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Social Workers in Film Slide Show

The press is raving over glitzy songstress Mariah Carey’s transformation into social worker Miss Weiss in the soon-to-be released movie “Precious.” But social workers have long played key roles in television and cinema. An Internet slide show from the UK’s Guardian Newspaper examines the trend.


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25 Comments

  1. I am really looking forward to this coming out in the UK! I am from Scotland.
    I think if it is as predicted then it will give an improved public view of Social Workers

  2. The social worker characters are usually great people with diverse backgrounds that help them better perform their work. In short, the characters are great but I usually see the drabbed hair, 1980s styled social worker being portrayed as the norm as if this is the last career that a vibrant young man or woman would have wanted. I have a problem with that. Most of us are young, love our work and love life which shows in our outwardly appearance.

  3. Loretta, I agree 100%. For me, I think it is wrong that they had to change her appearance that much. If we’re talking about the social worker image, we somehow have to drop the middle aged, worn down white woman. From what I’ve seen in the media, this is the norm. Let’s do something about that.

  4. I love being a Master Level Social Worker, “Some will bless you, and some will curse you”. To sum it all up it takes a person with pure compassion, like myself to be a true Social Worker. I Love every minute of it. Smiles Augusta, GA

  5. Maybe we’re portrayed as dowdy in the films since we often barely make enough to make ends meet…no Chanel suits for me!

  6. I just want to say that I am a young African American female who loves being a Master Level social worker and I look dam good! I am offended by the way they are portraying social workers to look.

  7. It is a shame that the media portrays us social worker as middle age white drab women. I am 40 years old and I feel and look like 30. Social worker comes in all sizes and ages. I am so disappointed in mariah in letting herself be made up to look like she is the one that needs counseling. She looks like she can’t carry her soul it weighs so much

  8. The portrayal of a traditional social worker is acceptable. Unfortunately, I have encountered lots of social workers with similar looks in my over 20 years of social work practice. As an administrator, I struggled with some of the workers who continue dressing unfashionable and looking dreadful. There are lots of social workers who dress professionally and do not buy Chanel suits. I don’t think that it would be acceptable to portrait social workers as “super sexy” figures as Mariah Carey because that is not what we set out to be in the work place. Privately, it is a different matter. So colleagues, it is ok to see the images from the past with the hope we can eradicate that image forever. Perhaps this film will help improve self esteem of those colleagues who continue coming to work looking like “Mrs. Weiss”.

  9. Everyone has to remember that this film is based in the late 1980’s so that may have something to do with the wardrobe. It would be great to see Social Workers constantly portrayed in a positive light but unfortunately there are some bad apples. As someone on both sides, I’ve been a consumer, visiting agencies and I know what its like to get treated terribly by a social worker. BTW Mariah’s character Ms. Weiss in the film isn’t a bad person, she is stressed but she is one of the characters that assists in Precious’ break through. The film should be good, but I’ll stay neutral.

  10. Social workers being portrayed in the media should be shown the way most professionals are shown in the media – glamorized! I fully understand that Mariah Carey had to tone down her looks for the role, but please! Most lawyers I’ve known don’t look quite as perfectly polished as they are portrayed on T.V. and in film. I understand the need to portray social workers in a positive light, and a huge part of that is how they appear! We’re discussing a movie, in which every last visual detail is examined again and again. I’m so tired of the exhausted looking social worker. Frankly I do feel that way, especially after a particularly difficult week, but when I get a vision of myself as a stylish professional it does help to carry on and deal with the next set of problems! Oh, and looking professional and polished for work does not have to cost too much.

  11. I was appalled by the comments that Mariah Carey made in an article in Parade magazine about her role in Precious. She talked about her role as a social worker with “bad hair” and how the director insisted that she be made to look “homely.” She appeared to indicate that it took a lot to transform someone as beautiful as her into this homely social worker. To me those comments and the way this character is being visibly portrayed is offensive and attests to what Hollywood thinks about social workers.

