It is undeniable that Essence Magazine is the premiere print publication for black women. As black women have laughed, cried, and shared the stories of Essence sisters across the globe, the publication holds a place in our homes like family. In 2005, Time Inc. bought the remaining 51% of Essence Magazine, making the publication fully owned by the corporation. As black women’s history with Essence runs deep, our concerns run deeper, particularly since Essence is no longer black-owned.
Where are the stories of ordinary black women? Is Essence becoming another (black) Hollywood rag? Is a black celebrity focus harmful to the core mission of the publication?
Recently, Raynard Jackson penned a critique of Essence for straying from its foundation and failing to showcase us outside of the mainstream spotlight.
The impetus behind the founding of Essence was to show a side of Black women that was never portrayed in the mainstream media. Images of Black women were controlled by white media outlets that had little to no knowledge of the Black community. Most of these images were very stereotypical and lacking substance…
Now, Essence is just another Hollywood rag (focused on Black women), sprinkled with a few substantive, positive stories; but, that is no longer their focus!
Arguably, Essence’s content primarily focuses on Black Hollywood. But again, is a black celebrity focus harmful to its core mission of empowering black women? What other publications are paying tribute to black female entertainers? While Amy Dubois-Barnett, the Editor-in-Chief of Ebony Magazine, certainly is taking our other mainstream black publication in that direction, Essence continues to provide a space exclusively for women. Where else can we learn stories of motherhood, empowerment, and heartbreak from celebrities like Jill Scott, Laila Ali, Taraji Henson, or Sanaa Lathan? Point blank, there isn’t another intimate space for black women to converse with black female entertainers.
Does Essence’s celebrity focus need some expanding? Certainly. As Clutch’s Zettler Clay critiqued, Essence has a habit of recycling the same cover celebrities. They’ve given us enough covers of Beyonce, Gabrielle Union, Monique, and Mary J. Blige to last a lifetime. But that doesn’t mean that Black Hollywood doesn’t need coverage at all. I’d love to see a cover and interview with Cathy Hughes on how she built Radio One. Or why not feature Mara Brock Akil and Ava DuVernay, two black female filmmakers changing the game?
Not everything Hollywood is horrible or detrimental to the empowerment of black women. The truth is that print media is different than the online world. Celebrities sell paper magazines much faster than ordinary black women and social commentary. Should Essence still continue the stories of lesbian women serving in the armed forces or Congolese women battling rape? Absolutely. But those stories can coexist within one publication to keep Essence alive, financially stable, and appealing to the interests of various black women.
What would you like to see Essence do better? Speak on it.