Cultural diversity in American TV and film: or the lack thereof

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Cultural diversity in American TV and film: or the lack thereof

Jessi Rich, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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With films such as “Black Panther” and “Crazy Rich Asians” featuring predominantly non-white casts, one might jump to the conclusion that the issue of racial diversity in American film and TV is no longer an issue at all. However, recent statistics suggest that the entertainment industry is still falling short in accurately representing the scope of our nation’s cultural and racial diversity. 

 

In February of this year, UCLA published its sixth “Hollywood Diversity Report,” and the findings were disheartening, to say the least. Despite the fact that minorities comprise nearly 40 percent of America’s population–an amount “growing by about half a percent each year”–only 2 out of 10 lead actors in American films are people of color. Likewise, only 2.2 out of lead actors in scripted TV shows are people of color.

 

There also seems to be a disparity in terms of gender representation in media, as well. Women make up just over half of the U.S. population, and yet the numbers of them in television and movies still remain lower than they should be. For instance, the same UCLA report found that women made up 32.9% of film leads and 39.7% of scripted TV show leads in 2017.

 

Which begs the question: what could be the reason for the discrepancy plaguing Hollywood? It’s not like movies with whiter casts perform better in the box office than movies with more diverse casts. In fact, it’s the opposite. The “Los Angeles Times” points out that, of the major movies produced in 2017, those with 31% to 40% minority cast members boasted the highest median box office numbers while “those with fewer than 11% minority cast members had the lowest.”

 

In other words, America is ready for equal representation of the numerous cultures thriving within its borders. It’s important for people to be able to see themselves on the big screen, and it’s especially important for children. 

 

“When you grow up with media [showing] people who don’t look like you, it can be hard to fit in to something that you know you’ll never become,” says Milton senior Kimberly Davis, president of the school’s new Podcast Club and a film class alum. As a child, characters such as Doc McStuffins and Chyna Parks in Disney Channel’s “Ant Farm”  showed her that black girls, too, can be whoever they want to be. When children are exposed to characters like these, Davis says, “It’s like a level has been removed between what you have to get to and who you are.”

 

The American media’s diversity problem likely doesn’t have just one cause, so it doesn’t have just one solution, either. Davis, who has worked on a few short films of her own, recommends bolstering the behind-the-scenes diversity ahead of the on-screen diversity. “You have to start from the root,” says Davis. “[We should] put writers that are actually diverse into writing TV shows and…have dramatic writing classes, like we do here at Milton, and cater towards audiences that are diverse.”

 

For Hollywood, however, apparently it isn’t that easy. Just this month, “Crazy Rich Asians” co-screenwriter Adele Lim, an Asian woman, walked out on the movie’s sequel project due to unfair treatment.

 

Despite the film being centered around an Asian woman and featuring Asian culture, Lim was offered “close to one-tenth of the $800,000 to $1 million salary” offered to her white male co-screenwriter, Peter Chiarelli (Quartz). Frustrated with the massive pay disparity, Lim left her position in writing the movie’s sequel–an understandable reaction.

 

Truth is, the nation is changing. By the year 2045, America’s minority population is expected to outnumber the white population–Hispanics, Asians, and mixed-race people being the largest contributors. With the white majority slowly disappearing, the old, offensive tropes (see: angry/sassy black woman, cartel or gang-involved Latino, genius Asian, terrorist and/or violent Arab…the list goes on) and token characters aren’t going to cut it anymore.

 

Hollywood needs to familiarize themselves with minority stories beyond the ones they’re used to. A story told from the point of view of a person of color can be just as impactful and masterful as a story told from the point of view of a white person, if not more so. There are plenty of creators and actors hoping for a chance to showcase their skills; all the entertainment industry has to do is give them that chance.

 

By: Jessi Rich

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