Research Outline

Role of Representation in the Media


  • To understand the role that representation plays in the media and if mindsets can really be influenced by how people are portrayed in popular culture.
  • To understand the origins of an image (who originally shot it, its purpose, how it came to be a staple art piece in most black African households in the '80s and '90s, and if people purchased it, or if it came standard with government housing).
  • This will be used to inform conversation around hair politics, race, and the role representation in the media plays in informing bias and shaping confidence.

Early Findings

African Media Representation

  • A report from the "Africa Narrative Project found that Africans continue to be both underrepresented and misrepresented in the American media landscape."
  • A "group of researchers analyzed over 700,000 hours of programming, as well as 1.6 million tweets related to the African continent and its people. They found that despite the appearance of progress, there is still a long way to go to in ensuring that Africa is portrayed in the media in a way that is reflective of reality."
  • According to the report, "when Africa is mentioned, it is only positively represented 14 % of the time. Narratives centered on Africans are commonly centered on trauma and crime."
  • "African actors are also generally reduced to minor roles on television, even when a storyline is primarily focused on Africa, and only 31% of African characters on television are women."
  • In many television portrayals, Africa and African people were associated with "primal sexuality or often hyper-sexualized."
  • There is a "perception that much of what international audiences hear about Africa is overwhelmingly negative even when not overtly racist. In 2010, the 10 most-read US newspapers and magazines carried 50 times more articles mentioning poverty in Africa, instead of mentioning more positive topics, such as growth in the gross domestic product (GDP)."

Impact of Underrepresentation in the Media

  • Research suggests that "the amount of media consumption shapes how we see the world we live in or can shape our views of reality."
  • "One study found that nonverbal racial biases in facial expressions and body language, as represented on popular television shows, influence white viewers’ racial biases."
  • Studies also show "that audiences substitute stereotypes they see on screen for reality when they have not had any direct interactions with particular racial groups. For example, Latino stereotypes in the media can lead audiences to negatively associate immigration with increased unemployment and crime."
  • "The erasure and negative portrayals of people of color can also adversely affect how people of color see themselves. Prolonged television exposure predicts a decrease in self-esteem for all girls and black boys and an increase in self-esteem for white boys. These differences correlate with the racial and gender biases in Hollywood, which casts only white men as heroes while erasing or subordinating other groups as villains, sidekicks, and sexual objects."
  • "Studies also show how media images of Native American mascots lower the self-esteem and affect the moods of Native American adolescents and young adults, who have the highest suicide rates in the United States."

Mother and Child Image

  • It is considered an iconic piece of Mzansi (South African) history. The image was in almost every South African home and almost everyone who grew up before the 2000s knows about the photo.
  • The image was recently recreated in Sowetan magazine's Heritage Edition, with Connie Ferguson (a well-known iconic South African actress) and her grandson on the cover.
  • No one knows who the lady and the child in the original picture are, but is to be a well-known portrait in South African culture.


  • For this hour, we tried identifying as much of the requested information as possible. We were able to identify early findings in the role that representation plays in the media and how it can influence racial bias and confidence.
  • We also tried identifying where the given image came from, however, information on this appears limited in a public search. Research also indicates that no one knows who the lady and the child in the original picture are, making it difficult to identify its origins and the other requested data points.
  • In the course of our research, we also came across some insights on how social media platforms are changing the African narrative to counter negative stereotypes and also found some insights on the politics of black hair, which might be of interest.
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