by Shannon S.
When looking at the history of media, it can be noticed that it has historically been exclusionary with no traces of representation. Looking back to Shakesperian times, women were not allowed to perform in plays, so female roles were performed by young men. Jumping forward in time to the start of cinema, the first blockbuster Hollywood film, Birth of a Nation, and the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer, both featured white actors in blackface. These historical examples have all been addressed as being wrong, problematic, and prejudiced but bad representation is still a recurring problem. The media continues to poorly represent minority groups, both on-screen and behind the scenes, and the press does not listen to minority voices.
The Oscars have been called out for years for having mainly white male nominees, but the representation problem that Hollywood has is not just about the people on the screen but also with those working off-screen. Jessica Wolf’s report gives a rundown of the representation of women and minorities that work in the movie industry between 2018 and 2019. The report shows how in 2018, “40.4% [of roles] went to women and 30.9% to people of color”(Wolf). In the next year, these statistics remained almost stagnant. Wolf goes on to point out that where the representation really lacks is in the positions where people make the decisions regarding the movies being made, whether that be directing, writing, or producing. These are the people that have the power to greenlight and create projects that give the opportunity for a diverse cast. Without a diverse group of people working behind the scenes, it is more difficult to create works that correctly show a diverse group of people. When there is an insignificant representation, it’s vital to look at the people who are producing the media.
Lacking representation in the media is not the only problem minority groups deal with, but also bad depictions can be harmful. A review by Shaily Mishra of a recent Netflix documentary entitled Disclosure, explains how the documentary covers the derogatory ways in which transgender characters are depicted. Her review explains that “Media has always placed trans people on extremes of emotions, either someone to laugh at or someone to be fearful of”(Mishra). In other words, the media has limited positive representation. The two extremes given are examples of how gender-nonconforming people in the media are made either the butt of the joke or how many times they are cast as people that society deems less than, like sex workers. The main point of the documentary is to address these poor representations of transgender individuals in the media because there are many people who don’t know a transgender person, it is quoted that “80 percent of the Americans do not personally know a transgender”(Mishra). If the media is the only exposure someone has to a person different from them and it gives a negative portrayal, this will only lead to negative stereotypes and prejudices, harming that community as a whole.
The media is more than just movies and television shows, it also includes the press and journalists; who are not doing their part to accurately depict minorities. In journalism, it is of the utmost importance to understand and portray minority groups correctly because these groups are already discriminated against and the news is intended to be the whole truth. Hanna’ Tameez writes on two studies about media and diversity, explaining that one of the studies shows that “26 percent of Hispanic Americans felt their personal interests were misunderstood”(Tameez) and “One-third of Black Americans ... said their personal characteristics were misunderstood”(Tameez), while “39 percent of white Americans said their political views were misunderstood”(Tameez). So white Americans did not think that the media understood their politics, and Americans of color felt that they, as people, were not understood by the media that is supposed to deliver facts and instead gave a false idea of who they are.
Representation in the media is not solely about who is given air time but how those people are represented. It is important that there are a diverse group of people behind the scenes to make sure that the media being created is accurate and well done. There is still a problem in the media when it comes to bad representation of different people and so working to fix such problems can help alleviate prejudice as the media can be taken as the truth.
Mishra, Shaily. “Review: Netflix Docu Disclosure Analyses Hollywood's Trans Bias In Media Portrayal.” Feminism In India, 12 July 2020, feminisminindia.com/2020/07/13/transgender-in-media-netflix-disclosure/.
Tameez, Hanna'. “Two New Studies about Media and Diversity Can Help Newsrooms through Their Reckoning with Racism.” Nieman Lab, 26 June 2020, www.niemanlab.org/2020/06/two-new-studies-about-media-and-diversity-can-help-newsrooms-through-their-reckoning-with-racism/.
Wolf, Jessica. “2020 Hollywood Diversity Report: A Different Story behind the Scenes.” UCLA, UCLA, 6 Feb. 2020, newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/2020-hollywood-diversity-report.