  12. I am pretty shocked that NASW is taking on this charge to confront images of social workers in the media. First off, there is a big push to professionalize our field and often times I feel that by doing this we are on the defense.

    Rather than confronting stereotypes of our profession – we should confront the stereotypes that affect the people we serve (our clients). I am assuming that social workers did not join the professional ranks of helping people for the “image” of the profession, but rather to fight for justice for people who are disenfranchise and oppressed in society. I charge everyone who has posted -and- NASW to remain client focused and less focused on a social worker’s image and political capital.

    I would much rather fight against other “isms” (sexism, ageism, ableism, hetetro, racism) than focusing on professional-ism. Come on NASW – don’t loose focus of our own code of ethics.

  13. I, too, have a problem with the dowdy portrayal. If anything, I go out of my way to look nice on the job–part of our job involves modeling behaviors, etc. as a means of teaching/counseling. Why shouldn’t a social worker look her/his best? The press picture above makes Mariah Carey not only look dowdy but downright depressing…

  14. I’ve been in the field for 32 yrs. & have seen dowdy, sexy, and average. BTW, in real life, there are all kinds in all professions. Hollywood is not the only place that applies stereotypic thinking. Stereotypic thinking is all over America. We may have gotten rid of George Bush but our IQs haven’t improved a whole lot yet. After all, look what we’re having a discussion about!

  15. I think the intent of the director might have been to make Mariah look world weary and that I can agree with. By world weary I mean she is a worker tasked with too many clients, who have multiple life problems and little support in trying to help her charges… I’ve been there. So rather than going on about if we can afford Chanel outfits we should be discussing why our profession allows it’s members to be put in those type of situations. I say that because my sister is a speech therapist and she seems to garner much more respect and compensation despite dealing with some of the same client population.

  16. I agree that the dowdy image of social workers is incorrect. We come in all shapes and sizes. They could have just put more clothing on her! All that cleavage is definately out. The SPMI males I work with would be ver distracted. I hope they portrayed her correctly in the movie, emphasizing self-determination and the strenghts perspective. I seriously hate it when social workers are portrayed as meddling.

  17. As a clinical social worker and avid client advocate, I believe that while we must consider the needs of our clients we need to consider our needs as well. We encourage our clients to take care of themselves so that they may have more to give their children, loved ones, etc. The same goes for us! We have to ensure that our needs are met, that we earn a great (not just good) living, that we work in an environment that is conducive to doing good work, and that our profession is presented in the best possible manner so that it reinforces our feelings of pride in our work. We are no different than our clients in that we are human and we need these things as well for our emotional and over-all well being. There is no shame in wanting to professionalize our field and seek to confront images of social workers in the media- it is a first step in the right direction in ensuring that we achieve the acknowledgement that we deserve for all the hard work we do. We are social workers not martyrs.

  18. First, hello fellow colleagues!

    As for Mrs. Carey’s appearance in the film, it is NOT representative of most Social Workers. Most of us are in tune with the times, dress, styles, etc. Not all of us are making small salaries either. Some of us are making high five figures, low six figures depending on our roles and where we live regionally. The character looks beat up and defeated. Most of us do not look nor feel this way. Also, I wonder if the filmmakers confused case workers with Social Workers. As we know, many of the depictions of our profession in media are stereotyped because many people are not aware that in order to be a professional Social Worker, one MUST have a college degree in Social Work (not in another allied field). Many people in society often interface with child /adult case workers in which many do not have a college degree in Social Work or any 4 year college degree at all. This is why I believe we as professionals and as an organization (NASW) need to make our profession even more visible by doing our own public relations campaign (like other mental health professionals). The more people are aware of what we actually do, our credentials, our versatility, the better we will be depicted in media and society.

  19. Linda

    There are several facets of Social Work: child-well fare, the courts, hospital, clinics, etc… I’m proud to be a Master’s level social worker who is contributing knowledge, skills and expertise in the health care area.. and oh, I get paid very well. The way we are viewed and depicted in the Media is despicable, as professionals we should each make an effort to gain the respect, positive reputation , and the credit we deserve…….

