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By Carlena Knight

Daryll Matthew, the Minister of National Festivals, Culture and the Arts is calling for local playwrights and those in mainstream media to change the negative portrayal of black men.

Matthew, who was speaking on the popular social media site Facebook, was commenting on the latest shooting incident in the US of a black man.

On Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin, officers responding to a domestic disturbance shot a man who was later identified as Jacob Blake in the back seven times as he tried to enter his vehicle with his three sons in the backseat.

Blake who survived the incident is said to be paralysed and reports are that he may never walk again.

Video of the incident was distributed on social media, and the shocking footage has prompted protests in that state as well as boycotts from NBA teams like the Milwaukee Bucks.

With many protests and boycotts demanding change in government policies and police reform, Matthew who condemned the action of the law enforcement officials, pinpointed another avenue that needs to be changed – mainstream media.

He believes that in order for change to occur mainstream media’s portrayal of the black man needs to be addressed. He says that the constant portrayal of black men as violent and dangerous individuals plays on the mind of society over time.

“Think about it for a second and look at the role that many black characters have in most of our favourite movies,” he said. “The black character (mainly a man) is the one who will betray someone, the one that is aggressively violent, the one who abandons his children and has the multiple baby-mamas, the one that will compromise his principles. The non-black characters very often end up the problem-solvers, the strategists, the good guys saving the world, the awesome cop. 

“Hollywood has successfully created an image of the black man as a dangerous, deadly, irresponsible, unprincipled person to be feared, and so when confronted by the police, ‘protective action’ may have to be taken,” he said.

He further highlighted that this same approach is being taken here locally, and he is calling for a change to be made in breaking that cycle.

“My question is, are we in Antigua and Barbuda any different in the way we portray our black men? Several months ago, I commented that many of our playwrights have a responsibility to portray our men in a more positive light and I was raked over the coals. 

“But why must it always be a story of baby-mama drama, a domestic violence scene, a man who can’t or won’t take care of his family? I understand that these negative stories are very real in our society, but have we no positive stories to tell of our black men?

“When we continue to portray our black men with this negative stigma what do we expect the result to be, and what are we inoculating in the minds of our people?” he continued.

“Let us in Antigua and Barbuda do our small part and begin to portray our black men differently, let us tell more positive stories of our black men, let us discourage each other from thinking and behaving that black men are somehow worse than everyone else.”

But one local playwright and theatre arts teacher at Antigua Girls High School, Zahra Airall, believes that in order for true change to be made, there must be a more holistic approach as the media only portrays what is around them and what they have experienced.  

She is of the opinion that it is up to society itself, moreso individuals to exude that positive outlook and begin to change the environment around them. She believes it is only then that true change can occur and a change would be seen in entertainment, as most times playwrights only speak on what they experience or have seen around them.

“In terms of changing the narrative, those of us that are advocates for positive social change will change the narrative when they change the narrative,” she remarked.

“So, it is for persons like the good minister and other men to change the narrative. The power is not necessarily in the hand of the writer but in each and every person in this society to become an active participant in changing the narrative when it comes to any negative perception of men.

“What should be of great concern is that when we see a continued trend of these types of stories the concern should be that this is what is happening to our people, to our children, to our men right now, because if there are more examples of great men and women out there, then the narrative will reflect that.”

Airall continued, “Some persons are easily offended because it mirrors their own lives, and not everyone can look at their sins in the mirror.

“At the Drama Festival this year, he and I discussed this somewhat, and the question was posed to some students in their viva voce and I could not have been more proud of the responses of those students from Sir Novelle Richards. They said, and I am paraphrasing here, that we continue to see these stories because it is happening to them in their homes and to their friends,” she added.

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