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Changing Media Portrayal Based on Ethnicity

By Mercedes Aguilar, Daily Sundial, Cal State University Northridge

Two women in the entertainment industry discussed changing portrayal of Jews and African-Americans in television and film in a question and answer forum on Feb. 28. The forum was titled "Grey's Anatomy and Beyond: Images of African Americans and Jews in TV" which was held at the University Student Union Grand Salon.

Linda Shayne, screenwriter and director, and Stacey Matthew, diversity talent consultant for Discovery Studios, were invited by Hillel, Jewish studies and Pan-African studies to bring a closer insight on negative images of both groups in film and television.

It was the first time both women attended CSUN to give a talk on the negative and positive portrayals on African-American and Jews.

"Grey's Anatomy, ER have done a particularly good job of integrating and showing diversity," said Matthew.It wasn't until after an AIDS conference at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, that she realized the impact of images, Matthew said. She decided to start focusing on how to help the images of people of color in the media, she said.

In her new position at Discovery Studios, Matthew has to travel throughout the country to find diverse background experts in a variety of fields that will serve as hosts or co-hosts for their programs, she said. When she started working at Discovery Studios, they had only three people of color in their shows, Matthew said.

Shayne said in her working history it was different to close in on the portrayal of Jewish people. In her film, "Purple People Eater," she included diverse cast members and had Little Richard play the part of the mayor in the film, she said. But when it came to Jewish people, she knew they were part of the industry, as she was too, but realized the portrayal of Jews in film was negative, she said.

Shayne said she started working with MorningStar Commission, which explores how Jewish women are portrayed in media, after a report showed that Jewish women were invisible in media, and when they were there they were portrayed as arrogant and overbearing women.

It's harder because everyone can tell if an African-American or Latino is being portrayed in negative way, but when it comes to Jewish people their religion can be hidden, she said. "Once you open your eyes, the next step is to change those views," Shayne said to the students attending.

One student who has opened his eyes is Terrell Ferguson, a cinema and television arts major. He said he writes stories including diverse groups. Once he went to the Bill Cosby fellowship and took a class on diversity and the media, he started writing, he said.

When he writes, Ferguson doesn't choose a character's role by their ethnicity, he said, but instead on how he visualizes the character's goals. The combination of the two speakers and the event itself came from Nia Taylor, CSUN Hillel program coordinator, who is of Jewish African-American background.

Taylor said her background was one of the reasons why she coordinated the event. Jewish people gave support to the civil rights movement, said Tom Spencer-Walters, and with events like this one, it is giving opportunity for that connection today.