Featured Alumni Profiles

Norma Manatu-Rupert

MA '79, Speech Communication; PhD '98, Media Ecology

For Media Ecology alumna Norma Manatu-Rupert, December 2002 was an extraordinary month. She was granted tenure and promoted to Associate Professor in Speech, Theater, and Media Studies at John Jay College, where she received a BA in 1977. To make matters even more celebratory, McFarland Press published Manatu-Rupert's first book, African American Women and Sexuality in the Cinema.


Your book began as your Media Ecology dissertation. What's the book's central idea?

It's a comparative study to see if images of black female sexuality have improved with the race of the filmmaker. I wanted to understand why there seemed to be no difference between how white filmmakers and black filmmakers depict black women. Prior to the 1980s blacks didn't have control of the images, but in the mid 1980s they began to. I assumed at that point that the images of black women would be more representative of reality – but the images did not change. My book talks about how cultural and financial and even psychological pressures perpetuate the misrepresentation of black women in cinema.

Where did this interest begin?

I discovered film when I was ten, and as I grew up I realized I liked the storytelling of that medium. But whenever I saw black women depicted in film it was always a very negative "mammy" type image. Then came the seventies and the Blaxploitation films where black women were portrayed as promiscuous, or as prostitutes. In the eighties it was more of the same. Eventually, I happened upon the writings of black feminists and they were saying the very things I was feeling. When I realized no one had done a study about the causes of this misrepresentation, I saw that there was a gap in the literature – and I had my life's work.


You received your master's at NYU's School of Culture, Education, and Human Development in Speech and Communication in 1979, and your PhD in Media Ecology in 1998. What did you do during the years between your degrees?

For a time I was associate director of news at ABC radio. At one point I was a research analyst for a firm on Madison Avenue. I also taught at Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, while teaching as an adjunct professor here and there. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do until I discovered that teaching was, in fact, the thing I did best and actually liked most. I enjoy the sharing of ideas, and I like to help people grow - the way that others helped me grow. Education is truly a liberator. It gives you a language to explain yourself so you can understand the world better.

How was your time at NYU?

I absolutely loved the Media Ecology program. The beauty lies in its interdisciplinary approach and the rigor with which the faculty brings it all together. The teachers are gifted, dedicated people. I consider myself truly blessed for having been part of that program.

You've reached several professional plateaus at once. What's next for you?

I have at least two more books in me, but I need time! At the moment I'm working on a Professional Staff Congress grant from City University of New York (CUNY) on the subject of racial profiling. I have also written articles for Communication Reports, and SAGE, the latter being a journal about inmates in the prison system, so I'll continue to do that. But first and foremost I'm teaching a new course at John Jay called "Black Female Sexuality in Film," based on my book.


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