“When I was nine years old, Star Trek came on, I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, Mom, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” — Whoopi Goldberg
In Feb of 2018, Variety published an article about a study done by Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA. Some take aways from the study:
“Minorities remain underrepresented in film leads (13.9%), film directors (12.6%), film writers (8.1%), broadcast scripted leads (18.7%), cable scripted leads (20.2%), broadcast reality and other leads (26.6%) and leads for cable reality and other leads (20.9%). Women posted gains in all the key employment arenas since the previous report, with the exception of four — film directors, broadcast scripted show leads, cable scripted show creators, and broadcast scripted show creators. They are underrepresented among film leads (31.2%), film directors (6.9%), film writers (13.8%), broadcast scripted leads (35.7%), cable scripted leads (44.8%) and broadcast reality and other leads (18.8%).”
And it’s not just about diversity– it’s about stereotypes.
“We develop stereotypes as mental maps to help us cope with the complexity of groups and peoples. In this sense, a stereotype is a neutral system of classification. However, the modern definition focuses on the problems inherent in portraying a co-culture using trite, limited characteristics. 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. In other words, these decisions can be based on negative stereotypes triggered by media depictions instead of the actual characteristics of the population. When people watch shows with characters who are familiar and similar to them, they identify with them positively. “In other words, the more similar an in-group or out-group target is to the relevant characteristic of the perceiver’s in-group, the more favorable the evaluation” (Mastro and Kopacz, 2006, p. 309). However, when the differences are highlighted, they tend to see the groups in a negative light. This can hold true particularly for those who do not often encounter the stereotyped groups (Signorielli, 2009)
(From an article presented at the International Conference on Communication in a Multicultural Society in 2016)
How to fight this? One way: Get all celebrities to demand an Inclusion Rider. Thank you Frances McDormand and Michael B. Jordan for getting the word out!
Both Whoopi Goldberg and Leslie Jones talk about running through their homes screaming “there’s somebody on tv that looks like me!”