Camara leads lecture on Black representation behind the camera

Gamby Camara, visiting lecturer in the Africana Studies department, gave a lecture on Black art and literature in Posvar Hall on Wednesday.

Screenshot via Pitt’s Department of Africana Studies webpage

Gamby Camara, visiting lecturer in the Africana Studies department, gave a lecture on Black art and literature in Posvar Hall on Wednesday.

By Ebonee Rice-Nguyen, For The Pitt News

“Black Panther.” “Grey’s Anatomy.” “Fruitvale Station.”

A seemingly random group of movies and TV shows, but Gamby Camara, a visiting lecturer in the department of Africana studies, connected these pieces of media in his recent lecture in Posvar Hall on Wednesday. Camara’s lecture focused on current authors and filmmakers of African descent, as well as the New Negro Movement of Harlem and Negritude Movement of Paris, and a discussion of how art and literature have been and continue to be a method for social change.

In the lecture, Camara examined how the modern media creates a space for Black culture and identity. Camara said Black representation directed by Black artists within popular media is important in expanding today’s conversation on race.

“We live in a time where there is so much discussion going on about race relations and social inequality that we really need to give them some perspective. I think that starts with understanding history and how our history informs our present,” Camara said. “What have we done well to address, and what issues still need to be figured out.”

Despite the growing amount of Black representation in the media, Camara said there are still criticisms with how Black people are depicted. Camara said Black people are still not given an equal say in how they’re represented within the media today.

“We’re still not in control of much of the corporations that control the production of the media. We’re still the minority in that sense. If there is a story that focuses on Black people with Black characters it’s probably from a part of a company that Black people still do not control,” Camara said. “We’re doing these things but by the grace of other people.”

Camara raised the question of what popular movies and television shows would look like if marginalized voices were in a position of leadership.

“You really wonder what these stories would look like if it were people of diverse backgrounds projecting these diverse stories, as opposed to these few gatekeepers still deciding what works and what doesn’t,” Camara said.

While Hollywood has expanded its representation of people of color, Camara said this newfound focus on diversity is surface level.

“Until we are the ones controlling what gets produced and what images get projected, you always have to ask yourself if those images that are chosen are chosen to ease the conscience of one particular group of people,” Camara said. “We need to make these institutions accessible to all. We need to educate everyone and make sure they’re open to people of different backgrounds.”

Despite the obstacles that exist within the media today, Camara believes that America is progressing towards a point where marginalized creators will have a greater seat at the table. Camara pointed to the college classroom as the root of this change.

“With every generation the thinking of human beings changes. I can tell you from my classes today, the students from five years ago are different from students today. It amazes me how mature they are,” Camara said. “They have been through the effects of COVID-19. They’ve seen what happened with George Floyd and Sandra Bland. So in just a short amount of time society has been forced to mature, if not mature at least confront these realities.”

Melissa Tabak, the administrative assistant for the Center for Africana Studies, said she hopes these lectures and seminars offered by the Center help broaden students’ mindsets.

“It’s important for students to broaden their perspectives and go to these events, whether it’s film or writings, to broaden their interests and spark new interests,” Tabak said.

Camara emphasized the importance of these seminars to the student body, saying they are a key resource for Pitt’s student body.

“Kids today need to understand the resources that they have at their expense. They need to understand that it’s very feasible to hold an event like this, to have a conversation like [this lecture],” Camara said. “One person’s questions transfer so much dialogue in how to give these issues context.”

Tabak said this dialogue is important to be able to absorb the media we surround ourselves with.

“With media being ever more present than ever, it’s so important to think critically about it not to just consume it,” Tabak said.

Ramatu Abdul-Hamid, a senior behavioral and community health sciences major, said lectures like Camara’s provide a way for students to learn not only about different subjects but also themselves.

“I just think it will expose them. It allows them to communicate and talk about different topics that aren’t widely spoken about,” Abdul-Hamid said. “It has to do with being able to express ourselves in multiple ways.”

Camara said he is aware of the negative effects of the media on Black identity, but he also sees some of the good strides being taken by Black artists. 

“It’s beautiful that someone who doesn’t have much, has a platform in which to express themselves and people need to recognize how powerful they are in that sense,” Camara said. “You can do great things once you know that.”