Minority Representation in The Media
Written by Caroline Mitchell, Creative Content Producer
The media, whether in advertising, television production, print news, or any other medium, is designed to reflect our society. Throughout the evolution of our society, diversity, equity and inclusion have become increasingly valued as we have become overall more inclusive. Recent generations appear to be more aware of issues concerning inequities, including racial discrimination, equal rights for minority groups, protecting equal legislation, etc. This, along with a long history of societal ideals and challenges of diversity, would hopefully result in a diverse media representation.
In actuality, the media has underrepresented minority communities for a very long time. This includes gender, class, race and ethnicity, religion, and other minority groups. According to UCLA’s 2021 Hollywood diversity report, most racial minorities (excluding African Americans, who were overrepresented) were underrepresented. This data compared the percentages of each race to the percentage of all film roles that each race held that year. This is the same for gender identities, in which data shows that men are overrepresented, and women and other genders (i.e., transgender, nonbinary, etc.) are underrepresented. While these statistics come from the film industry, the need for diversity is also present in photographs, social media, ad campaigns, the music industry, etc.
Because the media has the ability to shape ideas and perspectives, normalizing diversity in this industry will allow for fewer stereotypes, biases, and homogeneous belief systems. The portrayal of minorities in the media forms societal views of each minority group, affecting not only how these individuals see themselves but also how others see them. Thinking back to the beginning of mass media, we have numerous examples of negative stereotypes in each media format. An example of this in entertainment media would be the very narrow representation of non-white characters in the early years of television– racist depictions, negative stereotypes, and tropes that were once associated with being a person of color. As years have passed, these stereotypes have become less prominent in the media and subsequently decreased as new generations form new belief systems. So, assuming that this industry has the power to create change, as the media begins to portray minority groups differently, we are more likely to reinterpret our understanding of people different than ourselves. This is not to say that the issues within media representation are solved. Going back to the UCLA data, we know these minority groups remain underrepresented and misrepresented.
Representation not only matters for our society as a whole but also for the members of each group. For example, if there is a character who wears a hijab in a popular television show, those who also wear hijabs may feel more comfortable doing so over time. Or a person who uses a wheelchair will feel like they are seen when an advertisement campaign features another person who uses a wheelchair. Similarly, when someone who wants to transition between genders sees a transgender person walking in a fashion show, they may be inspired to be themselves openly.
The media should be a direct representation of the people within our society– a unique and diverse group of individuals. Each person deserves to be portrayed in an accurate, positive manner. As the diversity, equity, and inclusivity of this industry continues to develop; hopefully, the same will go for the future of our society.