Have you ever wondered why Hollywood studios are trying harder and harder to integrate casts with greater racial diversity? Not only ethnicity, but minority representation in film has also been a hot topic in the world of entertainment. Many still do not fully understand why, others believe that it is only a question of marketing and that the large studios only fulfill one agenda.
Hollywood’s lack of representation is not a new problem, it is actually an issue as old as its very foundation. It may be that if you are a white person, all this conversation already overwhelms you, but it might surprise you how important racial diversity and representation of marginalized communities are in the media. It is not only a social problem, it is a mental health issue as well.
Although obviously, the main drive of promoting minority representation in Hollywood is to give visibility to less represented groups, it is worth studying what are the psychological effects that this diversity brings as a consequence.
Black Panther and the beginning of racial diversity
As we already know, Marvel and the universe of superheroes completely dominated the film industry in recent years. To the point that the list of top box office films in history is full of The Avengers, so this may be the best example to explain how the industry has embraced racial diversity.
Let’s see the first Avengers: Thor, Iron Man, Captain America… Do you see a pattern there? Aside from the obvious fact that they are all gorgeous men… no homo. The top pop culture superheroes are straight white men. If you don’t see the problem there, you may be underestimating the power of media representation in society.
No child of color could feel represented with a superhero until 2018 when the Black Panther movie came out. Not only that, no moviegoer could see a blockbuster movie directed by an African-American director and cast almost entirely of color. On the other hand, no girl could see a movie starring a female superhero and directed by a woman until 2017 with the first Wonder Woman movie.
And yes, when we talk about minority representation in Hollywood, we are also talking about women.
Gravity gave us the first movie where the protagonist was a female astronaut and scientist (Sandy B always understands the assignment).
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the first superhero movie where the protagonist is of Latinx origin. And I, coming from a Caribbean country, appreciate it a lot.
What on-screen representation does to mental health
The first answer to the question “why do we need minority representation in films?” It is because pop culture is a representation of society, and no society can be effectively portrayed if all the communities that comprise it are not taken into account equally. We are talking about people of different races and ethnicities, religions, genders, and sexual identities.
The second answer is that the lack of diversity in Hollywood and the media can alter how society perceives certain groups, and even how certain groups perceive themselves.
When we only see white people in movies and television shows, and people of other races are only minimally represented, the message that is projected is that they are very few and that society is predominantly white. When the numbers show that 40% of the US population is non-white. That means that almost half of the people in America are not white so that all the actors of the content we consume are white, it is a misrepresentation of society.
Not only must there be more visibility, but this inclusion of minorities must be responsible and accurate. It is not enough to add actors of various races and genders when their roles only fuel harmful stereotypes. And if any of you think that this is irrelevant data, it is because you have never had to explain to an American that your country is not in Mexico. B*tch, I’m from Venezuela, it’s a totally different country! Not all Latinos are Mexican. Or you’ve probably never had to explain to someone the difference between Muslims and Sikhs.
Racial representation in pop culture sends a clear message: we are all part of this world and we all have a place.
When children grow up without seeing themselves represented, they may have feelings of not belonging, of being outsiders, and not being equal to others. This only promotes segregation and that is why mental health in minority communities is particularly difficult.
Never underestimate the power of being able to say “hey, that looks like me!”
Diversity and representation are important because as children we all had a character that we could see and say “I want to be like that when I grow up”, although sadly, for many that was not possible. Being able to see yourself in an important and empowered role is an undeniable inspiration. Being represented on a big screen is a way of feeling validated and integrated, and it is a feeling that we should all be able to feel one day.
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