Let’s be frank: Hollywood is racist. It’s also vehemently misogynistic, and all sorts of “-phobics.” Mainstream media has consistently disappointed minority viewers with its glaring diversity issue. There are rarely any roles available for minority actors, and from the few that do exist, many are simply half-assed attempts at diversity where minorities (people of color, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, etc.) are cast as stereotypes or backwater characters, in a process called typecasting.
We’ve seen this over and over again: the socially inept, nerdy Asian sidekick. The hypersexual gay friend. The sassy black person with the punchline. The “spicy” Latina. The person with a disability which is used as a joke. Such roles only perpetuate harmful stereotypes that portray minorities as one-dimensional bodies.
That doesn’t mean all roles that fit into a certain stereotype are bad. But when an Arab actor can’t find any role other than “Terrorist #3” on Homeland, that’s a huge sign of an obvious problem within the industry. So many of the roles that are given to minorities center around false stereotypes of their identities. When a character doesn’t have any distinguishing traits other than the color of their skin and the package of clichés that come with them, that’s a problem.
Furthermore, the production teams that create these roles usually consist of cisgender, straight white men who couldn’t care less about diversity and proper representation. Effie Brown, producer of Dear White People, explains the issue perfectly: casting minorities isn’t enough. The filmmaking team has to be to treat minority roles with dignity and to prevent them from descending into racist tropes.
In order to improve television and film for minority viewers, production teams need to hire more people from different backgrounds. It’s only natural that characters written through an outside lens are not going to be perceived as genuine. The reason that shows like How to Get Away with Murder and Empire are so successful is because they have dynamic minority characters combined with writing teams comprised of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Thus, when “progressive” directors like Jill Soloway blame their failure to hire diverse teams on the supposed scarcity of smart minority figures in the entertainment field, they’re lying. In the wise words of Francesca Ramsey, “We out here.”
Hollywood’s racism is highlighted in this year’s Academy Awards. The Twitter hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was trending because this is the second year in a row that not a single actor of color was nominated. This may partly be due to the fact that the Academy, which is in charge of nominations, is 94% white, 77% male, and 62 years old on average. We can already think of several films deserving of some performance nominations, including Tangerine, Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton, and Creed. Instead, cis man Eddie Redmayne was nominated for playing a transgender woman.
Others argue that the problem goes deeper, such as a complete lack of quality roles for minority actors. As Viola Davis said, “You cannot win an [award] for roles that are simply not there.” This is also true. If the producers of The Danish Girl aren’t even searching for actual transgender actresses to star in their movie, those opportunities don’t even exist.
When the only minority representation that people see in movies or on television is a racist caricature, these characterizations take hold in viewers’ minds. Entertainment and media have a huge impact on how people view the world, so they should also reflect the world in an accurate way. “None of us are just one flavor or one color. If we were, we’d be one- dimensional,” Idris Elba once said. As an up and coming actor, he’d always have to audition for roles that asked for a “black male.” Such scripts were only describing a skin color or appearance. A white male character would be described as “a man with a twinkle in his eye,” but IDRIS ELBA’S EYES TWINKLE TOO!
For minorities, diversity in entertainment fields grants a medium for us to not only see, but also uplift ourselves. Thus, when monolithic production teams reduce our identities to rigid stereotypes, they restrict opportunities for intriguing dialogue from minority characters, and instead perpetuate stale narratives that paint minorities in caricatural fashion. Cisgender, straight white people are allowed to be portrayed as humans with intriguing stories, and that’s a huge slap in the face when minorities are only allowed to exist in narrow tropes.