As a member of PR Council’s Next Board, I was asked to take over the organization’s monthly vlog post to share perspective relevant to our industry. This month is Black History Month so I jumped at the chance to share my thoughts. Admittedly, it’s been quite nerve-racking to find the right balance of relevant and thought-provoking perspective absent of thoughts that are unintentionally polarizing. And, as a woman of color, there’s also that ever-needling responsibility to be mindful not to deliver a tone that insinuates I speak for everyone within my culture. After much thought, I realized the answer lies in my daily challenge to self: find the unique intersection between mainstream trends and our industry to provoke thought and inspire behavior change.
Trending the last few weeks is Marvel Comic’s movie release of Black Panther. The movie has galvanized mainstream conversation and generated global excitement with people around the world proudly sharing their personal and unique cultural integration on social media. Consumers, critics, influencers and more have jumped at the chance to discuss the significance of this major studio, all-black production. Black excellence is on fleek in this movie and the world is totally here for it!
Even cooler than how the world has rallied for this moment is the emotional, communal pride of black people. Historically, mainstream images and stories about us generally focus on slavery or cast us as “the help” or portray us as angry, violent, misguided, hopeless, fatherless/motherless individuals from poverty-filled, crime-infested neighborhoods who have to rob Peter (literally) to pay Paul just to “make it out.” This list of cultural misnomers and mischaracterizations go on and on. The images of black people are universally and characteristically damning. So you can imagine that if these images reflect the majority of images mass marketed to represent your culture, a movie that intelligently and brilliantly captures the beautiful, majestic, multidimensional wonder that is your people would rally quite a movement. And I’ll share: be not alarmed if you see black people show up to the theaters in traditional African garb, activist-inspired Black Panther costumes or something even more over the top. We’ve waited for this moment for a long time. We’d appreciate a little indulgence. #IJS
Interestingly, in viewing the anticipation and excitement for the movie, I realized there’s something our industry can learn from this moment that has sparked a full-blown movement. The movie isn’t driving record-breaking revenue simply because it’s a Marvel Comic with a majorly black cast. It’s breaking worldwide records because it’s tapped into the importance of diverse cultural representation in mainstream mediums. Consider this: in order to bring your dreams or desires for your life to fruition, you must first visualize it. You see something that inspires and /or excites you, and you’re moved to pursue it with purpose. But, if you’ve never seen it nor have tangible experience of it, how could you possibly desire it or bring it to fruition? The original thought is empowered by the visual. I hope you’re with me because I’m about to land this plane and blow your mind! (Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but to know me is to understand that I’m a friend of the dramatics. Ask anyone.)
The majority of the world looks more like me than it does the perceived majority In the U.S. Black Panther’s edification and celebration of black culture has given sight and thereby purpose-inspired vision to millions of people who rarely, if ever, see the positive portrayal of people of color. And with one seemingly insignificant casting decision, people around the world have awakened from the monotony of black mischaracterization to visions of vibrant, magical possibilities. The power of diverse representation isn’t always quantifiable (as it was with Obama’s two-term election or will be with Black Panther’s ticket sales), but it’s absolutely undeniable.
Recently, our industry has collectively shined a light on diversity and inclusion with a desire to figure out how to create change culturally within our organizations. I’m so proud that Porter Novelli considers diversity and inclusion a moral imperative that far supersedes the business imperative some org’s lean on to justify the issue’s prioritization. As we continue this conversation and seek tangible solutions, I’d like to challenge us all to be mindful of the power of representation and its importance within our efforts. If we aim for our boardrooms and our brainstorms to create brilliant strategy and narratives powerful enough to drive behavior change around the world, we should probably make sure those faces exist in the room. Top down. And equally important, we should inspire the kids deciding right now what they want to do when they graduate from college or what they want to be when they grow up, to join us. Let’s inspire a diverse pipeline of candidates to aspire to be communicators so that today’s D&I efforts are sustained tomorrow. Let’s learn from the Black Panther phenomenon and borrow that halo to create the same global impact in our industry.
#WakandaForever #BlackHistoryMonth #BHM #BlackPanther
Dwayna Haley is Vice President in the Porter Novelli Atlanta office and a member of the PR Council’s NEXT Board, the first-ever shadow board. The NEXT Board is a platform for the industry’s next generation of leaders, bringing a diverse perspective to current industry challenges and opportunities.