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Invisible Minorities in Media

invisible minorities

Source : Ewen Robert | Flickr

We’ve come a long way with Hollywood since whitewashing, racist face painting, and overtly offensive stereotypes.

In a country famously labeled the “melting pot” of racial and ethnic diversity, we expect our media to reflect a multiracial American culture.

While minorities currently make up around 40 percent of the U.S. population, it is predicted that the minority will become the majority by 2050.

So it would only make sense that we create a more diverse media representative of our nation’s growing diversity, especially for children—50 percent of which are minorities—who deserve to see more characters who look like them in their favorite shows.

Asian Americans, for instance, are one of the fastest-growing racial groups in the United States. They make up about 5.7 percent of the U.S. population. However, They are fairly invisible in media, making up less than 4 percent of roles in broadcast, cable, and digital shows and 1 percent of lead roles in films.

Television and film have been known as one of our greatest “teachers” that highly influence our understanding of the world when we don’t have access to connect with diverse perspectives ourselves.

The lack of Asian leads and stories in Hollywood diminishes the importance of the Asian-American identity, perpetuating  stereotypes that often contribute to racism and discrimination.

Defying these negative stereotypes are shows like “Fresh Off the Boat,” “ Dr. Ken,” “Master of None,” and “Brown Nation,” which include Asian cast and crew members.

Asian-American audiences often feel identified with the narratives of these shows because they are centered on the Asian-American experience that is often erased through whitewashed casting.

These shows discuss specific themes—such as immigration, assimilation, and discrimination—while also incorporating universal themes of love, family, and success that everyone can relate to.

However, it takes more than creating shows and casting Asian actors in lead roles to achieve equal representation in Hollywood. In fact, “the path to equality is rarely easy,” actor Daniel Dae Kim revealed after his departure from “Hawaii Five-0.”

Kim and his co-star, Grace Park, departed from the CBS show due to unequal pay compared to their white male co-stars despite both starring in the main cast and appearing in the same number of episodes as their white, male leads.

CBS offered $195,000 for Kim (which is $5,000 less compared to O’Loughlin and Caan’s salary) and reportedly even less for Park.

Regardless of the reason for the two actors’ leave, this incident highlights the salary discrepancies among minority groups despite sharing the same roles and screen time as their white counterparts.

Arab-Americans are perhaps the most misinterpreted minority group in media since they are always confined to roles of terrorists, villains, and oppressors.

The negative portrayal of Arab characters in Hollywood often reinforces the ambivalent hostility that exists towards the arab community in the aftermath of 9/11.

Recently,  the main cast of the live-action adaptation of “Aladdin” was announced with rising star Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine. Based on Middle Eastern folktale in “One Thousand and One Nights,” many criticized about Scott’s casting considering she’s of Indian descent, but not Arabian.

Twitter users commented their distaste for Hollywood for grouping South Asians with Middle Easterners, implying that “brown people are interchangeable” and erases ethnic identities.

Other users, in contrast, found no any issues with Scott and believe her talents earned her the role in a global audition. Others, prefer Scott as the lead actress over a white actress that whitewashes the original story.

Some also believe that Scott’s ethnic background is arbitrary since “Aladdin” is a work of fiction that sets in the city of Agrabah–a hybrid of Agra, India, and Baghdad, Iraq–and that the original Middle Eastern folktale sets in China.

In fact, “Aladdin” outraged Arab-Americans and Muslims months after its release in 1992 for portraying its Arab characters as barbaric through the film’s illustration and original theme song. It’s uncertain if “Aladdin” is the best film to fight for Arab representation when the Disney film was created from a Western perspective that meshed and fantasized South Asian and Middle Eastern antiquity.

Even if the film adaptation doesn’t seem to head in the right direction, the fight for minority representation in 2017 continues to gain momentum as more actors voice their stories of inequalities on social media and refuse to bow down to the pressure of  Hollywood stereotypes. 

By: Kristine Luna

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