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Visual Culture is Becoming More Diverse and Inclusive Than Ever Before
Visual Culture is Becoming More Diverse and Inclusive Than Ever Before
by Rosh De
The Luupe speaks with Black Girl Nerds founder Jamie Broadnax on advancements in representation in branding, media, pop and geek culture, and more.
Over the past few years, diversity has become a buzzword guiding marketing, brand values, and content creation.
While this is not a new phenomenon, 2020 ushered in a wake up call to go deeper to fill the glaring gaps in representation. Influencers, content creators, and celebrities are paying closer attention to shifting the homogeneous public faces that have been a steady fixture of our lives.
Influential brands such as Nike, Johnson and Johnson, Netflix and many more offered comprehensive action plans and launched groundbreaking campaigns. And just last week, Savage X Fenty by Rihanna, one of the pioneers of DEI, launched a pride campaign that is more culturally inclusive than ever before.
The inclusive apparel company nailed their message with empowering commercials, a truly diverse lineup of models to encourage representation and unretouched, un-digitally edited photoshoots.
Amidst this reckoning is a new conversation around feminism that respects the many differences across race, class, sexual orientation and more.
To further understand feminism in the digital world, we caught up with Jamie Broadnax, founder and CEO of Black Girl Nerds, an online community dedicated to geek, nerd and pop-culture from a primarily BIPOC perspective.
Black Girl Nerds' vibrant community tackles the unique and often under reported overlap of geek culture and Black feminism. Their thriving blog and podcast regularly host contributors with varying perspectives on relevant and crucial issues.
Broadnax’s perspective on visual culture is unique and timely- read on for her thoughts on feminism, diversity and inclusion and how they factor into the shifting landscape.
The Luupe: As a digital creator, what does visual culture mean to you?
Jamie Broadnax: I think visual culture means a lot of things, and it can be very elusive, as in it can define itself as different things to different people.
Personally, I see visual culture as art that I see myself reflected in. So I strive to look at things that represent women, Black women, women that are part of the subculture of geek and nerd fandom.
It's a very small, marginalized community still, even though the popularity has increased over the years. But that is something that visually I look for, and I try to create in the work that I do.
Meet Jamie Broadnax
The Luupe: That’s interesting. How would you make digital/online culture more diverse, inclusive and representational?
Broadnax: By doing exactly what I do with BGN- highlighting content that speaks to women of color. That’s exactly what our company and our publication represents, the intersection of geek/nerd culture and Black feminism.
Ensuring that creators, whether they're comic book artists, gamers, podcasters or filmmakers have their work amplified at this publication is important to me.
Being a conduit for those marginalized voices matters to a lot of our readers, which is why I think they come to this space.
The Luupe: Do you think brands are doing their best to encourage this diversity in their branding/visual culture, or do they still have a long way to go?
Broadnax: To be fair, I’d say that there are quite a few companies that are trying to do the right thing and be inclusive.
I think if anything, now is a good time to be in a space that represents marginalized voices because there are brands that are trying their best to be inclusive and representational.
There’s still progress to be made- executive leadership consists mostly of white and/or male individuals and there certainly needs to be more diversity in the sea of faces. But overall, as of today, brands are trying and I definitely want to give credit to that.
The Luupe: Are there any particular brands that you think are doing a noteworthy job empowering women in their visual marketing?
Broadnax: Definitely. Agreat example I can think of is Dove. The brand is a power player in the beauty industry but they’ve always done terrific work with representation. Their commercials, advertisements and social media campaigns have featured women that aren’t specifically the ideal standard of what beauty is supposed to look like. Women of all backgrounds, not just those who fit the thin, white, Euro-centric features mold.
I remember growing up reading teen magazines and seeing girls that were a size five, four, six.
That was the ideal standard size for what it is to be beautiful and when Dove came out with its numerous campaigns amplifying and empowering women who are not a size zero, women who are plus size, or simply women who have realistic proportions, it really helped people to feel comfortable in their own skin.
I think that’s very important. I think that currently, we are in a society where plus size women are the norm, that most women are not a size four or not a size six, and visual culture needs to be representative and reflective of what we see around us as everyday women.
So yes, I’d say that Dove is a great example of a brand that's normalizing beauty standards and I appreciate what they're doing in the skin care/body care space.
The Luupe: Content creation is incredibly important in this day and age, especially with the rise of the ‘influencer’. In your opinion, what’s the best way for a visual creator/influencer to encourage diversity and inclusion?
Broadnax: I think bringing more voices to their sphere of influence is a step in the right direction. For example, I brought in a young man who’s creating a documentary about Black geeks, and he wants to get the word out about that.
He isn’t a big time celebrity, or super famous, but he's doing some really great work and he's creating a space that is very inclusive.
So I think that if you have a platform, and you’re a creator or an influencer of some kind, bring voices to the table that you wouldn't normally bring, someone that is actually going to help magnify and amplify groups of people that are underrepresented.
You'll be surprised at the response that you'll get because people always want to see themselves reflected in things.
The Luupe: That’s a great answer- love it. What’s your take on representation in pop/brand culture?
Broadnax: I think that we’re definitely getting to a space where things are improving-it's getting better year after year.
For example, an aspect of visual culture such as movies comes to mind-we're seeing more BIPOC folks, members of the LGBTQ+ community and people with disabilities. We're seeing that representation happening.
I think where the opportunity to improve lies in what's happening behind the scenes. That refers to companies and government and people that are actually running the show, steering the ship, so to speak.
Metaphorically speaking, those people aren't as diverse, but they do drive the conversation. They do drive the policies. They do drive the decisions that play into how we are influenced and impacted, whether it's as consumers, as viewers, or even as creators.
Overall, brand/visual culture has definitely shifted in a positive direction wherein we’re able to see ourselves in the content we create and consume and I do want to acknowledge that.
I just think that there are still opportunities where we should be able to drive those conversations behind the scenes as well.
The Luupe: So would you say that you’re optimistic about the progress in visual/brand culture from a diversity, equity and inclusion standpoint?
Broadnax: Yes, I am optimistic because it's already happening. We’re seeing quite a lot of great opportunities happening across the spectrum, with marginalized voices, BIPOC voices, female voices all slowly and steadily being heard and brought to the forefront.
There’s still more work to be done, but I’m optimistic about seeing more diverse faces in brand and visual culture.
The Luupe: What visual resources would you recommend for a person who wants to more deeply educate themselves on diversity and representation?
Broadnax: If you want to educate yourself on topics such as diversity, inclusion and feminism, two books come to mind: How to be Black by Baratunde Thurston and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. These are very interesting reads and illustrate issues of race and diversity
It isn’t just companies and conglomerates taking part in visual culture; there’s a number of individuals who have made massive contributions towards the digital landscape as well.
Among these changemakers is Marilyn Minter- an artist who illustrates her personal experiences as a woman through pictorial media like cerebral paintings, photographs and videography. A few themes Minter includes in her work are female sexuality, strength, reproductive rights and abuse.
An installation view of Maralyn Minter's 2016-17 Brooklyn Museum exhibition "Pretty Dirty."
It’s this significant merge of art and activism that has led to Minter becoming one of the most influential visual creators of the decade. She has participated in a discussion on women’s rights and artistry with Madonna, as well as formed multiple partnerships with nonprofits like Creative Time and the Brooklyn Museum.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rosh De is a copywriter and content creator for eclectic, women-led brands, and the founder of the one-woman creative writing studio, Rhosyn Avenue.