Growing up, I didn't have the life of the stereotypical black girl in the movies. I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to a predominately white school and church. I remember during my elementary and middle school years, I was always the girl who stood out compared to the rest of my class. I would get made fun of for having a different body shape or asked questions about my natural nappy hair. Don’t even get me started on the Africa jokes, to be honest I really never let it get to me, but I always wondered why I didn't have the long luscious hair the girl next to me had or why some teachers had a different attitude towards me than they did towards the other kids.
In middle school, it really bothered me that the teachers barely covered any type of black history and if they did it was the repeated story of Slavery, Rosa Parks, and MLK every year. Yes those are extremely important people and events, but we needed to go deeper. When I say black history, I mean African Americans that contributed and continue to contribute to how our country’s culture is today; African American writers, entrepreneurs, and musicians. I felt like African Americans as a whole were being ignored, like no one cared about the SUCCESS we had achieved. The tendency was to focus on the hardships and challenge, which is critical, but I personally needed to see the success highlighted. Especially when it came to movies, African Americans always seemed to have the smaller parts, never the main character. If they were big in movies, they would always be the stereotypical black person: loud, ghetto, and or from the hood. According to an article wrote by Julia M Bristor, "Many researchers argue that media portrayals of minorities tend to reflect whites' attitudes toward minorities and, therefore, reveal more about whites themselves than about the varied and lived experiences of minorities". Next time you watch a movie; think about it and take note.
2018 was a big year for African American actors and movies like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Get Out, The Hate U Give, and award winning Black Panther, that had everyone amazed. All of those movies had something in common, they all had African Americans as the lead cast. This was beneficial for the African American community; It showed society that we are more than just the random angry or sassy black person in the background of movies. Black Panther especially, showed that we are powerful, unique, and came from riches. Movies like The Help (2011), 12 Years A Slave (2013), and The Hate U Give (2018), covered past and present societal issues that people may feel uncomfortable to address.
A movie that really struck me personally was Black Panther. This movie included one of my favorite actors, Lupita Nyong'o, who happens to be Kenyan like me. I probably watched it a good three or four times in the theaters. The women characters were so bold and confident with their shaved heads and beautiful clothing. I’ve always loved being black, but moments like these had me so happy to be who I am. Looking back, I wish movies like this came out when I was younger, because I would’ve had more role models who looked like me and it would’ve taught me what I know now; to never underestimate myself no matter the stereotypes and to be proud of where I came from.
Vanessa Leftwich is a High School Sophomore and an active member of the Black Student Union at her High School.