Increase in media representation calls for reflection


“Get Out”: One of many movies released in the past few years with increased representation

Livvy Yun, Editor

With the attention and emphasis on increasing racial diversity in mainstream media this past decade, the spike in diverse representation in film and television has been unmistakable. Hollywood has released and recognized movies such as “Parasite” and “Get Out,” which star people of color and have production teams of color. While the increase in representation has allowed a sense of belonging and appreciation among people of color (POC), it has also been accompanied by several issues that have made representation problematic. These issues include depicting POC in stereotypical and a limited number of ways. Thus, the heart of this problem lies not in the amount of representation, but in how it is being done. 

   I believe the impact of merely seeing someone who looks like you on-screen is groundbreaking and should not be taken lightly. Despite the controversy, I remember my little cousin’s excitement when watching the remake of “Mulan,” or my grandmother’s delight in discovering “Crazy Rich Asians.” 

   Senior Tye McCatty, who is African American, appreciates seeing others like himself in films.

   “When movies focus around someone who looks like me and who has a similar culture to me, it makes me more interested [in the movie],” McCatty said.

   This representation in the media not only provides comfort and belonging to POC, but it can educate others about another culture. When minorities or marginalized people are represented today, however, they are often associated with certain stereotypes. 

   Many at WHS note this trend as well. Students and faculty have observed common stereotypes that are represented as their race. These stereotypes are detrimental and unproductive to a mission of inclusion. 

   “The types of shows and movies that black people are cast in have themes such as Jim Crow and slavery. Those are just sad to watch,” McCatty critiques. “And a lot of times black people are cast in roles as caricatures. For example, a lot of black women will be cast in ‘unsophisticated’ roles, and a lot of black men will be gang members and are cast as angry or threatening.”

   Senior Makayla Zavala, who is ethnically Mexican and Guatemalan, also sees a pattern in racial stereotypes. She has observed that many Hispanic representations solely revolve around the Day of the Dead and drug cartels and rarely expand beyond those depictions. She hopes to see change in this aspect of media. 

   “I think another step forward is getting rid of certain stereotypes and misrepresentations,” Zavala said. 

   According to a study by Nielson in 2021, Native Americans and Latinx people were among the most underrepresented groups in media, relative to their numbers in the general population. Hispanic/Latinx were only 71.62% on par with their representation in population estimates. In other words, this group only had 71.62% of its population represented in media compared to 100% of its population in real life. When ethnic groups are lacking representation, it is inevitable that the limited representation they do have does not holistically embody their experience. Without a holistic view, we often run into the issue of stereotypes and misinterpretation. 

   With the media perpetuating racial stereotypes, the public rarely gets to see people of color on-screen living outside of these stereotypes. For example, movies starring Asian people centered around martial arts or immigration for years, keeping the world from seeing the endless other walks of life that Asian people lead, just as numerous and intricate as any other race. 

   When I think about how I want my race to be represented in the media, I imagine being depicted like white people: with the ability and freedom to be complex. I could be a billionaire superhero or a conniving villain and have no stereotypes drawn or held against me.

   Since media companies are businesses, their primary motive is to make a profit, which naturally saturates and skews their portrayals of other cultures. English teacher Henry Moon, who is Korean-American, believes many of these companies simply include racial representation to “check a box” of including diversity, and often do not execute it in the most effective way.

   “I have a cynical side to me that says it’s really a marketing campaign on the part of large media corporations like Disney,” Moon said. “By increasing representation, these companies will not alienate a good portion of their viewership.” 

   Marketing and financial motives beg the question: who is this representation really for? Is it meant to satisfy POC by seeing themselves on a big screen? Or is it for the white people to be entertained by elements of another culture in a 90-minute film? 

   These movies are only glimpses of the rich cultures being represented. However, these cultures are often being represented in an elementary, palatable way for others to digest. Other times, audiences interpret them as more than just “glimpses,” and that reinforces stereotypes. 

   Showing another culture this way might not be the best way to educate others. No one knows how it will be received: hated, loved, fetishized, or sensationalized. 

   I believe representation should not necessarily be centered around cultural elements when representing POC. It should be plot-driven and mainly unrelated to the person’s culture. POC can see themselves being represented just as any other race. This also eliminates the danger of altering and modifying the presented culture in a more palatable way for audiences. Then, we will not run the risk of misinterpretation and the reinforcement of stereotypes.