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The United States is experiencing a mental health crisis! Suicide rates among men are frighteningly high, and in tandem with high rates of self harm and elimination, research at the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles indicates stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBT people, such as major depressive disorder. This can lead to self-destructive habits like binge-drinking. In an article titled, “Media Representation, Perception and Stigmatisation of Race, Sexuality and HIV among Young Black Gay and Bisexual Men,” researchers Gregory Sallaback et. al firmly articulate that media has a profound influence on shaping societal narratives and influencing public perceptions; the narratives it propagates can shape assumptions and beliefs, often reinforcing stereotypes and stigmas. This impact is particularly significant for marginalized groups, such as Black gay and bisexual men, whose representation in media is not only scarce but frequently marred by stereotypical portrayals. This lack of nuanced and positive representation perpetuates social stigmas, contributing to broader societal issues like discrimination against and health disparities within the LGBTQ community.


Media's Influence on Beliefs and Stigmas

“Media creates and propagates narratives that influence assumptions and beliefs—including false or stigmatizing beliefs.” Media plays a crucial role in constructing social reality, influencing how different groups are perceived and treated. For Black gay and bisexual men, the media often fails to capture the complexity of their identities, reducing them to simplistic and harmful stereotypes. These representations can shape public perception, leading to the reinforcement of existing prejudices and the creation of new forms of stigma.


Scarcity of Positive Representation

The media's failure to provide diverse and positive representations of Black gay and bisexual men is a significant issue. “Media representations of Black gay and bisexual men are scarce and the few representations that do exist may perpetuate and amplify stigma due to stereotypical representations.” The scarcity of positive representation means that when these individuals do appear in media, they are often depicted in ways that reinforce negative stereotypes. This lack of representation not only marginalizes these individuals but also denies them role models and narratives that reflect their real-life experiences. Scarcity of positive representation further marginalizes and intends to limit the very quality of life lived and experienced by gay men.


Stereotypes and Tropes: Analyzing Impact

Media representations of LGBTQ characters often fall into harmful stereotypes and tropes. Some of the most common and damaging tropes include the “tragic gay” trope, the “bury your gays” trope, and the “gay best friend” trope.

The “Tragic Gay” Trope, for example, depicts LGBTQ characters as destined for suffering and unhappiness, reinforcing the notion that their lives are inherently tragic. This portrayal can have detrimental effects on the mental health and self-esteem of LGBTQ individuals by suggesting that happiness and fulfillment are unattainable for them. Additionally, the “Bury Your Gays” Trope involves the disproportionate and violent killing off of LGBTQ characters in media. “Bury Your Gays” perpetuates the idea that LGBTQ lives are expendable but also robs the community of positive and enduring representation. It sends a message that LGBTQ characters are not meant to have lasting, happy endings. Lastly, the “Gay Best Friend” trope often relegates LGBTQ characters to the secondary, supporting role–this trope ultimately results in one-dimensional sidekicks whose primary functions assist the heterosexual protagonist. This trope diminishes the complexity of LGBTQ individuals and characters, reducing them to mere accessories in the lives of straight characters while denying them their own narrative depth. All in all, the great utilization and overwhelming consistency of these tropes reinforces the dehumanization of LGBTQ audiences and people through regressive, stagnant, and one-dimensional media roles.

The stereotypes perpetuated by the media have significant political and social implications. They contribute to the marginalization and discrimination of LGBTQ individuals, influencing everything from social interactions to policy decisions. For instance, the negative portrayal of Black gay and bisexual men can exacerbate social stigmas that contribute to disparities in healthcare, such as access to HIV prevention and treatment services.

“Participants advocated for increasingly diverse representations of race and sexuality and efforts to challenge media stereotypes and social perceptions of Black identities and gay Black identities.” Diverse and accurate representations are crucial for challenging these harmful stereotypes and fostering a more inclusive society. Media creators have a responsibility to ensure that their portrayals are reflective of the true diversity and complexity of LGBTQ individuals.

All in all, the great utilization and overwhelming consistency of these tropes reinforces the dehumanization of LGBTQ audiences through regressive, stagnant, and one-dimensional media roles. Moreover, however, the intended audiences of these misrepresentations are demanding more and demanding better.


Conclusion: Social Media's Dual Role Demands Intentional Representation

Social media, as a pervasive component of modern life, plays a dual role in this dynamic. "As a component of the social environment and primary source of information, social media can amplify portrayals of young Black gay and bisexual men that may perpetuate racist, homophobic, and transphobic tropes and messaging, contributing to discrimination and HIV disparities.” On one hand, social media can spread harmful stereotypes and misinformation rapidly. On the other hand, it offers a platform for marginalized communities to share their stories, challenge stereotypes, and connect with others who share similar experiences.


