Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Characters of All Colors

The other day I went with a bunch of friends to see "The Help." I ended up greatly enjoying the movie, but I must admit that I was a bit hesitant to go see the film, partly because I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend $8 on a movie that could be spent on groceries and partly because I didn't want to sit and watch another movie that dealt with race that might possibly offend me or to simply state it - piss me off. It's not that race is something that I don't discuss - in fact, it's quite the opposite. I deal with race as often as I drink coffee, which is every day. Granted, some days it's a bit of a more intense brew that is right in your face while other days are a bit lighter.

I just didn't want to be disappointed with the representation of people of color in film...again.

For as often as I have watched movies and TV I have noticed the pattern that appears when it comes to the portrayal of particular races. Generally speaking (and please not that I am saying generally, meaning often and not all the time!) stereotypes are attached to the character of color. Think about it for a moment. Really. Just sit back, take a breath and try to remember when you saw a television show or a movie that featured, or guest-starred or had a cameo played by a Black actor. How about a Latina? A Native-American? Asian? A person from the Middle-East? Now how did these characters dress? How did they speak? What role did they have within the film? Did they have an accent?

Mind you, I don't watch every movie that comes out nor do I keep up with every television show but I think of Eva Longoria on "Desperate Housewives". I think of Mindy Kaling in "The Office." I think of Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson on "Grey's Anatomy." I think of Nelsan Ellis in "True Blood."Most of the characters that these actors play have a personality and story lines that don’t necessarily revolve around their ethnic background or color of their skin. Their race isn’t their only story lines which sometimes dictates the entire character. For example, how many Black men do you see on television that are lawyers or doctors on television? Think about that in comparison to how many you see as criminals and drug dealers. How many are even reoccurring characters? That’s a big gap, right?

Plenty of studies have been done analyzing the number of roles that people of color have in the media, as well as the stereotypes that they fall into. This topic is of particular importance to me because as a Latina who is studying television-production and who hopes to one day have a career in the media, it is overwhelming the lack of representation that minorities have in the media and even more so the way we are presented once we actually have a part. In a study conducted on the 2001-2002 Prime Time television shows (Latinos on Prime Time), it showed that Latinos accounted for ONLY 2% of characters that were reoccurring. This was out of 3, 172 characters that were examined.

Perhaps this isn’t of any concern to my fellow peers, but it is definitely a concern to me.

It's easy to watch anything and laugh and cry and feel for the characters that we are watching. It is entertainment - that's what it's there for, right? But as each and every one of us in this class are not just watching entertainment - we are studying it, admiring it, creating it and hoping that one day we get to put our work out there in the world. I say that we begin to critically analyze it as well. Let's take a look at how people of all races are portrayed as well as genders, and characters of particular ages and from different countries.

After all, media isn’t just about entertainment. It’s an incredibly large industry with many powers and functions. Sure, it can be used to make people laugh…but it can also be used to provoke thought, challenge norms and create change.

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