Still from 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.' Photo by Ilze Kitshoff, courtesy of Sundance Institute.

The 'Africa In the Media' Study Shows How Africans are Misrepresented in American Television

The new report from the Africa Narrative Project found that Africans are still grossly underrepresented in American television programming.

What does it mean for Africans to be fully and truly represented in the media? For many folks of African decent that question remains painfully unanswered.

An extensive new report from the Africa Narrative project, from the University of Southern California's Norman Lear Center, seeks to provide understanding around the current state of African representation in US media, and identify ways to ensure a "richer telling of Africa's story."

The groups' "Africa in the Media" report is a thorough and timely study that confirms a lack of meaningful storytelling in television news and entertainment, which reflect the ways many Africans see themselves. Their findings show that Africa continues to be both underrepresented and misrepresented in the American media landscape.


For the report, a group of researchers analyzed over 700,000 hours of programming, as well as a whopping 1.6 million tweets related to the African continent and its people. They found that despite the appearance of progress—with major motion pictures such as Black Panther rocking the film industry—there is still a long way to go to in ensuring that Africa is portrayed in the media in a way that is reflective of reality.

The study revealed several concerning details about Africa's presence in the media. According to the report, television viewers are seven times more likely to hear references to Europe than to Africa, and when Africa is mentioned, it is only done so in a positive light 14 percent of the time. Narratives centered on Africans are commonly centered on trauma and crime.

African actors are also generally reduced to minor roles on television, even when a story line is primarily focused on Africa, and on top of that, only 31 percent of African characters on television are women.

Researchers found that diverse country representation is also severely lacking. The study shows that out of the continent's 54 countries, just five nations "grab the bulk of attention" in American television programming. They are: Egypt, South Africa, Kenya, Seychelles, and Congo, which account for 49 percent of all mentions of Africa.

Perhaps more unsettling is that in many television portrayals, Africans are often hyper-sexualized, Johanna Blakley, the Managing Director of the Norman Lear Center, tells OkayAfrica. "We monitored every genre of TV programming, but I focused mostly on entertainment depictions of Africa and I was most unsettled by the way Africa and African people were associated with primal sexuality, says Blakley. "We had created a coding sheet with 32 topics to track: it never occurred to us that these sexual stereotypes would appear so frequently in both dramatic and comedic contexts."

Despite the bleak outlook, the Africa Narrative Project has offered detailed suggestions on how these major discrepancies in African representation can be offset. One way is by "increasing the number of stories that mine the rich and diverse cultures and histories of Africa—including in children's programming—and develop more scripted content that doesn't focus on crime," another is by "collaborating with content creators from Africa and the diaspora."

For Blakely, the report provides accuracy and vital data that can be used to help build stronger, more culturally-minded narratives. "I believe that it's very difficult to solve a problem unless you can describe it accurately," says Blakely. "With this research, we've provided scholars and activists and storytellers the evidence they need to argue for more and better stories about Africa. We've also set a baseline against which we can measure the progress of initiatives like The Africa Narrative, which will work with educators, advocates, government agencies and the media industry to elevate African stories and storytellers."

There is much work to be done in ensuring that Africans are afforded representation that we can be proud of. Equipping ourselves with information on the current media climate is vital, and the "African in the Media" report is a valuable place to start.

If you'd like to learn more about how Africans are depicted in mass media, read the full report here.

popular
Still from 'Black Panther'

'Black Panther' Is Headed Back to Theaters for Free Screenings During Black History Month

Wakanda will be back on the big screen next month.

We'll get to experience the magic of Black Panther on the big screen once again this February, as the film is headed back to theaters in celebration of Black History month.

Disney announced on Monday, that the groundbreaking, Ryan Coogler-directed movie will head to select AMC theaters for one week starting on Feb 1. What's even better, is that tickets for the showings will come at no cost.

That's correct, tickets are free.99.

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

'Black Panther' Wins 'Best Film' at African American Film Critics Association Awards

Awards season is off to a great start for the history-making film.

Awards season is underway, and things are already beginning to look up for Black Panther.

The record-shattering film picked up three awards at the African American Film Critics Association Awards (AAFCA)—the largest association of professional black film critics.

It wins include Best Film, Best Director for Ryan Coogler and Best Song for Kendrick Lamar and SZA's "All the Stars," from the Black Panther soundtrack which recently earned a whopping seven Grammy nominations.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rejoice! WhatsApp Places New Restrictions on Chain Messages to Fight Fake News

To combat the spread of misinformation due to the coronavirus outbreak, users are now restricted from sharing frequently forwarded messages to more than one person.

The rise of the novel coronavirus has seen an increase in the spread of fake news across social media sites and platforms, particularly WhatsApp—a platform known as a hotbed for the forwarding of illegitimate chain messages and conspiracy theories (if you have African parents, you're probably familiar). Now the Facebook-owned app is setting in place new measures to try and curb the spread of fake news on its platform.

The app is putting new restrictions on message forwarding which will limit the number of times a frequently forwarded message can be shared. Messages that have been sent through a chain of more than five people can only subsequently be forwarded to one person. "We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful," announced the app in a blog post on Tuesday. "In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers."

Keep reading... Show less
News Brief

Sarkodie Hits Hard With His Latest Single 'Sub Zero'

The Ghanaian heavyweight rapper shows up with the fire bars over an Altra Nova-produced beat.

Sarkodie has dropped a new aggressive track in the shape of "Sub Zero."

"Sub Zero" follows the star Ghanaian rapper as he throws back criticisms that have come his way from other rappers with his own ice cold flow. The new track was produced by Ghanaian beatmaker Altra Nova and mixed by PEE On Da BeaT.

"Sub Zero" follows Sarkodie's turn-up single "Bumper," which dropped bak in February.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.