It’s paradoxical, almost, how America is praised for being the melting pot of the world, accepting all cultures and beliefs and embracing diversity, when most of the people in the American media portray the same type of character. Yup, you guessed it. White and Male and Straight.
While there is nothing bad about those characteristics, since you most certainly can’t help the way that you were born, it is not an accurate representation of the current America. Yet the media, Hollywood and television have not changed their presets.
For the past two years when the Grammys have aired, the hashtag #GrammysSoWhite would appear, showcasing how the nominees all happen to share one constant: the color of their skin tone.
One of the arguments that is made is that their nominations are given to people that earn it, so it can’t possibly be biased. But that argument itself holds fallacies. First of all, Hollywood doesn’t give many roles to minorities, and the roles that are given are often stereotyped into gross models of what that minority “should” be. How are we as actors and writers of color supposed to succeed in a creative world that doesn’t want to hear our stories? And even if they do want our story to be heard, it’s always their version of the story, not our own.
It’s no surprise that Hollywood is known for its whitewashing, consistently casting white actors in roles for people of color. The argument against race-bending is about the hypocrisy that occurs when white people are not “allowed” to take minority roles, but it is perfectly okay for minorities to “take” white roles. This however is flawed because Hollywood, in particular, caters to white roles, and therefore there is always going to be a role for a white person. On the other hand, the roles for minorities are far and few between (but are becoming more plentiful) and having a white actor take an already limited roll away from a minority should not be acceptable.
Yet it is. ‘Gods of Egypt’ (2016) has a majority white cast while, as the title says, it is about the gods of Egypt. Egypt. Located in Africa. Scarlett Johansson will star as Major Kusanagi in the Western retelling of ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (2017), a classic Japanese 1990s animation. Japan. In Asia. ‘Doctor Strange’ (2016) will have Tilda Swinton as a chinese character. Need I explain myself?
But while Hollywood still seems to be stuck in the past, television has taken gigantic leaps. Showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes have pushed their networks to carry a more diverse roundup of characters, therefore leading to more interesting stories and dynamic character relationships. With the new addition of streaming, shows have branched out in even more directions than ever before. For example, the Netflix show Sense8 includes a huge range of global characters, each well-rounded and with their own complex arc.
Shows like Sense8 demonstrate that not only does diversity work, but it thrives. Yet what makes diversity so important? It’s important to see yourself on the screen, to have the knowledge and reassurance that there are people out there that are like you too, people that have the same type of hair, the same shade of skin, people that go through the same problems that you are dealing with. Fiction is meant to be an explanation of the real world, a deeper look into the antics around us, but what does that say of the world around us when the characters lack diversity?
But one of the main problems with diversity is that it is only wished for, asked for, demanded sometimes, but it never is expected. Hollywood has created an industry where white characters are the usual, and this must change.