  20. Hey Fellow Social Workers,
    I think Loretta makes the most relevant point about the character Ms. Weiss in the movie Precious. The story is set in 1980s which, in my opinion, was bad fashion times for more than just social workers, i.e. Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, etc.
    Since my social work practice focuses on self-concept with girls, I encourage and teach media literacy skills. Part of the problem I have with this discussion is we’re losing sight that the focus of the press is Mariah Carey’s “transformation” not the social work profession itself. Joshua, I think the “image” issue is important in the regard that media, fortunately or unfortunately, tends to be the source of information for a lot of people. So, fostering a relationship or dialogue about media portrayal’s makes sense to me.

  21. Studies for a portrait.
    A research about the social worker and
    the social representations of this figure through cinema and narration.

    This paper aims to present some reflections based on empirical evidence coming from numerous researches of this last period. This is also a starting point for a future book on this theme.
    This study is about social representations of social professional identities, especially social workers, and about the ways they are represented in a sample of 21 films and 20 novels. In order to analyse these materials we utilized two schemes/index-cards (A and B) for both novels and films. “Card A” regards information about: film company, year, genre, format, (way of) finding, length, staging analysis and so on. Card “B” regards features’ analysis of social worker’s character, with special attention to some criteria: significance of this figure inside the film or the novel, professional capability, degree of empathy, use of particular language and so on.
    We collected the materials with a reasoned-selection sampling (in other words the documents were chosen with some reasons) and with the criteria of significance for this profession and the availability.
    Research results aim to construct some ideal types of social workers’ social representations and to identify the mechanisms which build social representations, starting from everyday life of these workers and their continual interactions within society.
    From a methodological point of view this research constitutes an experiment that is possible to extends to other professions. In this sense, films and novels are ideal and natural habitat for observing construction and re-construction mechanisms not only of representations, but also of inequalities and stereotypes. We can assert that films and novels produce reciprocal images between a profession, which plays the role of taking care of “Others”, and the rest of society.
    In addition, we produced a cd-rom, with an European funding, on the social worker’s representations in different sectors: television, cinema, press, novels, in order to stimulate a critical reflections on mechanisms of construction and mutual influence about social representations.

    Elena Allegri, , Weak presences, strong processes. Multimedia hypertext about the representations of the profession of social worker, edit by University of Eastern Piedmont, Politics Science Faculty, Alessandria, 2004

  22. Hello Everyone!!!

    As social workers, we are well aware of individuality and everyone being unique. Let’s keep in mind that this movie was set in the 80’s. I know social workers today who dress like we are still in the 80’s and could care less about wearing makeup in the office or in the field. Also, don’t forget about the other social worker who came to visit Mo’Nique in the movie. Her attire was truly 1980’s, but what was most important is that both of them did their jobs. How a person looks doesn’t matter if they aren’t doing what they are paid to do.

  23. I am glad that social workers are continually portrayed throughout the media. However, it appears that more roles within the media should portray “Clinical Social Workers”. As a fellow social worker mentioned, social workers do more than case management. Our profession is vast and diverse. When I tell people that I am a “Clinical Social Worker” they immediately connect that title to “Social Services”. It is not my intent to downplay social services or case management, but the profession far advances the latter.

  24. while it is understood that the film is essentially based on the mid 80’s, there is still a general imagery of a typical social worker. if this perception does’nt change, even modern pictures will still be depicting social wrokers as drab and fashionably drained. I have only seen the trailer of precious BUT Mariah does an EXCELLENT job man!!!!!!!! well composed and relaxed, a star . Undeniably however, some…. well many social workers do look shabby in their attire and this is a fact so if we honestly want the media to change its idea of a social worker’s outfit, maybe social workers should begin to revolutionalize their image. I am not certain if i will see the actual movie as I heard it has indecent language (curse words) in it. if this is so I am hugely dissapointed in Tyler Perry.

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