HBO Documentary Nails Why America Neglects Missing Black People

HBO's new "Black and Missing" docuseries revisits cold cases of missing Black people while analyzing the media's tendency to overlook them.

A new HBO docuseries follows the Black and Missing Foundation鈥檚 efforts of more than a decade to locate missing Black people and draw attention to their disappearances. It also explores the media鈥檚 neglect of these cases 鈥 what鈥檚 become known as 鈥渕issing white woman syndrome.鈥

The term was first coined by the late journalist Gwen Ifill at the 2004 Unity: Journalists of Color conference. During the conference鈥檚 鈥淢edia Coverage of National Security鈥 panel, Ifill 鈥 between laughs 鈥 remarked 鈥渋f there is a missing white woman, you鈥檙e going to cover that every day.鈥

The 鈥Black and Missing鈥 docuseries 鈥 in addition to revisiting the disappearances of Pamela Butler, Tameka Huston and Keeshae Jacobs, among other scarcely covered cases 鈥 examines just why that is.

鈥淭his is a part of the disposability of Black lives in our country 鈥 that two people can go missing at the same time and the entire nation focuses on the white person,鈥 Vince Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says in the second episode of the four-part series.

Warren also pointed out that the normalization of the dehumanization and violence against Black people in entertainment media goes as far back as the 1915 film 鈥淏irth of a Nation鈥 and persists today with shows like the long-running reality series 鈥淐ops.鈥

鈥淚f you have been bombarded your entire life with messages and images of Black people being poor, down, out, dangerous 鈥 it is no surprise that when a Black person is in distress, missing, murdered, it is not a big deal to much of white society,鈥 the journalist said. 鈥淏ecause they don鈥檛 think we have much to lose.

鈥淲hen we see on media that terrible things are happening in Black communities, many people think that the Black people are essentially accomplices in things that have happened to them.鈥

The consequences of this apathy have largely hindered Black families who are searching for their loved ones.

Janell Johnson-Dash, whose daughter Mishell-Nicole DiAmonde Green went missing in 2011, shared the trials she faced in attempting to get media attention focused on her child鈥檚 case. Her story highlighted how crucial that coverage would be.

鈥淚t鈥檚 not easy to get exposure for a missing child of color,鈥 Johnson-Dash told filmmakers.

While many of the Bronx family鈥檚 media efforts were fruitless, one successful contact ultimately led to their daughter鈥檚 return. After getting the attention of Whoopi Goldberg, Green鈥檚 parents went on 鈥淭he View鈥 鈥 the daytime talk show Goldberg co-hosts 鈥 to discuss their daughter鈥檚 case. Fourteen minutes after their appearance, they received an anonymous tip and were reunited with their daughter.

Earlier this year, observations about the incessant coverage of social media personality Gabrielle Petito鈥檚 disappearance and later, death, led to increased awareness of the imbalance in coverage and drew promises of increased media accountability on covering cases of missing persons of color. The case of the young white woman and her missing, and also now dead, white fianc茅, drew extensive coverage across media sites for months.

鈥淏lack and Missing鈥 is available for viewing on HBO.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot