What does one see nowadays in media outlets, sitcoms and TV shows? The same non-representation of Person(s) of Color (PoC) and the stereotypes of a group of people belonging to a particular race or ethnicity based on one PoC who is in the show.
Let’s focus on the non-representation and stereotyping of PoC. If not being represented on screen isn’t enough, there is an egregiously low percentage of representation behind the scenes in writing, producing and directing as well.
Shows like Black-ish, Scandal or How to Get Away with Murder are mere starting points trying to increase representation and sometimes are even realistic about the people it portrays. However, this lack of representation continues to be a problem. We need a much bigger change to happen, and we need to constantly address it until our voice is heard.
According to UCLA’s 2015 Hollywood Diversity report, minorities have been outnumbered “greater than 6 to 1 among the creators of broadcast scripted shows, nearly 6 to 1 among broadcast scripted leads, greater than 3 to 1 among the creators of cable scripted shows, 3 to 1 among film writers, greater than 2 to 1 among film leads and 2 to 1 among film directors.”
The portrayal of PoC is based mostly on stereotypes, giving an inaccurate depiction of individuals of these ethnicities. Racism and stereotyping are not things of the past. Despite what the mass media says, I refuse to cheer for Kunal Nayyar in The Big Bang Theory because he is not a representative for the entire Indian population. Unlike what’s portrayed on television, Indian men can talk to women without the help of alcohol and Indians are not the wealthy model minority.
Let us look at this casting call from “Straight Outta Compton”, which asks for “Models (…) black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or mixed race too. D girls. These are African-American girls. Poor, not in good shape. Medium to dark skinned.”
In Hollywood casting format, the more attractive A girls can be cast in a wider race pool. However, the less attractive the person, the narrower the race becomes in terms of casting. So while A girls can be any race, D girls are limited to only African-American women in this specific casting call.
This description is absolutely appalling to say the least. You would think with well-educated movie makers and cast directors there would be a better use of language. Of all the words in the English language they used “poor” and “not in good shape” to describe the girls from this race. This perpetuates the stereotype that people who identify as African-American, who identify as black, are automatically not well dressed and not in good shape, which is a far cry from the truth.
These are some of many examples of the absolute lack of representation of PoC and African- Americans in the entertainment industry. On the rare occasions that they are cast, it is more of being in a side role, or being extras or the awkward person who is either unattractive or considered exotic because of their race/ethnicity.
Our ideas of a particular group of people come primarily from media sources. This lack of representation–and resulting proliferation of stereotypes– gives audiences a very narrow and often false perspective of that particular race or ethnicity. We start to associate the stereotypical portrayals with a whole group instead of one person.
Even after decades of lack of representation there are no concrete steps taken to change this recurring theme. PoC are outnumbered grossly by white people both on and off stage. Actors who are not well established, including Kunal Nayyar or Viola Davis, cannot excel in an industry that leaves no space for them.
Janani Venkateswaran is a second-year psychology & social behavior and drama double major. She can be reached at email@example.com.