It’s long been said that perception becomes reality, and for much of our nation’s history, mass media has not been kind to minorities — in particular, the African-American community. From Birth of a Nation (where the Ku Klux Klan were portrayed as crusading heroes) to the bumbling, shiftless TV characters of Mantan Moreland and Stepin Fetchit, early film and television did much to portray black America as an underclass deserving of pity and ridicule. But images were also used as weapons to advance the cause of civil rights, as evidenced by the power of photos of the horrifically-beaten Emmit Till to news coverage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in D.C.
We’ll be talking about landmark TV shows and films that have inspired discussions on race — from All in the Family to The Cosby Show to Spike Lee’s Bamboozled — as well as look at how race has been used in the political arena.
My guest is Maurice Berger, senior research scholar at the Center for Art, Design, and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and senior fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics of The New School. He’s also the author and curator of the new book and exhibit titled For All the World To See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights. You can access the online portion of the exhibit here, while the actual project is currently stationed at the International Center of Photography in New York City. (UPDATE — the exhibit is now in Chicago at the DuSable Museum! Catch it while it’s in town!)