Does Hollywood do enough with diversity?


Aneeqa Meah, Opinions Writer

Growing up as a Muslim girl, the lack of inclusivity in films and shows never truly hit me until I finally saw a character that represented who I am. Now, whenever a character I can relate to shows up on screen, I get excited seeing them show off my specific culture or just represent my specific ethnicity.


Diverse representation holds a bigger impact than most believe. Media and entertainment is influential on its audience from an early age since young people develop from what they see and hear. These certain groups see themselves being reflected on screen and feel more of a sense of belonging in this world. A diverse cast with specific cultural backgrounds can also help break stereotypes that are associated with that specific culture.


So the question is, do entertainment industries do enough when it comes to diversity and inclusivity in order to adhere to their audience?


The representation of marginalized groups is inherently scarce or misrepresented a lot of the time in western media. This includes women, people of different races and cultural backgrounds, LGBTQ+, body shapes, etc. In a study by researchers at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the demographic characteristics of over 11,000 speaking characters of films and television series released in 2014 was analyzed. They found that approximately 75 percent of all actors involved were white. Only 12 percent were black, 6 percent Asian, 5 percent Hispanic/Latino, and 3 percent Middle Eastern or “other”. 


With another sample done by The National Interest, top-grossing films each year from 2005 to 2012 were looked at which included 150 top films of each year, just 28 percent of the movies had a female first lead and only 19 percent had a nonwhite first lead character.


In more recent years, however, we are able to see a positive change in how diversity has improved in films and television. In film, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added 819 new members in 2020 and of those memes, 45% were women and “35% were historically underrepresented groups.”


But, inclusivity in films should mean actively casting different kinds of people for the main roles and also representing them in the right way. Too often, actors from different racial minority groups play stock characters that often have no real storyline in the film. In doing so, racial stereotypes are also pushed and it affects how people end up viewing this specific racial minority.


An example would be the character “Ravi” from the Disney show Jessie. A lot of stereotypes were forced onto his character, from the actor having to force an Indian accent down to the character being extremely smart. There were still some culturally accurate aspects to his character and it is not to say that there are not South Asians that would not relate to his character, but this is a general idea that people have depicted of this particular minority.


Thankfully, there has been a lot of change with the enforcement of stereotypes in film as well. As much as Ravi is an amazing character, Devi from the show Never Have I Ever would be a better representation of Indians in films and tv series. She is the main character of the show and she puts the experience of an American-Indian family to the front. She is just an American teen dealing with typical teenage drama and all the while the show didn’t take away from her cultural background and her dealing with her Indian-American identity. It resonates with a lot of people, most notably the South Asian community. This is the correct way to add diversity in the entertainment industry.


Slowly and steadily, film and television are depicting the inclusiveness that so many have desired for years. What was once scarce to see so much diversity on screen has become an active effort to make this possible. To bring about this needed change quicker, creative leadership in the industries should be diversified; diverse leaders and decision making are critical for telling diverse stories. This would be especially essential since the behind the scenes of films also lack in representation with a Hearst 2020 diversity report showing only 20 percent of people of color were in management and leadership positions. 


With a diversified management along with correct portrayals of minorities in lead roles, entertainment industries would for sure be taking the needed steps in the right direction to enable a broader audience that feel like they are watching themselves on a TV screen.