True-crime TV fuels ‘missing white woman syndrome.’ Two new docs aim to change that

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Off the top of your head, try to remember the names of the women behind the most infamous missing persons cases. It’s likely that they will include Elizabeth Smart, Gabby Petito, Lacy Peterson or Natalie Holloway – all tragic disappearances that garnered nationwide media attention.

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But in the same time frame, hundreds more young women disappeared whose names—such as Kesha Jacobs, Henny Scott, Akia Eggleston—didn’t make morning talk shows or the news of the night, perhaps because they were black women or women of color. It is a phenomenon commonly referred to as the “missing white woman syndrome”, in which the disappearances of white women are heralded by law enforcement and the media, while the disappearances of black women and women of color are frowned upon. However, it attracts very little attention. high rate.

Of the more than 250,000 women and girls reported missing in 2020, 34% were black, a staggering number considering that black people represent about 14% of the US population. Another statistic: 710 Indigenous people – 85% of them children, and 57% women – were reported missing between 2011 and 2020 in Wyoming, the state where Petito’s remains were found. However, you might not know this, as their names were lost in the air at the time of coverage.

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Two powerful documentaries, HBO’s four-part “Black and Missing” and Oxygen’s feature-length “Murder and Missing in Montana,” Break the true-crime mold of chasing names out of the headlines and instead highlight the cases of black and indigenous women, respectively, who have disappeared. Each production explores why law enforcement and national media pay so little attention to disappearances when the victim is black or a person of color, and how much apathy is rooted in systemic racism.

A prayer vigil for Akia Eggleston, portrayed in the HBO documentary “Black and Missing.”
(HBO)

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“Black and Missing”, which premieres Tuesday, follows sisters-in-law Derica and Natalie Wilson, founders of the Black and Missing Foundation, as they help police help families of missing women find their loved ones. And the news drives the media. The series, by Geeta Gandhir and journalist Soledad O’Brien, explores how racial prejudice has contributed to a lack of action from law enforcement and the media when a black woman goes missing in a protest against a white woman. “When white kids go missing, they’re called victims,” ​​he explains. “When black kids do, they are disproportionately labeled runaways.”

The cameras, shot over three years by Derica, a former law enforcement officer, and Natalie, a master in public relations, as they push to raise awareness of the harsh realities of human trafficking, teach the community how to deal with the police. inform about. Something must happen to a loved one, and educate them about the disparity that exists around locating missing people of color. They tirelessly pressure officials to spend more resources finding missing black women, and lecture at local and national levels to help inform the public about the problem.

Kennedy High, a Baltimore high schooler with autism, was lured into a dating app at the age of 16 by someone. His mother tells the story, but thanks to the cooperation of the Foundation, the police, the media and the community there is one with a happy ending: Kennedy was found within a week, although he still has problems talking about his ordeal. This result constitutes the bright side of a troubling epidemic: Cases of missing black people remain unresolved four times longer than those of white people, the documentaries point out. Grieved family members, former spies, news anchors, and even John Walsh of “America’s Most Wanted” fame are interviewed, driving home the point that there are missing people out there that we need to find. Is.

“Murder and Missing in Montana,” out now, Explores the unsolved cases of indigenous women who have gone missing. The murder rate for women living on reservations is 10 times higher than the national level and is the third leading cause of death for indigenous women. In Wyoming alone, Indigenous people make up 3% of the state’s population, but have been the victims of homicide over the past decade.

A selfie of Henny Scott, a 14-year-old Indigenous girl who went missing in 2018.
Henny Scott, a 14-year-old Indigenous girl who went missing in 2018, is one of the cases highlighted in “Murder and Missing in Montana.”
(oxygen)

Attorney, investigative journalist and former criminal prosecutor Lonnie Combs focused on the cases of Henny Scott, Casera Stops Pretty Places and Selena Not Afraid – three women whose deaths in and around the North Cheyenne and Crow Reservations remain a mystery. Along with former Montana Sheriff Phyllis Firecrow, Combs highlights the chilling similarities between the three cases, emphasizing the urgency to resolve them before more women and children are victimized.

All missing persons cases are serious. Now, true-crime television is finally changing its stance by focusing on people who were previously overlooked.

‘Black and Missing’

where: HBO

When: Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:55 am

Rated: TV-MA (may be inappropriate for children under 17 years old)

‘Murdered and missing in Montana’

where: More+ and Oxygen.com

When: anytime

Rated: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)

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