Urgently, filmmakers, producers, and executives must become more active and intentional in their portrayal of gay characters and storylines. Stereotypical representations in media reinforce social stigmas against the LGBTQ community, leading to real-world consequences such as discrimination and health disparities. By committing to more diverse and nuanced representations, media creators can play a pivotal role in challenging these stigmas and fostering a more inclusive society. It is through intentional and positive representation that the media can begin to dismantle the harmful narratives that have long marginalized LGBTQ individuals, particularly those who are also members of racial minorities.


References
  1. Christy Mallory, Taylor N.T. Brown, Susan Freeman, Brad Sears. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/impact-lgbt-discrimination-mi/.

  2. Gregory Sallabank, Natalie A. Blackburn, Megan Threats, Deren V. Pulley, Megan C. Barry, Sara LeGrand, Gary W. Harper, José A. Bauermeister, Lisa B. Hightow-Weidman, & Kathryn E. Muessig. (2022). Media representation, perception and stigmatisation of race, sexuality and HIV among young black gay and bisexual men. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 24(12), 1729-1743. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2021.2008506.



In the heart of darkness that was the Middle Passage during the Atlantic Slave Trade, it pains me to imagine the terror that gripped the souls of those Africans, torn from their homes, thrust into the merciless clutches of a systematically-enforced slave trade. In his groundbreaking article, “Slavery, Reparations, and the Mythic March of Freedom,” political scientist and humanitarian, Walter Johnson, argues that the Western world’s hegemonic power enabled states like the U.S., European countries, and several others to capitalize the endless capacities of their own violence, as well as the vulnerability of African peoples. To enslaved Africans, this harrowing odyssey was not merely a journey—it was a plunge into the unfathomable depths of despair. 


Stephanie Smallwood, a scholar of history, reveals that for many enslaved people, the Middle Passage was never a midpoint–the harrowing journey was but an endless expanse of timelessness (qtd. Johnson). The creaking timbers of slave ships echoed with the agonized moans of the damned, the fetid stench of death hung heavy in the air. In this netherworld, there were no no milestones to mark the passage of time. Instead, each moment became an eternity, measured not in days or weeks but in the slow erosion of flesh and spirit. African peoples clung desperately to shreds of their humanity, their very identities and cultural histories slipping through their fingers like grains of sand. The institution of slavery in the United States forced African people to act as vessels of torment, labor, and utility for the behest of white slave masters—a living testament to the grotesque cruelty of the United States government, who, to the very present, has yet to acknowledge faithfully, systematically, or meaningfully, the extent and profitability of their own brutality, or contribute or any meaningful resolutions to the political debate surround reparations for African Americans.


When discussing the idea of reparations as a political concept in the United States, it’s important to note that American law was not, nor is, equally applied to all citizens. Ironically enough, this democracy resembles something closer to an oligarchic-like republic. In the United States, wealthy politicians take advantage of the systemic power imbalances that are incurred within our government specifically because the United States does not function as a proper, true, or perfect democracy–nor has it ever. Historically, the United States has not applied the law equally to all citizens, and a particularly frustrating instance of this lies in the inequivalent distribution of reparations from the state, during the Reconstruction Era.

The historical injustices that occurred throughout, and to maintain, the African Slave Trade resulted in deeply intertwined economies (imperialism and colonialism), intergenerational trauma, According to humanitarian advocate and political scientist Walter Johnson, African Americans are long overdue reparations for the intense brutality of The Middle Passage. Johnson underscores the brutal reality of the transatlantic slave trade, emphasizing the vast scale of suffering endured over four centuries by twelve million enslaved individuals.

Moreover, by describing the triangular trade that linked European merchants, African slaves, and American planters, the passage highlights the economic foundations of slavery. It suggests that the wealth accumulated through the exploitation of enslaved labor contributed significantly to the development of European and American economies. Reparations can be framed as a means to acknowledge and rectify the economic disparities perpetuated by centuries of slavery and exploitation.




Further, the institution of chattel slavery established that the social class and categorization of “slave,”--here, interchangeable with the idea of property–would be passed down from parent to child, ensuring to entrap African people in an eternal state of servitude. For many, the Middle Passage represented a journey into a void devoid of any narrative markers or sense of time. This highlights the intergenerational trauma passed down to descendants of enslaved Africans, who continue to grapple with the legacy of slavery in their communities. Reparations can be seen as a way to address this ongoing trauma and provide resources for healing and reconciliation.


By emphasizing the enduring impact of the transatlantic slave trade, Johnson argues that the consequences of this historical injustice extend far beyond the abolition of slavery. It suggests that the descendants of enslaved Africans continue to face systemic barriers and inequalities rooted in centuries of exploitation and oppression. Reparations can be framed as a means to address these entrenched inequalities and promote racial justice and equality.

