multicultural programming. As a producer of highly acclaimed documentaries, O’Brien says ratings prove audiences are open to learning about other races and cultures. “I actually think there is a tremendous interest in exploring lots of different stories and people’s lives that may not be immediately evident to all of us.”
O’Brien’s opinion about diverse, high-quality content has been demonstrated most recently by the $1.34 billion the movie “Black Panther” has made so far at the box office worldwide. However, she and other honorees at the MMCA event stress the importance of minorities having an ownership stake in television, radio, movies and digital media.
“They think they’re doing a great job in corporate America with diversity because they have some black folks out front,” says honoree Cathy Hughes, founder and chair of Urban One. “The people who are really important are the people who make the final decisions on whether or not you continue to get that paycheck; whether or not you are depicted as less than you really are.” Hughes was interviewed on Facebook Live by Morgan, MMCA’s co-founder and president. She called for those in minority communities to support businesses owned by blacks, Latinos, Asians and other people of color.
MMCA and its supporters are also pushing for Congress to recognize May 2018 as “National Media Diversity Month.” U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced Resolution 518 a few days before the awards dinner. It calls for reaffirming support for increased media diversity and encourages appreciation, awareness, and backing for independent, diverse, and local media entities.
Heller and U.S. Congresswoman Judy Chu (CA-12) received awards from MMCA for standing up for the need to have minorities fairly represented in the news and entertainment marketplace. “There are just too many stories to tell and too many people that need to hear them,” says Chu. She reminded the audience that the last U.S. movie made featuring a mostly Asian cast was “Joy Luck Club” released in 1993. A film based on the best-selling novel, “Crazy Rich Asians,” is scheduled to hit movie theaters in August of this year.
Go to MMCA’s website for more information about the organization’s mission and getting involved in the media diversity challenge. You can also follow MMCA on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo credit: Phyllis Armstrong