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HBO Film Spotlights Journey of Two D.C. Sisters to Find Black, Missing People

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The Washington Informer
Stacy M. Brown
November 10, 2021

The case of Tamika Huston, a 24-year-old Black woman who went missing from her Spartanburg, South Carolina, home on May 27, 2004, captivated Derrica Wilson and her sister-in-law, Natalie.

Derrica and Natalie noticed how Huston’s aunt, Rebekah Howard, fought fiercely to find her.

Howard went to law enforcement and then pitched the story to television outlets and shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “Dateline NBC.”

She also pleaded with major newspapers including USA Today.

The media, however, focused its attention on the so-called “Runaway Bride” Jennifer Wilbanks, and Laci Peterson, whose husband Scott would eventually be charged and convicted of her murder.

The Wilson sisters noticed what had become the norm for mainstream media when it came to the plight of missing women and girls of color: there was little to no media coverage.

In response, Derrica and Natalie started the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation in 2008, dedicated to bringing awareness to missing persons of color and to provide vital resources and tools to their families and friends.

The foundation’s goal: to educate the minority community on personal safety.

The recent case of Gabby Petito, a white woman who went missing in Wyoming and who would later be found dead, again illustrated the media’s bias in coverage of individuals who disappear.

Some contend that when Blacks go missing, there’s little to no coverage. However, when someone white goes missing, particularly a perceived beautiful white woman, the media goes into overdrive.

But change appears to be on the horizon as HBO plans to highlight the mission of the Black and Missing Foundation.

The four-part documentary series, “Black and Missing,” created by Emmy winner Geeta Gandbhir and award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien, chronicles the Wilson sisters as they fight an uphill battle to increase awareness of the Black missing persons cases that routinely receive short shrift both by law enforcement and national media.

Three years in the making, the series takes on new urgency given the renewed national conversation on “missing white woman syndrome.”

“Black and Missing” debuts in back-to-back episodes on Nov. 23. The final two episodes air back-to-back on Nov. 24. The series will debut on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max.

“Haunted by these stories of vanished loved ones and driven by the need for attention and assistance for these forgotten women, former law enforcement officer Derrica and public relations expert Natalie operate a grassroots organization that raises awareness in communities, alerts media outlets to the plight of thousands of women and children and urges police departments to allocate more resources to this scourge,” HBO said in a news release.

Cases of missing Black people remain unresolved four times longer than those of white people.

BLACK AND MISSING “pulls back the curtain to explore how systemic behaviors and attitudes stem from centuries of deeply rooted racism,” the producers stated.

The series also exposes the stark disparity in the media coverage of white and Black missing persons.

“This intimate look at Derrica and Natalie’s personal crusade to locate missing Black people also highlights stories of hope and closure as the Black and Missing Foundation contributes to the resolution of several high-profile missing persons cases,” the producers said. “By keeping these stories and the missing in the news media, Derrica and Natalie put increased pressure on police departments to keep cases open and active.”

“[The documentary] includes wrenching testimony from the families and loved ones of missing women, from activists and volunteers with their own stories of loss to law officers and historians with first-hand experience in this field,” they said.

Photo credit: HBO

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