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New Film Explores What Happens When Black Girls Go Missing

What happens when a young girl of color goes missing? Who searches for her? Who tries to bring her home safely? Not the police, as the short film "Muted" shows.

Even though it’s only 18 minutes long, "Muted" packs a serious gut punch as the viewer is taken into the terror-stricken world of single black mom who wants nothing but to see her daughter again, but gets zero support from the local police and the media.

After teenager Crystal Gladwell doesn't return home from school, the two detectives who show up at her mother’s home are eager to dismiss Crystal as a runaway who will “come home when she’s ready.” They claim they don’t have the manpower to look for her and refuse to even issue an Amber Alert. However, Crystal’s mother, Lena—played powerfully by Emmy-nominated actor Chandra Wilson of "Grey’s Anatomy"knows her daughter and knows she would never run away from home.

Lena calls news outlet after news outlet to no avail, trying to get media attention for her missing daughter. As each day passes, she spirals deeper and deeper into panic.

Wilson spoke to the Ms. Blog about playing this compelling role, saying in a phone interview:

This mom was doing everything she was supposed to do as far as alerting the police, then going around and doing her own campaign, engaging the neighborhood, asking questions, calling friends. When you see that kind of due diligence happening, then it seems the police response should be in kind to that.

When a local white girl also vanishes, the disparity in public response is thrown into sharp relief. The young white woman’s face and the pleas of her affluent parents quickly saturate the airwaves, and an Amber Alert is sent out in no time.

Lena watches all of this unfold in disbelief from her living room as the same reporters who couldn’t return her calls beg the community to find this other child.

“Missing White Girl Syndrome” isn’t a new phenomenon and has been well-documented. Privileged white children, girls especially, are seen as more innocent and helpless, making it easier for their families to snag media coverage when they’re abducted. Black girls, on the other hand, are often not even perceived as children, as the McKinney pool incident proved this summer.

Amber Hagerman — after whom the Amber Alert is named — JonBenet Ramsey and Elizabeth Smart became household names, and reporters followed their cases for months, even years. Missing black girls rarely receive the same treatment despite being in “the most vulnerable social position,” according to Wilson.

Even though they make up a small percentage of the nation’s under-18 population, black children comprise an alarming 42 percent of missing youth. Organizations like Black and Missing have sprung up to raise awarenss of this crisis.

"Muted" has evidently struck a chord. It’s currently making the film festival rounds,and has garnered several accolades, including the HBO Short Film Award at the American Black Film Festival. Wilson told the Ms. Blog that it’s now in development for a full-length feature film.

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