Hollywood must increase diversity


The Appalachian Online


The Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA released a report which revealed a not-so-surprising conclusion: Hollywood is horrible at portraying diversity.

In every category, Hollywood does a poor job at representing any group except white males.

Around 40 percent of the United States population consists of ethnic minorities, according to the United States Census Bureau. However, only 17 percent of the lead roles in theatrical films were ethnic minorities.

Furthermore, women, who make up half of the U.S. population, only held 23 percent of the lead roles in theatrical releases.

As disappointing as this is, it is not unexpected, especially when you consider that all the CEOs in Hollywood’s 18 studios are male, and 94 percent are white.

What is surprising about the report is that films with relatively diverse casts boast a higher median return on their investment, a fact that Hollywood executives seem to be ignoring.

It seems that while they understand that diversity is good for the bottom line, they instead continue with the current status quo because they feel that this is the “safe” investment.

This way of thinking is flawed, and Hollywood needs to shape up and needs to diversify because representation matters.

Representation is important because it allows people to feel heard, seen and understood. In a real sense, it makes people feel like they are part of the world.

It helps individuals build identities and feel proud of who they are. Whether the issue is skin color, gender or sexuality, that validation is necessary.

As a white, heterosexual male, there is no lack of representation for me in the media. I can look to Spiderman, Batman or Superman.

But for a young black girl, a young Hispanic boy and especially for a transgender person, there is almost nothing in the media that says, “This is someone like me.”

And so they are stuck looking to heterosexual white men as their inspiration and they are left to feel abnormal and left out.

This isn’t right, and it certainly isn’t fair. Just because of their individual characteristics and the prejudices of the dominant culture, many people don’t have heroes.

Without characters they can identify with, these people could be left feeling like there is something wrong with them.

They don’t feel that they can be as important or special as their counterparts who have more “mainstream” identities, which often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is hope in television though. Over time, television has become more than doom, gloom and homogenized white men.

With the popularity of shows such as “How to Get Away With Murder,” “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat,” cable television has increased in diversity.

There are benefits to this aside from the social effects. In the case of both movies and TV, we see there is a higher return on investment when the casts are more diverse, the report states.

Because of this, it is highly probable that greater diversity will be on the way.  As report co-author Ana Christina Ramón said to NPR, “Whenever TV networks see a formula that works and makes money, they want to also replicate that.”

And right now, the shows that make money are shows that portray a greater amount of diversity that better matches the diversity within America.

The fact that television is changing does also provide hope that movies will eventually follow suit, which is great and will definitely increase representation for those that don’t have it currently.

The representation and depictions of people with the same skin, hair or orientation will help show them that they can be special.

And that’s what everyone deserves: a symbol they can point to and say “They are special even with this trait. I have this trait so I can be special too.”

Diversity and representation matter. That’s why its heartening to see television improve, and disheartening to see the state of Hollywood.

Russell, a freshman journalism major from Charlotte, is an opinion writer.