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Success Is An Opportunity To Challenge Perceptions And Create Understanding

Written by: Natalia Nicholson, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


King Richard and Disclosure – Positive and Diverse Portrayals in Media

Films and documentaries have a vital role to play in the way in which minority and marginalised groups are regarded. Hollywood and how the media portrays people from minority and marginalised groups, is often not a true reflection of the reality, people who belong to these groups experience. Historical and embedded representations as shown by popular media have undoubtedly contributed to misunderstanding and even hostility towards underrepresented communities. This is why the film King Richard and the documentary Disclosure have both deservedly received high media interest for the role they play in creating a more diverse society.

The film King Richard has to be commended for the intimate portrayal of a black father and his incredible and positive influence over his two daughters, Venus and Serena. I also want to applaud the documentary Disclosure, recently released on Netflix, which is an inspirational and eye-opening look at what it is like to be transgender.

Disclosure and Laverne Cox

The award-winning documentary, Disclosure, is based around depictions of transgender people in the media and how they have impacted society.

With the impact of the Black Lives Matter campaign and the consequent focus on violence towards the black community, the challenge of changing perceptions about transgender people is reflective of the struggles of the black community and other underrepresented communities. The alliance with and support for transgender people from the black community was reflected by the unprecedented thousands of people who attended a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in New York. The rally took place the week following the unconnected murders of two black transgender women Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells and Riah Milton which sent shockwaves through both the transgender and black community and reinforced the solidarity that is growing between the two communities.

Disclosure is not the first documentary to feature transgender people. The brave, extremely popular, long-running documentary series, I am Jazz, shown on TLC, highlighted the prejudice and danger, transgender people of all ages, live with on a daily basis. Jazz was only age 6 when she was interviewed on national television and she was the youngest person to speak to the media about being transgender and challenge the views of what makes a person transgender. Laverne Cox, Executive Director of Disclosure, comments about Jazz during an interview with Variety, “It was a watershed moment for transgender visibility in media, not least because it made Jennings one of the youngest documented trans people to speak her truth for millions of viewers to hear.”

In many ways, this feels similar to the slow emergence of black actors, and the long history of black people that have fought hard to be accepted, which is at the core of so many thought-provoking books and films. The impact that black actors have made over the past several decades has grown and transformed the media, which now embraces a far more diverse pool of not only actors but also directors, writers, and producers. The emergence of black Academy Award winners started in 1963 when Sidney Poitier won the Academy Award for his role as best leading actor as Homer, in the film, Lilies of the Field. It is fair to say the media have undoubtedly played a part in the ongoing fight against racism, which has led to changes in legislation in the UK, the U.S.A, and many other countries. Change has consequently to a degree been a result of the stories that call attention to the way society treats people, who have historically been considered unworthy of respect and success. The Black Lives Matter campaign and rallies and the LGBTQ+ annual Pride celebrations parallel the reality that black and LGBTQ+ communities both have to fight against prejudice, which continues to be a barrier to success. In the past 10 years, there has certainly been a considerable push towards representation, equality, and inclusion across all industries. The consequence is the media have created documentaries that have generated open discussions, which in turn foster deeper understanding.

Disclosure is one of those documentaries and Laverne Cox highlights how Hollywood and the media, influence society and what is considered acceptable.

Laverne Cox, who has been on the front cover of Time Magazine, has also embraced the media as a transgender actor and activist. Nominated in 4 categories for her role as Sophia Burset in another Netflix series, Orange Is the New Black, Laverne was the first transgender actor to be nominated at the Emmy awards. Laverne finally won an Emmy Award for Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word, which she executively produced.

“My own life is such a profound example of what representation can do,” Laverne said in an interview with the Guardian.

The influx of positive representation of LGBTQ+ people in mainstream media includes the Amazon series Transparent, the HBO drama Euphoria, and the Netflix series Pose. Disclosure is a documentary that demonstrates how representation is key to greater understanding, however, representation does have its limits and real change needs to be ignited by successful people in every industry.

