Thursday, October 1, 2015

Media's Diversity Problem

Brittany Oblak

As a few of our readings highlight, the diversity (or lack of) in not only news media but media in general is nothing short of abhorrent. Diversity pertaining not only to race, but to other marginalized populations as well (LGBTQ) and especially those who deal with intersectionality (i.e. someone who identifies as both queer and a minority, such as a black female who is also a lesbian).

Decades ago, we had white, straight males putting on blackface and wigs because there was no room for actual black (and sometimes female) actors in Hollywood. While blackface is no longer used in mainstream media for obvious reasons, white males who usually identify as heterosexual are still getting parts that are roles representing marginalized people. While initially this may not seem anywhere near as offensive, it actually very much is. The best mainstream example of this is Jeffrey Tambor and his role in "Transparent."


While Tambor is certainly not at fault, or anywhere near it, Hollywood is still failing at casting diversity well.  He is certainly doing a good job of supporting the trans community and being a strong advocate, not to mention he is an exceptional actor and no one is trying to discredit that. But why wasn't a trans person cast to portray their own struggle? The commonly accepted answer, even now, is probably that "there aren't (enough) trans actors," which, in a way is true. There aren't enough; but not because transgendered people aren't interested in acting, because Hollywood isn't interested enough in truly looking for them. Or, when Hollywood does find them, it's for the same stereotypical roles.

When asked if he even thought of casting a trans actor for the highly acclaimed "Dallas Buyers Club," director Jean Marc Vellee revealed not only that casting someone transgender never crossed his mind, but he also went on to ask if transgender actors exist.  Cis (cis denotes that you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth) straight male actor Jared Leto portrays a transgender woman, and even won several awards for it.

Someone making a movie about AIDS, something that has predominantly affected the LGBTQ community in this country, actually claimed to be unaware of an entire population of actors. You can see where this might be a huge issue. These are the people writing stories on behalf of others and not even bothering to be resourceful in the name of telling the most true version of a story. It's bad enough that stories of these populations are being told by people who can't relate to begin with, let alone not being inclusive of the community at all. 

As this article posted on the self-described "feminist, inclusive" website states, "The portrayal of transgender people both in movies and on television tends to be limited to just four different roles. Trans women are seen as the comic relief – though they are not the ones making the joke, but are instead inevitably the punchline. Trans women are seen as sex workers. Trans women are used as a 'trap' to capture 'unwitting' heterosexual males. Sadly, the last way in which we see trans women is as a dead body.", and it's completely true. Trans women are always portrayed as "tricking" some "poor, unknowing" straight male into have sex with them, usually as a prostitute. The argument that movies and television are for entertainment is no longer going to cut it either, because the transgender and LGBTQ community, especially the youth, needs to be given a picture of hope for the future, as do young women and minorities. They need to realize if they make it through the storm, they have a chance at just as good of quality of life as anyone else, and they aren't going to simply equate to a dead hooker at the end of an Law & Order: SVU episode. 

The zeitgeists of popular culture are the images this country acts as a mirror of, so it is largely the media's responsibility to diversify and truly represent the entirety of its population. We are making progress: Laverne Cox is a great example of that, although she is still problematic because her privilege (access to a lot of money and therefore the best plastic surgeons/doctors) has allowed to her to have a very "clean" transition, and it simply does not look that way for the average transgender citizen. But still, it does show progress which is important. It is, however, important to be equally vigilant that while we are making strides, we still have a long way to go before everyone is well-represented. This constant push is what will continue to change the media diversity in this country and around the world. 

Black and Hispanic journalists are out there; LGBTQ actors are out there; every population has people ready and willing to represent themselves, now it's time to start hiring them.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brittany,

    I thought it was really interesting that you decided to touch on the LGBTQ coverage in the media. This is something that I discussed in my post as well! I do completely agree with what you've said about Hollywood not being interested in trans actors, which I definitely think is an issue as well. I'm glad that we have people bringing a positive light to the trans community, like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. We can only hope that in the future, because these two individuals have made such a positive impact, that there will be even more trans representation.

    Kayla Burke