The film industry, particularly Hollywood, produces a myriad of films that feature great diversity in genre. Despite its sufficiency in producing movies with rich plots and riveting action– more or less– it has been under public scrutiny due to the allegations that its films lack diversity in race and gender.
By examining the lack of representation in films and the statistics to support the claims, it becomes incontrovertible that these allegations may have some truth to them. Our ongoing societal problems may also be reflected through the films and TV shows that are produced.
A newly released study conducted by the University of Southern California suggests that Hollywood suffers an “epidemic of invisibility” for minorities and has the tendency to perpetuate stereotypes. The study, which is titled “Inclusion or Invisibility? Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment,” found that only around 28 percent of characters with dialogue were of non-white racial groups, although they represent almost 40 percent of the U.S. demographic. Furthermore, gender still remains to be an issue. The study finds that just one-third of characters with dialogue were females, and that even when females do play a role in films, they are four times more likely to be sexualized.
“The film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club,” the study states.
Stacy L. Smith, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview, “I think we’re seeing, across the landscape, an erasure of certain groups; women, people of color, the LGBT community … this is really [an] epidemic of invisibility that points to a lack of inclusivity across [film and TV].”
Although this issue is shocking, the blatant racism truly manifests itself when minorities actually play a role in films. As confusing as this may sound, the tendency is that when characters of certain films feature racial minorities, “whitewashing” seems to follow. “Whitewashing” is the practice in which white actors play non-white roles; this practice can be found in many films.
This practice gained recognition in the movie “Ghost in the Shell,” an upcoming American film based on a Japanese manga. Although the central character in the manga series is of Japanese heritage, the actress cast for the movie, Scarlett Johansson, is not. Once the public was officially notified that she would be playing the role of the Japanese character, Motoko Kusanagi, a spark of criticism and public dissent was aimed towards DreamWorks and Paramount for their decision. There are likely many motives for this decision, one being that it is still considered socially unacceptable and commercially unprofitable to hire Asian actors/actresses, or almost any minority, as roles in films.
Finally, the most offensive issue is the open denigration and stereotyping that occurs in the film industry. Now that Hollywood has transitioned from outright racism, a.k.a blackface, to subtle undertones of prejudice and stereotyping, this issue often goes ignored. However, the denigration of certain races is still rife within the industry. For example, there have been many speculations about how the roles offered to the African-American community seem to generally fall under the categories of slavery, gangster life, or any type of role that involves segregation. In fact, since the film “12 Years a Slave” was released, a question arose: Why do films that have more than one black character always have to be about the subjugation of black people? Of course, this is not the absolute truth and rather a generalization, but one cannot help but wonder if this question may have some truth to it.
Moving on from this idea, the outright stereotyping of racial minorities is still a blatant problem in the film industry. This is evident through the tendency that whenever a minority character is presented in a film, they always seem to have an accent, or the fact that Indians always seem to be portrayed as the “tech whiz.”
In conclusion, it is important to mention that the circumstances have significantly improved, both in the real world and the screen world. Diversity has boomed within the world of film, and it is becoming more commonplace that racial and sexual minorities play significant roles that do not subject them to rigid stereotypes. However, it cannot stop there. We still have much to achieve before we can proudly say that all people of diverse backgrounds have the equal opportunity to pursue certain roles and other opportunities that they may desire to pursue. Although a world without prejudice may be impossible to achieve, it is still the film industry’s obligation to accurately represent the great cultural melting pot that is our nation.