Being able to open a magazine or watch a show or movie and see someone who looks like us is of great importance. Fair representation in the media plays a fundamental role in our society.
The media currently plays a very important role in our society as it helps shape the way that young people see the world. According to statistics published by Zenith, the average human being spends 495 minutes a day consuming some type of media content (radio, television, newspapers, magazines, internet). If the media doesn’t accurately reflect the social diversity of society, problems like racism and social inequality will continue to exist. That’s why it’s so important that there be fair representation in the media for all types of people.
The status quo in media has always been to favor actors with light complexions. For decades, society has been bombarded with movies where the main character is white, and it doesn’t end there. Magazine covers feature models that represent stereotypical European beauty standards, and many TV shows only feature white people. This generates a message within society that anyone who is not white can’t play one of these roles or be in these spaces.
Often, non-white actors have been relegated to secondary roles, or in certain cases, roles with negative connotations. They have historically played the role of the best friend, servants —gardeners and maids—and even villains. This type of representation encourages harmful stereotypes. It’s a false kind of representation for people who belong to the communities of color. Instead of generating equity, it fosters the idea that people of color should be relegated to these roles, not just on the big screen, but within society. This is isolating, alienating, and wrong.
Of course, throughout history we have seen some great TVs shows featuring actors of color as main characters, like Good Times (1974-1979), The Jeffersons (1975-1985) and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990 – 1996). We have also seen women of color such as Donyale Luna (British Vogue, 1966), Naomi Sims (Fashion of Times, 1967), Beverly Johnson (Vogue, 1974), Naomi Campbell (French Vogue, 1988) and Yalitza Aparicio (Vogue México, 2019) appear on the cover of magazines. But despite the fact that these moments have marked achievements, we can’t say we’ve reached equitable representation.
A study conducted by The Pudding in April 2019 analyzed 228 Vogue US covers published over 19 years. While there is some range, the majority of the images feature Caucasian people. And although we have recently seen more inclusion of people of color, the type of images are repetitive. According to another statistical study carried out by Ceros over the last 7 years, the women of color with the most covers are Rihanna, Lupita Nyong’o, Kerry Washington, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, and Serena Williams.
Recently, there have been more shows with people of color as leads. For example, there is hit series How to Get Away with Murder, led by Viola Davis and featuring Alfred Enoch. Latina actresses like America Ferrera (Ugly Betty, Superstore) and Gina Rodriguez (Jane The Virgin) have been central to hit shows. And now, stories are diversifying as well. Just take Euphoria (HBO), Love, Victor (Hulu), Never Have I Ever (Netflix) and The Good Doctor (ABC). Actors and actresses like Salma Hayek, Diego Luna, Sofia Vergara, Henry Golding, Octavia Spencer, and Chiwetel Ejiofor have become major movie stars, and films like Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians have become blockbusters.
Movements like #BlackLivesMatter show us that as much as we might want to think we’ve made great strides, there is still a long way to go. The media has been challenged to rethink the kinds of stories it wants to tell because these narratives affect future generations. If little girls all around the world could pick up a magazine and see someone who looked like them, it would help them dream of someday being featured on the cover.
Representation is a way of showing that we can all play whatever role we want–regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, and gender. That’s why we need the media to promote the creation of diverse content that’s an accurate reflection of today’s society.