One Side of the Story

by Isaiah Joseph

Minority representation, more specifically African-American representation and success in film has been an ascendant force lately.

From Moonlight snagging Best Picture during the 2017 Oscars, movies like Hidden Figures shining light on stories that have lied in darkness and not quite fully been told, to some of television’s highest rated shows consisting of leading black roles.

The question is, with this arising success, are we as minorities starting to break out of the dark, suffocating box of unequal representation in media or are small holes just being punched through a still predominantly obscure box that has held us captive for years?

Are minorities still predominantly being placed into roles that solely feed into their stereotypes or are they well represented in generalized roles?

Well according to the Hollywood Diversity Report ran by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, only 8.1 percent of lead actors in scripted broadcast TV shows were people of color with many of these lead actors still feeding into a stereotype society has placed them in.

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A UCLA study breaks down underrepresentation in Hollywood.

With society evolving and becoming more media-based, equal representation Is very essential for many reasons. Imagine being maybe a young child that’s African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, or any other minority, watching television. You are relentlessly being flooded with an image of the typical “American” family that looks nothing like you.

The show or movie may consist of a middle or higher class family but again, they look nothing like you. The portrayed lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, and other professions all have one thing in common. They are typically white.This can ultimately affect you as an underrepresented child.

If incessantly being flooded with the depiction of middle or high class families portrayed in these generalized movies, shows or commercials as solely white, you can subconsciously start to think that your window of opportunities is only half-open. You can feel as if your ceiling is lower even though you are told that the sky is supposedly the limit.

With today’s minority underrepresentation, a child can even be led to subconsciously tailor their grandest aspirations into what they think they think America would allow them to have the most success at which is reflected on television.

“Well maybe I should be a basketball player or football player”, an African-American youth may think because that is all that they see on television that they can identify with. While that is great for future aspiring athletes, not every child is meant to be an athlete or truthfully desires to be one. But indirectly, it’s all they know.

Kerry Washington-Viola Davis
Kerry Washington (left) and Viola Davis (right) are two of Hollywood’s most recognizable stars in film and television. 

A child should not subconsciously feel that this is one of the very few avenues for them to achieve success. There are limited roles present in television for minority children who maybe aspire to be engineers, lawyers, doctors, or even actors or actresses to look up to.

This feeling combined with the negative perceptions placed in the media of African-Americans who are labeled as “thugs” or the idea of African-Americans and other minorities being the typical criminals only pours into the delusion.

This is toxic to a country where just in 2014, data from the U.S Census Bureau conveyed that 50.2 percent of the 20 million children under 5 in the United States were minorities.

Another question that comes to mind is, what if roles were reversed? Well, just by the fact that some people are troubled with the fact that a racist family is the antagonist in the highly rated phenomenon, Get Out, by Jordan Peele, I infer that the issue would garner more attention and yearned anomaly.

It’s certainly disproportionate that one single racist family produced much stir while the consistent dosage of negative portrayals of minorities being displayed through mainstream media every day has been widely ignored.

Moonlight-poster
Moonlight received the Academy Award for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars ceremony.

The 8.1 percent is substantially diminutive for a country with such a rapidly growing minority population.  Back to the question, are we starting to break out of a confined box, or are minuscule holes just being placed through the box as a way to try to temporarily mediate an increasingly controversial issue?

In my political science breakout class, we had a debate one week. The debate topic was reparations to the black community, and it seemed that some people in the class went with the idea that African-American people weren’t treated any differently than white people in America.

When they shared their opinions, I constantly got the idea that they thought that since we aren’t still in slavery or facing segregation, we somehow are being equally treated. Because they do not first handily experience oppression, they cannot attest to its grimacing face.

What was more interesting was that when talking about this same issue of underrepresentation of minorities in generalized roles the following week, these same people simply did not think the issue existed.

I believe that the shallow idea that 100 percent of television personalities aren’t white have caused them to believe that other minorities have just as much representation.

Their misunderstanding led me to wonder if many of the prominent creators in film share the same perspective. Are these small holes just being punctured into that box of minority underrepresentation to simply silence the issue? Are minorities just being sprinkled into television roles just to provide grounds to claim that minorities are being represented equally with the majority when we are light years away from being represented like we should be?

I equate it to being trapped inside of a box where small holes are solely pierced through to allow oxygen and limited light to seep through just to keep you from going frantic. These small holes keep you alive, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that you are still annexed from the outside world.

Through it all, I definitely agree that we should thoroughly support diversity in movies. I believe that actors, actresses, news anchors, analysts, talk show hosts, etc. who are African-American, White, Indian, Hispanic and Asian should be placed behind these cameras to tell their own stories.

We are certainly headed in the right direction. It’s great that there is beginning to be an influx of minority culture and stories being displayed in modern movies, shows, and commercials. However, there is still tons to be desired.

We can use these minutely punched holes as a starting point in order to make larger openings until we eventually break out of what has been an encompassing box for so long.

 

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