The African Slave Trade was systemically facilitated by the same brutal, cruel government we recognize as the United States. In his article, Johnson sheds light on the staggering amount of death that was experienced and mourned across the entire continent of Africa–all 54 countries. The death toll suffered by Africans was felt prior to arriving at death work camps; slaves endured utter “misery” and extreme dehumanization while held hostage on their forced journeys (Johnson 44). Because African women were forced primarily into the trans-Sahara and Indian Ocean Slave Trades, and because enslaved African men were  predominantly sold into the American Slave Trade, women in the trans-Saharan and Indian Ocean trades outnumbered men two to one; while, in the Americas, the ratio was reversed. A very intentional result of this comes about with an observed, complete absence of population growth on the entire continent of Africa, during the eighteenth century.

 This geographical, social, economic, political, governmental, and reality-changing upheaval, accompanied inherently by mass violence and murder, had profound and long-lasting consequences for African communities, including psychological trauma inflicted upon enslaved individuals. More modernly, the effects of enslavement contribute to issues in African American communities, relating to social disintegration and economic stagnation. Reparations can be seen as a means to address the devastating impact of the slave trade on African populations and support efforts towards community regeneration and resilience.


Today, as we navigate the complexities of a modern world still rife with the legacies of white supremacy and imperialism, we must confront the painful truth that the United States government has yet to fully reckon with the atrocities of its past or the ongoing injustices faced by African Americans. The institution of slavery, with its grotesque cruelty and dehumanization, laid the foundation for a society built to service white slave masters and imperialists, perpetuating systemic inequalities and intergenerational trauma. The implementation of slavery was a long, intentional, and calculated process; therefore, the national (and arguably, global,) unlearning of its normalization will include systemic policy that acknowledges the wrongdoings of the state, and offers a significant foundation upon which we the people can begin working at solutions to rectify the past crimes against humanity of the United States. 


In conclusion, the call for reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans in the United States is not simply a matter of historical acknowledgment; it is an urgent imperative for justice and reconciliation. The harrowing legacy of slavery, compounded by centuries of systematic disenfranchisement and oppression, continues to cast a long shadow over African American communities, shaping every aspect of their existence. As we reflect on the profound suffering endured by countless individuals during the transatlantic slave trade and the subsequent eras of legalized discrimination under Jim Crow, we cannot turn a blind eye to the ongoing injustices faced by African Americans today. The United States, a nation founded on principles of equality and justice, has failed to live up to these ideals, perpetuating systemic inequalities that continue to disproportionately affect Black communities.


Reparations are not a new concept in the United States, but their application has been inconsistent and any programming resembling something of the sort is frequently, painfully insufficient. Throughout the Reconstruction Era, the United States government ushered reparations into the pockets of already-exceedingly wealthy slave owners to account for the lost property. It is time for a paradigm shift—a recognition that the effects of slavery and institutionalized racism are deeply entrenched and require deliberate, targeted action to address. Reparations must be more than symbolic gestures; they must be meaningful, ongoing efforts to address the systemic inequalities that have persisted for generations. Moreover, reparations for African Americans can serve as a catalyst for broader social and economic justice. By investing in predominantly Black and underserved neighborhoods, we can begin to build communal wealth and create opportunities for generations to come. Furthermore, reparations have the potential to expand beyond national borders, acknowledging the interconnectedness of global systems of oppression and offering restitution to victims of imperialism and colonialism worldwide.


In calling for reparations, I urge you all to think about the significance of legacy–the wealth we leave for our children, the lessons we are taught by our forefathers. By examining and attempting to correct a legacy of violence, suffering, exploitation, and theft–of life, of time, of culture, and so many other aspects of life–the call for reparations is a call for justice, equity, and solidarity. It is a recognition of the shared humanity and interconnected struggles of oppressed peoples around the world. As we confront the legacies of our past, let us also envision a future where reparations pave the way for a more just and equitable society for all. 


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Sources Cited

Johnson, Walter. “Slavery, Reparations, and the Mythic March of ... - Scholars At ...” Www.Scholar.Harvard.Edu, scholar.harvard.edu/files/wjohnson/files/slavery_reparations_and_the_mythic_march_of_freedom_raritan_2007.pdf. Accessed 21 Feb. 2024.


Adams, Michael. "The Sable Venus on the Middle Passage: Images of the Transatlantic Slave Trade." http://www.jungnewyork.com/venus.shtml. Accessed 29 Feb 2024.

