Media Representation

When 16-year-old Julie Jackson looks up at a movie screen, they expect to see a representation of themself in those flickering lights. The characters are someone they could be, something that is relatable. Instead, they looks up to see a stereotypical white male character saving the day, falling in love with a girl and riding off into the sunset. [1]

In the last few decades it has become more and more apparent that the media that we consume does not represent the diversity of our society. This is a world full of people of all different races, genders, religions, sexualities and body types. However, when we watch movies or TV shows only a small part of that is represented.

Firstly, women are statistically underrepresented in today’s media. In family films, males outnumber females 3 to 1 even though women represent at least half the population. In prime time TV, women are only 37% of characters represented and in 2011 [2]they only comprised 18% of all crew working on the 250 top grossing films. Even more than just the sheer fact that women are left out of the media, they are also grossly over sexualized. Women in many films and television shows have become nothing more than something to gawk at. According to a study, women are much more likely to be portrayed as thin and pretty in movies as well as having their outfit show some skin. [3]

In addition to the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women, people of color are also not seen in the media. In 2008, African American actors represented less than 14% of roles and Latinos less than 8%. Overall only 3.4% of roles for people of color were main characters. [4]

Chè Baines is a member of the Chee tribe from Montreal, CA, and he expressed his frustration with casting of non-aboriginal in aboriginal roles in television and movies.  “ I believe it is wildly inappropriate considering the already wide spread appropriation of aboriginal culture in North America. Also, there are so few roles for aboriginal people already; we really should be allowed to play ourselves considering the extremely high rate of aboriginal unemployment in all industries. Also, even when we cast in aboriginal we often get put into stereotypes of the superstitious shaman, the whooping warrior or the shy helpless maiden. It’s very rare that there are strong aboriginal roles in which being aboriginal is not the center of the character but just an aspect.”

This has a profound affect on people, especially young people, when they view these movies and TV shows. Benjamin O’Keefe who is an actor of color and an ambassador for Proud 2B Me, an organization that promotes body positivity for young people says  “For young people of color I think that there must be a real ostracizing feeling to not see themselves represented in what they watch or see, I know there was for me as a gay person of color. We want all want to feel included and valued but the message we send to these kids is that they aren’t important enough to appear on the screen and if they want to be important enough to be on screen they have to fulfill over the top stereotypes. Long-term I believe that this further fuels the inequalities we still face as a society today. I think by leaving our minorities in our major media platforms we send a message that these people truly are still second class citizens.”

            In recent years, it has become more common for television and movies to include characters with different sexual orientations and gender identities. Still these groups of people make up a very small fraction of TV and movie characters. On TV, Out of 796 primetime broadcast scripted series regulars, 26 will be LGBT this year, or 3.3%.  This in down from 4.4% last year but still up from 2.9% at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. While last year there weren’t any regular transgender characters on broadcast television, there will be one this season with the character of Unique on Glee.[5]  Julie Jackson said that they would like to see characters with a more diverse range of sexual orientations and genders rather than just lesbian and gay. “I would LOVE to see genderqueer people. I feel portraying people being genderqueer would be a larger step than pansexuality, but I am all for that as well. I want to see more trans* people and more queer people without their main function as a character just to be there and have their whole character be about being that orientation.”

            Still, there are TV shows trying to take steps to have more diversity in their casting. Earlier this year Netflix debuted the show Orange is the New Black which had a largely female cast that included many people of color and gay and lesbian characters. They also included a transgender character who is played by a transgender actress named Laverne Cox. Another show to take on this task is Fox’s Sleepy Hollow whose cast is majority actors of color, this has gained positive reception from many viewers and is thwarting the stereotype that diversity is bad for ratings.

            The media is learning that it might need to have more diversity in it’s ranks and that it won’t drive customers away, but it might be a while until the television and movie industries are fully integrated. The entire way of life for the industries will have to be adjusted in order to make room for more diverse casting. It remains to be seen how long the wait really is.

 


[1] This person identifies as genderqueer and prefers they pronouns

[2] “Gender Resources.” Miss Representation Gender Resources Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

 

[3] Bahadur, Nina. “Women In The Media: Female TV And Film Characters Still Sidelined And Sexualized, Study Finds.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.

 

[4] Liu, Yvonne Yen. “Whiting Out Hollywood: Fewer People of Color Hired for Film and TV – COLORLINES.” RSS. N.p., 27 Oct. 2009. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

 

[5] “Where We Are on TV Report 2013.” GLAAD: Leading the Conversation for LGBT Equality. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Dec. 2013.

 

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