Sarasota Herald Tribune: Underrepresented Voices

Published Sarasota Herald Tribune, March 8th, 2024.

E. Scott Osborne March 8 Herald Tribune Guest Column

I worry about media representation. And I worry about whose stories are told.

Think for a moment about the media in your life. If you’re like the average American, you consume over 13 hours of media per day.

That media shapes us profoundly. The information and images and voices it offers up, subtly and not so subtly, help create who we are: the careers we aspire to, the people we may choose to marry, the clothes we wear, the way we talk and shop and socialize and travel and invest. And media forms our opinions about others!

If the only portrayal of a single mother you ever see is that of a young Spanish-speaking woman or the only expert economist you ever hear on the news is a middle-aged white man or the only images you see of Africa show half-naked rural people with cattle, don’t you think that will affect you? Of course it will. And it does.

Since the media affects our lives and our worldviews so much, we need to care about who makes this media, whose stories are told, and how all our stories are portrayed. Diverse film and media are some of the best ways we can get some glimpses into the lives of our fellow humans. To empathize with others, we do need to hear from them – in their own words.

To understand the world, I need to see not only those cattle-rearing Masai in Kenya but the gleaming skyscrapers of Lagos and Nairobi, not only the images of men at war but also the images of women caring for children, not only the lives of Israelis but also the lives of Palestinians.

So you should know that the overwhelming majority of mass media is made by men, especially white men. Virtually all (ok, 98%) of Academy Award Best Director nominations are for men, men speak seven times more than women in advertising, and 82% of writers for film are male. Women get only a third of screen time and make up only 14% of cinematographers.

I could go on. That’s not very equal media representation for half the population.

And I want my story and the stories of other women to be heard. I have been a lawyer, a teacher, a pregnant teen, a Peace Corps Volunteer. My friends and I have compromised our careers so our husbands could fulfill their own aspirations; we have cared for our children and our parents. We have watched our daughters play sports and wondered what our lives might have been like in another era, one already blessed with the fruits of Title IX.

These voices matter too.

So every March, I run a film festival specializing in underrepresented voices. Our film festival shows films made by filmmakers from all over the world – Iraq, Israel, Afghanistan, England, Brazil, India, Germany, and Sweden, (to name just some of the 17 nations represented this year).

We show films by Emerging Filmmakers – new talents 30 and under. We show films by and about the LGBTQ community. And especially, we show films by and about women. Because even today, notwithstanding the popularity of a few hit films like Barbie, women’s experiences are grossly underrepresented. Women may be half the population, but their perspective certainly does not get half the airtime, in any media.

If we want to live fully in the world, understanding it, appreciating it, and having empathy for the variety of people around us, we need to have a few insights into other people, people not like us. We all walk only in our own shoes, after all, but from time to time I do want to borrow someone else’s slippers and try them on.  Perhaps you do as well?

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