By: Jasmine Grant
Hollywood rarely puts minorities at the forefront of large projects whether its behind the scenes or not. Yet, in the past few years, movies with black leads have outperformed any expectations made by hollywood, especially when made with black ideas like Get Out, Moonlight, Girls Trip, and Black Panther. Still, there aren’t enough. Most representation for minorities, however equal, comes at a cost. Overplayed narratives of minorities often reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, a study by the University of Southern California examined 1000 different films and used math to find significant linguistic differences in characters by race, gender, and age. Latino and mixed-race people were found to have a higher degree of sexualized characters that used more sexual language and African-Americans used a much higher percentage of swear-words when compared to Caucasians. Though not inherently bad things, typecasts like these are outdated characterizations that dehumanize minorities individuality but at certain times these racist television tropes were the only source of semi-relatable content.
This issue also prevails in other areas of the media with more real life consequences. One huge way the media displays its bias is in an overrepresentation of minorities in areas of crime, poverty, and social instability. A study by Dr Travis L. Dixon, a professor of communications, looked at 800 different pieces both local and national, news and opinionated, between January 2015 and december 2016 to find there are large amounts of race misrepresentation in the media. Black families overrepresent america’s poor population and criminal activity whereas white people are underrepresented in both of these areas. Black fathers often depicted as being absent and black mothers as relying on government welfare. News outlets are feeding america lies through racist lenses and the negative effects of unfair perceptions cannot be overstated. One source of such media prejudice is perhaps the underrepresentation not exemplified in the consumed material but in the people behind it’s inner workings. Darnell hunt, the dean of social sciences at the UCLA college reported on the statistics of race in the hollywood writers rooms of television. The study looked at 234 different series streamed over 18 different networks with seasons running from 2016-2017 to find that 65 percent of the writers rooms featured zero black writers and for all shows, only 5% of writers were black. Overall in the industry, more than 90% of showrunners are white and only 10% of Hollywood’s directors are minorities. Now, this isnt due to a lack of qualified people of color, it’s rooted in discriminatory views only perpetuated in this cycle of exclusion. The studies commissioner and advocacy group Color of Change states this in relation to the study “The ultimate result of this exclusion is the widespread reliance on Black stereotypes to drive Black character portrayals, where Black characters even exist at all—at best, “cardboard” characters, at worst, unfair, inaccurate and dehumanizing portrayals.”
They go on to explain the dangers of these perceptions on black people and black communities at large. Studies have proven this leads to ignorant decision making by teachers, judges, doctors, and police. These kinds of findings should shock you. Alas, it is easy for diversity to lack and for racism to shine through on screen when it so clearly does both behind the scenes.
Another driving force of this media racism is discriminatory preferences, especially for more European looks. The media plays into this favoritism in severely demeaning ways. Consider the replacement of darker-skinned characters with lighter skinned actors in adaptations like The Hate U Give and comic book character Storm or the whitewashing of the movie Ghost in the Shell. What kind of underlying commentary are changes like this communicating?
This process referred to as whitewashing has taken place in countless high-production movies based on books, older films, graphic novels, and more, contributing to the lack of representation in hollywood today. While these preferences give way to erasure, they also promote unrealistic beauty standards to a significant portion of America’s youth. Skin tones are also continuously lightened in magazines and advertisements. Popular companies guilty of this include Loreal, Elle, and even Vogue. The media’s whitewashing takes a toll on personal ideals developed by young people of color, consuming the idea that being beautiful means being lighter. These messages of beauty standards are why girls everywhere are bleaching their skin and perming their hair and associating darkness with being bad and prioritizing lightness as good are what allows the media to depict minorities in negative lights however dishonest. But this problem doesn’t have to be cemented in American culture. It just takes voices to enact change. The movie Black Panther originally used British accents and required the advocating of the lead actor, Chadwick Boseman, to recognize the importance of African accents. The use of African accents aims to further normalize aspects of foreign or diverse cultures. Calling out problematic works of art and dishonest news reporting refuses its place in our diverse world. Being complicit in a system favoring only certain looks and perpetuating negative stereotypes has detrimental effects to the self esteem and safety of young minorities. Instead, we have to create a world without expectations, stereotypes, and standards. Even by starting small in everyday life by eliminating those ideals to stop communicating them to vulnerable people can make a big impact.
Another important step is recognizing your own personal biases. Through this it is less likely to develop perceptions of people based on the media’s narrative and have attitudes towards people with the tone of those portrayals. expose yourself to the narratives made by minorities themselves instead. Watch their movies, read their books, listen to their music, observe their art. Not only is it empowering, but vital to making progress in an era moving towards equality.
Maybe if I had had people willing to make these strides when I was younger I wouldn’t be so afraid of living up to the angry black girl narrative. The media says I am hostile, angry, loud, and sassy. But art in mainstream media that normalizes minority individuality makes it so that I can be who I am, no restrictions.