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Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps

A New Form of Representation or Depictions as Usual?


Adria Y. Goldman and Damion Waymer

Black Women in Reality Television Docusoaps explores representations of Black women in one of the most powerful, popular forms of reality television – the docusoap. Viewers, critics, and researchers have taken issue with what they consider to be unflattering, one-dimensional representations. This book discusses images of Black women in reality television during the 2011 viewing year, when much criticism arose. These findings provide a context for a more recent examination of reality television portrayals during 2014, following many reality stars’ promises to offer new representations. The authors discuss the types of images shown, potential readings of such portrayals, and the implication of these reality television docusoap presentations. The book will be useful for courses examining topics such as popular culture; mass media and society; women’s studies; race and media; sex and gender; media studies; African American issues in mass communication; and gender, race and representation, as well as other graduate-level classes.
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Chapter 1. Black Women’s Mediated Depictions: An Overview




In June of 1939, Ethel Waters became one of the first Black people to appear on the then-new medium of television. Her role was that of a warm-hearted maid. This was a significant milestone for Black people; however, more than three decades following Ethel Waters’ first appearance on television, Black people’s roles on television were still mostly as dedicated domestic workers or unruly savages who were intellectually inferior to White Americans (Gray, 2008; Holtzman & Sharpe, 2004; Smith-Shomade, 2002; Wilson, Gutierrez, & Chao, 2003). These negative, limiting depictions manifested themselves in different forms—especially when depicting Black women. For the purpose of clarity, a brief history of Black women’s mediated depictions is provided to ground and situate our current study. After the brief history, we discuss our rationale for discussing Black women’s mediated depictions in docusoaps.

Black Women in Media

Black women are considered a “double minority” (Smith-Shomade, 2002, p. 31). More specifically, White (1999) argued that “the uniqueness of the African-American female’s situation is that she stands at the crossroads of two of the most well-developed ideologies in America, that regarding women ← 27 | 28 → and that regarding the Negro” (p. 27). As a result, Black women have faced and continue to face discrimination and inequality because of their perceived inferiority to both White Americans and men (Byerly, 2007; Collins, 2005; Littlefield, 2008). These ideological implications are only magnified in the realm of entertainment media...

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