I want you to imagine the main character of a movie. Not any movie in particular, just a generic main character. Someone who could realistically be a main character in a major blockbuster movie.
Now what does that character look like? For most of us, if we’re being realistic and saying the first thing that comes to our minds, it’s probably a white male. That’s what we’ve been conditioned to expect from movies. That’s who the main character usually is.
And it’s not just main characters either. If a side character is introduced briefly, they’re probably a white male. The villain is probably a white male. The default is white male.
Anything outside of that is seen as “other.” This is a problem with gender – can you imagine if all the Avengers were female except for one man in tight black leather? – but I really want to talk about the problem with race.
Only 69% of the population identified as non-Hispanic white during the 2010 census, but our movies are far more than 69% white people.
And when you think about where these films are being made, you realize that the percentage is even more skewed. Since most major movies are produced in LA, you might want to take into account California’s racial makeup, which only has about 39% non-Hispanic whites.
Or if you want to argue that Hollywood makes global movies for a global audience, then the percentage of white people gets even lower – though it’s hard to get stats on global races because of the logistics behind it and the fact that race is viewed differently in different parts of the world.
The same goes for books and TV shows, though things are changing slowly. Viola Davis recently made history as the first black woman to win an Emmy for Best Lead Actress for her role in How to Get Away with Murder, and she gave a fantastic speech, which I’ll link to below, about the racial barriers that people of color face due to lack of representation.
So why does this matter? For a lot of reasons. There are tons of talented actors of colors who don’t get jobs because we insist on whitewashing movies like Aloha. My friend Marina went into detail about this, and I’ll link to her video down below.
But probably most importantly is that we don’t give children of color anyone to look up to. White people can see any TV show or movie and imagine themselves as the powerful, successful main character – but children of color don’t have that opportunity. And in fact, the media can often negatively represent various cultures or races, which has the effect of people having very limited, stereotypical views of a particular culture or race. There have even been studies on how this negatively effects children of color, which I’ll link to down below.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Blink that over 80% of people hold negative biases against black people that they aren’t even aware of until they’re tested on their split second reactions. And there’s a BuzzFeed video I’ll link to below where Indian people respond to American media stereotypes of them, and it’s wonderful.
When I brought up this issue in my video about nerd culture, a lot of commenters said that we shouldn’t sacrifice good storytelling for diversity – and actually I agree. But we don’t have to. We can have amazing stories that are incredibly diverse – it’s not one or the other. If your story is only good if it’s completely white, maybe it’s a bad story. Just look at Avatar: The Last Airbender or Legend of Korra. Those are two TV shows with wonderful representation of all kinds of people, and they’re legit just the best shows ever.
And it’s gotten to the point where we’re so used to white characters that if one person of color shows up on screen, people throw a fit. When Rue appeared in The Hunger Games played by Amandla Stenberg, audiences freaked out about Rue being black even though she was described as having dark skin in the book.
Race and diversity are things that we need to be talking about, because by being silent on it, we allow the status quo to continue, and the status quo is bad for everyone. I’m not even asking for anything to be taken away from white people, I’m only asking for more diverse characters to more accurately depict our world. There will still be plenty of white people on screen!
And can be stories centered around a family of one race, so that casting would make sense, but the general color wheel for our movies shouldn’t be somewhere between mayonnaise and snow.
Now, as a white person, I don’t want to direct this conversation or pretend that I’m starting it. People of color have been talking about this for years, and I want to give you some resources to go check out to learn more.
Of course there’s the amazing Francesca Ramsey who destroys racism both on her channel and on MTV News. Then there are my Everyday Feminism coworkers Kat Blaque and Marinashutup who both delve super in-depth to various issues on their respective channels.
Akilah Hughes, obviously, is someone you should check out – I saw her on the “Women on YouTube” panel at VidCon, and she was brilliant. And a smaller YouTuber who goes by the name Jesstheindecisive recently did a really good video on race and also makes other awesome content as well – so I’ll put links to all these people down in the description.
And I asked y’all on Twitter who else I should include at the end of this video, and y’all recommended these people: thethirdpew, gunnarolla, Cecile Emeke, Amythest Schaber, and Rikki Poynter. I should mention that I haven’t been regularly watching these folks, but I do trust y’all, and I’m sure they talk about important issues on their channels.
Then I wanted to know what diverse TV shows already exist that could set a standard for future shows to follow – and geez, y’all responded with a lot. So here we go:
Sense 8, The Fosters, Warehouse 13, Steven Universe, Switched at Birth, Orange Is the New Black, Community, How to Get Away with Murder, Once Upon a Time, The Flash, Quantico, Grey’s Anatomy, Golden Compass trilogy, Dragon Age Inquisition, Firefly, In the Flesh, Fear the Walking Dead, Fresh Off the Boat, Blackish, Parks and Rec, and the old Star Trek series.
Wow. There are a lot of shows and YouTube channels I need to go catch up on.
Anyways, that’s all I’ve got for you today. This video is a part of a series for Everyday Feminism, a website dedicated to helping you stand up to and break down everyday oppression. Let me know down in the comments what you think about diverse racial representation in our media, and feel free leave me an idea for a future Everyday Feminism video if you have one.
I hope you have a wonderful day. I love you all so much, and I will see you next week. Bye!