King Richard and Richard Williams

The film King Richard challenges stereotypical images of absent or abusive black fathers. The film portrays Richard Williams as a father who cares deeply about his daughters and found a way he could help to ensure they were successful in later life, by introducing them to tennis. I think to some degree it is fair to say Richard has been the driving force behind the success of his daughters, as international tennis players and entrepreneurs determined to champion diversity.

Born in Louisiana, Richard experienced racism and was only 5 when he was beaten by a white man when he was picking cotton. He was determined that his children would be successful. He explained during an interview with Canadian television in 2014, that after reading about a tennis player winning $40,000 during a tournament, he decided to focus on ensuring Serena and Venus would become professional tennis players.

He was not a tennis player and only had a few coaching lessons himself and had no contacts in professional tennis. He started teaching his daughters when they were four years old on local tennis courts. When she was 14, Serena and Venus were pulled out of Rick Macci Tennis Academy and their father became their full-time tennis coach.

The amazing achievements of Serena and Venus Williams include Venus, winning her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2000, and Serena winning her first grand slam title at the US Open in 1999. Both Serena and Venus understood the importance of challenging how they may be viewed and also appeared in their own documentary, Venus and Serena.

Prior to the making of King Richard, before their amazing story was truly represented by both Serena and Venus in numerous interviews and television shows, during an interview with Serena and Venus, Serena told Oprah Winfrey in 2003, ‘Our father doesn’t get enough credit. He showed us how to serve, and we have the biggest serves in women’s tennis.’

Serena and Venus Williams are both executive producers of the film alongside their older sister Isha Price. During King Richard’s shoot, both Serena and Venus attended the sets to meet the actors and spoke with the actors on the set, including Will Smith, who plays the part of their father, Richard Williams, Demi Singleton, who plays Serena Williams, and Saniyya Sidney, who plays Venus Williams.

Serena Jameka Williams and Venus Ebony Starr Williams

Serena and Venus Williams are both outstanding examples of how success makes it possible to challenge perceptions and understanding and are both entrepreneurs in their own right.

In 2014 Serena launched Serena Ventures a Venture Capitalist Firm on their website Serena outlines the principles behind her firm, ‘Serena Ventures invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity and opportunity. Serena Ventures focuses on early-stage companies and gives them the opportunity to be heard. As we grow, we hope to mentor young founders and take burgeoning entrepreneurs to the next level.’ Serena also supports a wide range of charities and has created the Serena Williams Fund, to provide university scholarships for underprivileged students in the United States.

Venus launched V Starr in 2002 and a clothing line is ELEVEN in 2007, she is also the author of five books, my favourite, and highly recommended book for all entrepreneurs is:

Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession, Venus Williams

Why does it matter?

Challenging the negative and stereotypical portrayal of all people who are misrepresented, especially in minority groups is the responsibility of everyone and entrepreneurs should have a clear diversity strategy in place from the start. Embracing the importance of diversity in order to stay aware of global and industry trends, should also be an essential part of every entrepreneur’s journey and is a key ingredient to success in today's modern business world.

“Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity (often referred to as corporate diversity) are 36% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” and “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 25% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians” (McKinsey, 2020).

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Natalia Nicholson, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Natalia Nicholson is a Serial Entrepreneur, Business and Digital Marketing Coach, and Professional Public Speaker. Natalia has over 20 years of experience working as a digital serial entrepreneur and has had plenty of her own failures and success stories. This has perfectly placed her to offer insight and advice to other women aspiring to become digital entrepreneurs, together with those who have already launched their own businesses. Through her mastermind group, Women in Digital Business, Natalia teaches them the best way to leverage digital marketing potential and helps them learn the best ways of overcoming the challenges that they are facing when it comes to becoming successful online businesswomen. Her passion for online business coaching and digital marketing has inspired her to inspire women from largely overlooked underrepresented groups.



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