INTERVIEW: Soledad O’Brien talks new HBO docuseries ‘Black and Missing’
By Lynda Lopez
Produced by Neil A. Carousso
NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — The recent coverage of the Gabby Petito case grabbed headlines across the globe and also helped shine a light on other missing persons cases that have not received the same attention.
The Black and Missing Foundation works to bring awareness to missing persons of color and their activism caught the attention of Soledad O’Brien, who has now produced a four-part HBO documentary series titled, “Black and Missing.”
On this week’s 880 Weekly Rewind, anchor Lynda Lopez spoke to the award-winning documentarian and journalist about the series, which chronicles the work of the organization and follows sisters-in-law and Black and Missing Foundation founders Derrica and Natalie Wilson.
As Lopez reported, Derrica and Natalie Wilson are not just figureheads. They are on the ground doing the work helping families find their missing loved ones.
“This is their second jobs, this is not even their job. Derrica works in law enforcement, and that’s really what she was able to bring to the table — that she had this tremendous experience of law enforcement. Natalie works in PR, so she was able to sit with families and say, ‘Let me give you some of the scoop on how these things work so we can get publicity for you,'” O’Brien said. “Often they’re just a conduit between law enforcement, which some families in some communities just don’t trust, and the media, and the families themselves. I’m always blown away by the importance of the work they’re doing and also it’s a side gig. Like, it’s insane to me that this is a side job for them.”
The series has been three years in the making and recently debuted on HBO and HBO Max, where it is currently streaming.
“We decided that we would reach out and see because of the number of stories of missing white women over the years had gotten so much attention, and I was well aware that there were lots of stories about Black people and people of color, generally, that just never really got any traction and so we met with them,” O’Brien said. “About a couple of months before the doc aired, the story of Gabby Petito became the latest well-known case of a young White woman who had gone missing, and of course she was later found dead. And I remember her dad saying, I thought it was amazing, really at the worst moment of his life before they found her body, he said something like, to the media, ‘You should be looking for all people.’ Even he thought the attention was amazing on helping find what had happened to his daughter, but there were so many other people who also deserved the same kind of attention and so I do think the needle is beginning to move in people’s awareness of the issue.”
The series not only chronicles the work of the organization, but also highlights the disparities in the media coverage of white and Black missing persons and how the cases are handled by law enforcement.
“On the media side, I would love to see people really analyze why do we not think this story is important? I do think the media needs to figure out let’s have a conversation about bias and how we think about these stories,” O’Brien said. “I just hope that people really want to understand the issue and walk away recognizing how unfair it is. I knew that progress was being made when Gabby’s own father sort of put a plea out for covering other people. The number of people who were found while they were searching for Gabby, I think it was like eight people, it was insane and so it clearly is an indication that we have to search hard for everybody.”
Listen to The 880 Weekly Rewind podcast above to hear how the organization is fighting for equal coverage and treatment in the media and by law enforcement of missing persons of color and what needs to change.