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Film Industry White Washed?

Jodi Nguyen, Contributing Writer

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We tend to base off most of our ideas and creativity from daily tv shows and films that are constantly being projected all around us. Because of this, we are subconsciously subjected to memorize and internalize the types of actors and actresses that play these certain roles in films. Moreover, minorities including women, people of color, and LGBT community are constantly being cast in stereotypical roles.

For instance, most women within the industry play roles as housewives, or damsels in distress, while most Asian actors play roles as nerds and kung fu fighters. In regards to the examples given, the minorities being displayed within such films are being depicted in the same ongoing roles, making women and Asian actors to feel obligated to play the same roles.

In addition to the underrepresentation of minorities in films, there is also the underrepresentation of minorities behind the cameras as well. ​According to a 2016 Hollywood Diversity Report, “minorities accounted for 37.9 percent of [the] population in 2014. Their degree of underrepresentation within the corps of film directors fell back to the factor of nearly 3 to 1.” ​Stacy L. Smith,​ founding director of the Media, Diversity and Social Change, states that, “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].” The minority group has become invisible to the public social media that claims to support “diversity.”

TV shows and films are a big part of our lives that bring us joy and something to do to relax. These actors and actresses are constantly being illustrated on the big screens in order to advertise for their new releases. We are attracted to films that have entertaining / interesting hooks, yet we forget to see the flaws in them. One of the reasons why many individuals do not feel obligated to help change the film industry is because of the insecurity that they will make no impact on the matter.

In addition, the underrepresentation of minorities is also reflected in the Oscar Ceremony, according to Breaking News from NPR, studies have shown that the “film industry does worse than television … Just 3.4 percent of film directors were female, and only 7 percent of films had a cast whose balance of race and ethnicity reflected the country’s diversity.” In recent debates, the Oscar ceremony was criticized by the media for having such an “all-white slate of acting nominees.” Because a majority of Oscar nominees were predominantly White, this goes to show that the data produced from the Oscar’s can be directly related to how minorities are underrepresented within films.

Moreover, minorities also lose their grounds as film directors and writers. For instance, in a study conducted by the Center for African American Studies at UCLA, it shows that women are “underrepresented by a factor of nearly 12 to 1 among film directors in 2014.” Similarly, in another study directed towards race and film writers in 2011-2014, “minorities are underrepresented by a factor of nearly 5 to 1 among film writers in 2014.” Through the staggering data points shown within these studies, minorities are being discriminated against within the film industry. Because society as a whole has become numb and comfortable with the stereotypes being projected in films, the underrepresentation of minorities will continue to last for as long as it can.

Although minorities are not completely underrepresented within the film industries, the real question is, what happens when they are represented? In many television shows and films, minorities are either depicted with stereotypical roles or are depicted by other actors that have no experience or background in the minority’s role.

In using Cameron Crowe’s romantic comedy,Aloha, played by the Emma Stone, Stone plays the role of Allison Ng, a woman of Hawaiian and Asian Heritage. Stone herself does not even come close to looking similar to a woman of Hawaiian and Asian heritage. In addition to the physical characteristics that Stone does not have with the character, Allison, Stone does not have a similar cultural background that the character has as an Asian and Hawaiian woman.

Having a similar cultural backgrounds means to be accepted and raised from that background. By having similar cultural backgrounds with the character being played, the audience will be able to recognize the authenticity of the character. Emma Stone herself criticizes her own casting in the film, “I’ve learned on a macro level about the insane history of whitewashing in Hollywood and how prevalent the problem truly is.”

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In another example of minorities being depicted with stereotypical roles, in the new Netflix series,13 Reasons Why, Michele Selene Ang plays Courtney Crimson, a sweet, Chinese girl that is depicted as backstabbing in the eyes of Hannah Baker. Courtney fulfills the stereotypical characteristics that Asians usually hold within films. Courtney was illustrated with a clean-cut outfit, did very well in school, and was extremely obedient to her parents. With Courtney being one of the few minorities within a predominantly Caucasian high school, her character is fairly different compared to the other characters.

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A majority of the other characters relied much more on their athletics and popularity within the school, while Courtney was much more inclined to do better in her schoolwork to get into college. With Hollywood films constantly giving minorities stereotypical roles to play, the audience themselves are subconsciously accepting the stereotypes. This will cause the audience to unknowingly take in the characteristics of the actors that are playing a minority’s role, causing the cycle of stereotypes to continue.

Despite the fact that the Hollywood industry does not depict minorities very well in films, there are a collective few films/tv shows that do a good job of depicting minorities. In the CW Television Network, CW broadcasts shows such as Supergirl, Jane the Virgin, and many others that do portray minorities respectively. For instance, the show Supergirl advocates for girl power by including a girl as the superhero, and a woman as the head CEO of a large company; this show consistently refers to feminists phrases, and ideologies.

Moreover, the show Jane the Virgin, embodies a lead actress named Jane who is a religious Latina. This show embraces the Hispanic culture by including characters that speak Spanish, novela based plots, and characters that are of the Hispanic heritage. In creating entertainment that advocate and embrace minorities as leads can change the film industry forever.

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Although there a few shows that embrace minorities as actors, there are also films that embrace minorities behind the cameras as well. As presented on Fresh Air , in Jordan Peele’s recent film,Get Out, Peele creates a film where a “young black man named Chris whose white girlfriend, Rose, takes him to meet her parents for the first time — without first telling them he's black. Rose's parents go out of their way to show Chris how open minded they are, but there's something suspicious in the liberal facade they present.” As an African American man himself, Peele wanted the audience to see the subtle racism through Chris’s perspective.

This film was able to portray the amount of success that minorities can create being the camera. In producing such films and tv shows that portray and embrace minorities, there will be an increase in shows that also embrace minorities.

To create a solution for the underrepresented minorities in the film industry, as a whole, we must be aware of this issue and promote more culturally diverse films that advocate for minorities both behind and in the camera. By promoting this issue throughout social media, this issue will be brought to attention and film industries will begin to slowly change their old habits.

The stereotypical portrayal of minorities differs from the respectful portrayal of minorities in the fact that stereotypical portrayals normally stick to the labels given to certain ethnic groups, while respectful portrayals give multiple personalities to each character with respect to their culture as well.  By changing the film industry with more films that include diverse cast and crew members, society will also begin to shift into becoming a lot more aware of different cultures.

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The student news site of Ohlone College
Film Industry White Washed?