If you are a person of color, a part of the LGBTQ+ community, or are disabled you know the dreaded feeling of having to watch movies and TV shows without seeing someone who looks like you or having someone you relate to.
Film and Television are sources of entertainment that presents stories and narratives people can easily relate to – it is one of the reasons why we delve into media in the first place. It forms a connection to viewers.
But because of differentiated backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles, viewer connection is lost.
So, what does poor representation look like? And worse, what are the side effects of not having media representation?
According to The Hollywood diversity report, “In 2011, the first year tracked, more than half of the films fell into the lowest level of cast diversity — less than 11%.”
The numbers are gradually increasing as in 2020, “28.8% of films had the highest level of cast diversity – 50$% or higher. Just under 10% of films in 2020 fell into the lowest level of cast diversity,” reports the UCLA’s Hollywood Diversity Report.
But what about the other 61.2% of films? All white. That is more than half of all films who are still lacking in minority representation.
According to LATV, a Latino owned TV network, “The most underrepresented groups in all job categories, relative to their presence in the U.S., are Latino, Asian and Native actors, directors and writers.”
These numbers are directly resulting from the most recent Hollywood Diversity Report. Slowly increasing numbers are not equitable for everyone as ‘Nearly every film in 2019 failed to include even one girl or woman who was American Indian/Alaskan Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or Middle Eastern/North African.’ according to Keep Earth.
This inequality in casting doesn’t end at race, the LGTBQ+ community has suffered greatly with very limited roles and screen time.
According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, “of the top 100 films in 2019, 78 featured no LGBTQ+ individuals, and 94 featured no female-identified LGBTQ+ individuals.”
Looking at the top 600 films from 2014-2019, out of 26,618 speaking cast members: 161 were gay, 56 were lesbian, 33 were bisexual, and 4 were transgender. (all transgender characters recieved a total of 2 minutes of screen time.) That is only 254 individuals belonging to the LGBTQ+ community, a community that is bigger than just 4 groups. 26,364 out of the 26,618 speaking cast were cis-gendered.
On screen actors are not the only ones affected by the lack of minority inclusion. Behind the scenes workers play an important role as directors, writers, make-up artists, producers, and so much more.
These jobs are responsible for telling the narratives of their characters, speaking true to their perspectives, knowledge on make-up techniques for people of color, and many other details that straight white individuals are not keen to.
According to the The Hollywood Diversity Report, “All four job categories showed progress in 2020, but women and people of color are still underrepresented in critical behind-the-camera jobs. Women made up just 26% of film writers and just 20.5% of directors. Combined, minority groups were slightly better represented as directors at 25.4%. Just 25.9% of film writers in 2020 were people of color.”
According to Keep Earth, “In 2019, out of the 112 directors, 80.4% were White, and barely 20% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.”
Statically shown, there is an astounding underrepresentation of minorities. But why does this matter?
According to the Psychology In Action Organization, “Research shows that a lack of representation in media can lead to negative psychological outcomes for those with identities that are underrepresented or negatively portrayed”
Results of poor media representation looks like low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders, feelings of unimportance, and other mental side effects.
Not having representation leads to viewers asking themselves why they aren’t being featured. If they were featured they are often subject to harsh stereotypes that are detrimental to their mental health, but their community as a whole.
According to Mary Anna Kid of the Department of Communication at the University of Texas,” Research has shown that negative images that relate to stereotypes of minority populations, such as African Americans and Latinos in the United States, can lead to negative interpretations of their actions (Mastro and Kopacz, 2006). Mastro and Kopacz’s research revealed that these stereotyped characters can also have an effect on policy decisions and voting behaviors.”
Her conclusion demonstrates the harsh reality of poor diversity in film. Not only does it affect the minority at hand, it affects the perception of the community and effects them on a higher standard such as government action.
Lastly, according to the Medium, “society is not monolithic, but multifaceted. The continued cycle of excluding diversity, inclusion, and ignoring misrepresentation in the entertainment and media industry showcase the importance of having diverse storytellers, actors, directors, and producers involved both on-screen and behind the scenes.”
If there is one thing minorities would like the public to know, it is that we are not a monolith and we deserve equal opportunities in the world of TV and Film.