Hollywood & Mind: Real Talk With Racial Justice Org Color Of Change About Black Life Portrayal On Screen


The content we consume can affect our mental wellbeing. July is BIPOC Mental Health Month and Hollywood & Mind caught up with Kelle Rozell, chief marketing & storytelling officer at racial justice organization Color of Change, to learn where the group sees pockets of progress in the portrayal of Black people on screen and where there’s work to be done across the television and film industries.

According to a 2021 ViacomCBS study, “poor representation in the media really had a negative impact on the way audiences felt and nearly 60 percent of the people who were poorly represented said it made them feel unimportant, ignored or disappointed,” says Rozell. “So Hollywood and these other culture industries absolutely have a responsibility to understand and support accurate portrayals of Black life.”

Through its Change Hollywood initiative, Color of Change has “been working on many levels to advance racial equity, which has a direct impact on our community’s mental health,” Rozell says. “The content that portrays these inauthentic representations of Black people and communities actually does harm. We have been working with partners and in the content space to shift the narrative and change the rules that impact that storytelling.”

CoC released its first “Normalizing Injustice” report in 2020. The study examined 26 television series and details “all the ways crime TV shows have played a significant role in advancing distorted representations of the criminal justice system, and race and genres within our culture,” Rozell says. “We have found that crime TV encourages the public to accept the norms of over-policing and excessive force while supporting the exact behavior that destroys the lives of Black people.”

A second edition, with an expanded lens on 74 shows produced by nine different parent companies, is due out later this summer. And crime shows are only the beginning.

“There’s overarching harms to the way Black people are portrayed across Hollywood. We’re working to eliminate stereotypes, things that might show up in comedies, tropes that show up. And we work with corporations to identify those people who should be in their writers rooms—everybody from showrunners, producers, writers but also topical experts so when they’re in, say, a medical show, are you getting Black women doctors in there to talk about their experiences? It’s not just harmful interactions with the police, it’s harmful interactions with the medical industry, and how do we save more Black lives by listening to Black patients and having Black representation in doctors’ offices and hospitals,” she says.

“We need to tell those stories in Hollywood to show the accurate portrayal of what’s happening in the system. We are asking corporations to invest in Black communities, invest in Black safety and also be transparent about this reporting.”


Color of Change’s accountability campaigns helped bring about the cancellation of Fox series COPS and put pressure on NBC’s Saturday Night Live to hire Black women both in front of and behind the camera. The organization consults regularly on series from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy to Netflix’s
Seven Seconds, and collaborates with media outlets including HBO, A&E and AMC, and talent agency Endeavor. The proof, Rozell says, is on the screen.

“When it comes to who’s getting it right you look at shows that have made an investment in staffing their writers rooms with the right voices. So when you see Black creators like Issa Rae being able to tell stories accurately, that’s when we start to see what non-harmful narratives look like,” she notes. “AMC has been doing self IDs on their set to make sure they had the right representation and diversity, and you can tell with the shows they are creating like Fear the Walking Dead, where you do have multiple Black leads.”

There’s plenty more work to be done, Rozell says. “There are still these harmful shows on air that have not changed. Law and Order is one of the shows that is on our radar. We do know that since George Floyd’s murder by the police there have been key stakeholders in the entertainment industry that have come to organizations like Color of Change to ask for the help and accountability that is required to move us forward.”

One way CoC amplifies its messaging is by partnering with influencers through its ambassador program to rally participation around issues like criminal justice and voting. Insecure’s Kendrick Sampson and Colman Domingo, of Fear the Walking Dead, are two such ambassadors.

“We are working to create programs that allow these Hollywood ambassadors to have long-term engagement over a set of several issues, it could be very Hollywood-specific or it could be mental health-specific depending on their areas of interest,” she says.

Hollywood & Mind is a recurring column that lives at the intersection of entertainment and wellbeing, and features interviews with musicians, actors, athletes and other culture influencers who are amplifying conversation and action around mental health.


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