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Actors and writers have long been the torchbearers of powerful storytelling and artistic expression in the entertainment industry. These artists use their talents to ignite conversations, challenge societal norms, and inspire change. Many on the front lines of the strike are artivists, merging their art with activism. This strike has shaken the foundation of the creative industry, leaving many to contemplate on the impact of the strike on their craft with the looming shadow of Artificial Intelligence (AI). A new dawn is rising over the entertainment industry marked by the call for change by artivists raising their voices on the picket line. This pivotal moment is about more than fair wages and working conditions it is also about the evolution of their craft.


The Call for Fairness and Creativity

The SAG/WGA strike represents a turning point in the entertainment industry. This strike is a result of the artists (writers, actors) desire for fair compensation and creative autonomy. It presents an opportunity for artivists to reclaim their creative power and to be compensated fairly. Many actors, and writers contend that the relentless pursuit for profit has overshadowed the true essence of storytelling leaving little room for their authentic voices. As a result Artivists from both guilds are demanding fair compensation from the profits being made by the big studios and streamers, and the right to shape their stories with artistic integrity. They came together, united in advocating for a future where their craft is respected, valued and protected.

While the strike has disrupted business as usual and the livelihood of many talented artists has been adversely impacted, they have faced the challenges, knowing their efforts are not just for themselves but for the betterment of the entire entertainment community. This is a call to reevaluate priorities and prioritize artistic integrity over commercial success.


AI and Its Impact on the future of storytelling

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology poses both challenges and opportunities for artivists. The rapid advancement of AI has created the capacity to generate scripts, manipulate footage, and even create lifelike virtual actors. While AI may be remarkable in its ability to streamline the creative process and generate innovative ideas, it raises concerns around the potential loss of the human touch in storytelling. Some worry AI driven content may overshadow the soul of storytelling, and that a homogenized and more formulaic approach to storytelling lacking human emotions and perspective will emerge. Others see the technology as an ally enabling more efficiency and aiding writers and director to bring their vision to life more effectively.


The Human Connection

The heart of storytelling is it’s ability to create profound human connections through the art of performance and the written word. There is no algorithm that can replace the raw emotions and depth infused into characters by actors or the nuanced storytelling weaved into scripts by writers. While AI can be used to streamline certain aspects of production, it will not be able to replicate the soul and essence that makes art transformative.


Unity in the Face of Change

Artivists recognize that new technology is important to innovation, and that AI should be embraced as a tool rather than a threat. They are just advocating for more balanced approach that values innovation and safeguards the nature of their craft as well. Combining the power of technology with the unique voices of artists sharing their human experiences, can create groundbreaking narratives that resonate deeply. The hope is that blending art and technology, will bring about an artistic renaissance rather than erode its foundations. The SAG and WGA artists are finding strength in their shared passion for storytelling and activism, standing together, determined to preserve the very essence of their craft and learn how to adapt to the evolving landscape. This strike has ignited a spirit of collaboration and resilience among the the artists and we only hope the unions, and the studios will honor the spirit of collaboration ignited in this moment.


A Call for Artistic Evolution

The SAG/WGA strike opened our eye to the importance banding together, not just for their own individual rights but for the future of the industry itself. As AI becomes more prevalent, artists will play an all important role in guiding its ethical use and keep a tight rein on its potential to replace rather than enhance their art. The hope is the studios will now be mindful of the potential impact AI can have on storytelling and will nurture an environment that fosters creativity, diversity, and inclusivity.


The artivists on the picket lines are marching forward, they carry the torch of their craft with unwavering determination, ready to adapt, evolve, and continue inspiring change through the timeless power of storytelling. They recognize that this strike is not just a battle for contracts and compensation, it is a movement to preserve artistry in the age of AI, a cry to reclaim creative power, and make a lasting impact on the art form they are passionate about. There is no doubt that the rise of AI presents many opportunities, but it also presents many challenges, that should not be ignored.


Conclusion

It is my belief that at the heart of storytelling is human connections emotion and passion and it is my hope that as the studios and the unions negotiate and discuss how they see the entertainment industry evolving, that they will preserve the essence of the actors and writers artistry with the same vigor they embrace innovation. I hope they have the foresight to recognize that this is a pivotal moment which marks a call to the empowerment of artists in the age of AI where if implemented correctly the marriage of creativity and technology can lead to new heights of cinematic expression.


The SAG/WGA strike is more than a quest for fair compensation; it is a rallying cry for artivists to reclaim their creative power and make a lasting impact on the art form they are devoted to. The rise of AI technology presents both challenges and opportunities, however, artivists remain steadfast in their belief that human connection, emotion, and passion will always be the heart of storytelling and cannot be replaced. As the entertainment industry evolves, the hope is, the powers that be will embrace innovation while preserving the essence of artistry.


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