Omar Amanat discusses the Portrayal of Minorities in American Film and Television

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Omar Amanat appeared on the Oprah & Friends XM radio program on May 17, 2007 to discuss his studies of the connection between 9/11 and the portrayal of minorities in American film and television.

The World Trade Center attacks are much more than a humanitarian interest for Mr. Amanat. At the time, the company he had founded, Tradescape Corp., had its offices on the 83rd floor of the WTC North Tower. Fortunately, all of Tradescape’s employees were able to escape safely before the tower’s collapse (Mr. Amanat was absent from the building due to a radio interview).

The ensuing news that the attackers were Muslims was the beginning of a seismic shift in Mr. Amanat.s understanding of the connection between mass media and ethnic or religious violence.

.How could 19 people who share the same faith as me have committed these acts?. he wondered. For answers, he turned to Dr. Enid Gort, director of the Harlem Youth Development Foundation. Dr. Gort introduced him to the book Black Rage by William H. Grier and Price M. Cobbs, which examines the role that media images of minority groups play in the self-identification of individuals within those groups.

In the course of his studies, Mr. Amanat also discovered similar works by Harvard professor Dr. Alvin Poussaint and sociologist Peter Berger. It was Berger’s .plausibility theory in particular that altered the course not only of Mr. Amanat’s thinking, but also of his financial and business priorities.

Berger’s theory states that members of minority groups derive more of their self-esteem from media images of people like themselves than they do from their own personal interactions with others.

With that in mind, Mr. Amanat has embarked on an ambitious new course: to use the power of film and television to promote understanding between America and the Muslim world. Since 2001, Mr. Amanat has helped to finance or found several important media companies:

  • Bridges TV, the first nationwide U.S. television channel for Muslims
  • Groundswell Productions, an independent film financing and production company

Check out Omar Amanat.