Monday, December 27, 2010

Race on TV

If you have ever attended elementary school, you have probably seen an image like the one above, symbolizing worldwide unity between people of different heritages. And today, with greater access to civil rights, more diverse schools and workplaces, the connecting force of the internet and social media, and laws protecting minority people, this is probably more closer to truth than it ever has been before. Which still doesn't make it true. Take for example, entertainment media.

It's not a secret that Hollywood isn't as diverse as it should be. In ten seasons of "Friends" there was only one non-white character. And she was only on for nine episodes. Countless other shows follow in this pattern.

Last year my roommate and I had a conversation about the portrayals of Latino characters in TV and movies.

"Even J.Lo doesn't even play Puerto Rican characters all the time. The Wedding Planner? She was Italian!" Sara said
"Um... she was Puerto Rican in Maid in Manhattan!" I suggested.
"Yeah," Sara responded. "And she was a maid."
"... Right."

Yep. Latino actors are more likely to play hired help, drug dealers, and gardeners than other characters. (Ugly Betty is one successful exception. And Grey's Anatomy is very diverse as well.) Diversity in television and movies has increased in the past 20 years, but it really is still not good enough.

One of the main issues I see, as a white woman, is that unless the cast is majority white or has a white leading character, the movie or show tends to not be marketed to all people. This year Chris Rock's remake of the 2007 British comedy, Death at a Funeral, into an all American-cast (with nearly all black actors) went largely unnoticed by white moviegoers. I went to see it in theaters and watched the original a couple months later, and found that if I mentioned the Chris Rock remake to my white friends, a lot of them hadn't heard of it, but had heard of or seen the original (which has an all-white cast).

The problem I think lies in the fact that the people who make decisions in Hollywood have confidence that movies with majority white casts will bring in all audiences, while movies (or TV shows) with minority actors in the majority will only appeal to minorities. Sort of the same way they think girls will go to boy-helmed children's movies but boys won't go to girl-movies. It's a money thing. (This ... somewhat lengthy article gives a good summary about what's happening with diversity in Hollywood.) There's no reason why white people can't relate to or enjoy watching actors who don't share their race. Put more diversity in TV! People are not as easy to peg as you make them out to be!

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