Race in media is a topic that has been getting a lot of attention due to many people becoming more aware of underrepresentation of people of color, suppression of color which is a result of whitewashing in order to be more accepted in white culture, and stereotypes that have been placed upon them from preventing people of color to pursue success. With major award shows having a problem with representation and the “black lives matter” movement making people more aware of the issue of underrepresentation and misinterpretation of other races in media.
America has a history of being a country that favors the white American, using slavery and race studies that infer that the white race is the superior race. This mindset has continued through the times of segregation but has been diluted in the present day. Whenever race in the media is mentioned, it tends to affect our viewpoints of race in real life, catering to stereotypes that we were initially taught by the media.
For many years, white Americans have dominated Hollywood, from the first cinematography, if a person of color was needed in the tv show or movie, the person of the actual race would not have been cast but instead white people would be race washed. One example would be the movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” where the character of Mr. Yunioshi was portrayed by Micky Rooney a white man who had worn makeup, a protruding mouthpiece and had donned a fake Japanese accent to change his features to fit a stereotypical view of a Japanese man.
This had angered a large group of Japanese Americans because of wrongful portrayal and the casting director’s reluctance to act an actual Japanese man (Scherker, 2014). In present day, there is still reluctance to cast an actual person of color for a role that specifically asks for a person of a certain race, movies such as “Avatar: the Last Airbender” took an intended cast of natives and had whitewashed them, keeping the villains as people of color in order to maintain the righteous hero image of the white American.
Compared to the past, many people are slowly being aware of whitewashing in Hollywood and had called on the casting directors for Avatar and boycotted the movie, which contributed to its poor performance in the box office. In order to combat whitewashing in the Hollywood, television shows such as “Blackish,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” and “Masters of None” had been created with the intent to counter whitewashing in the Hollywood.
Both “Blackish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” focuses on African American and Asian Americans respectively and have a comedic approach to how traditional Americans (white Americans) view people of color, making fun of the unintended racist comments and stereotypes that people of color often encounter and how often times whitewashing their culture is something that they need to do in order to be accepted in the American world. “Blackish” recently had an episode about police brutality, an issue that is sensitive to mention in family tv shows.
By mentioning police brutality in their show, “Blackish” had become not only the first family show to mention the issue of police brutality, but also explain how police brutality affects African American families. Masters of None, a tv show that focuses on Indian American Aziz Ansari’s life, directly addresses the problem with casting in the American film industry. For example, when casting people of color, they are usually called upon for a specific stereotypical role. When ditioning for minor roles like a cashier, Ansari would simply use his “American accent,” but casting directors would hint that they wanted some more Ansar’s character to have more of a personality, meaning they wanted a certain accent to the character, Ansari would then put in an Irish accent, but the casting character would then tell Ansari that they wanted him to use an Indian accent. This scene implies that the only thing that people of color are needed Hollywood for them to act out their stereotypes in order to create the world in Hollywood that people can expect.
There is so much underrepresentation of diverse races, for example, the 2015 Oscar awards did not have any representation of any other races besides white American; none of the nominees of the Oscar awards were people of color. This situation had created the hashtag “Oscars so white” which spread and started to raise awareness of underrepresentation of people of color in Hollywood. Even though that there are some people of color present, there the main focus is always on the efforts of white Americans (Anderson, 2016).
Viola Davis, an African American actress known for her role in “How to Get Away With Murder,” had won an Emmy award, and in her speech, she had addressed Hollywood’s problem with underrepresentation of people of color in the media and the need for diversity. She started off the speech by saying, “In my mind, I see a line. And over that line I see green fields and lovely flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me over that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t seem to get over that line….
The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there. ” This part of her speech addresses the fact that people of color have difficulty getting roles and white Americans do not necessarily face this problem. With regards to casting, it is difficult for a person of color to get a role that does not cater to their expected behaviors and stereotypes. In order to people of color to prosper in Hollywood, there should be casting directors and producers that are willing to break stereotypical roles and hire people of color.
The reason why many producers and casting directors are hesitant to do so is because they worry about the viewers response if they decide to cast a person of color because it would not cater to the majority race of America (white Americans). Asian American rapper Dumbfoundead, also known as Jonathan Park, had recently released a song called “Safe” that addresses the media’s problem with underrepresentation of Asian Americans as Asian Americans are considered to be a model minority.
He had also discussed the problem with Hollywood not casting Asian Americans for lead roles and to emphasise this point he photoshops his face onto famous white actors in wellknown movies such as “Pulp Fiction,” “Titanic,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other movies to mock Hollywood and leave the message that Asians can also be able to take on lead roles when given the chance. In an interview with Los Angeles Times, Park leaves a note for Hollywood telling Asian American that “[they] just have to write these stories. I have also tons of actor friends who are writing scripts because they know.
They have been in it for a long time. They know that the perfect role isn’t going to come for them. They’re going to have to write themselves in,” meaning if Hollywood is not going to provide people of color with roles, then they themselves would have to create their own roles (Thomas, 2016). The reason why media often limits people of color to act according to their stereotypes in Hollywood is to create a sense of comfort with the viewers because the viewers can relate to a character that they already familiarized themselves with.
For example, Asians are stereotyped as being nerdy, submissive, and socially awkward, therefore, in media, they are given roles that often fit this stereotype. An example of this would be the character Raj from the television show “The Big Bang Theory,” Raj’s character is socially awkward around women, book smart, and submissive compared to the rest of the characters on the show. Since the stereotype of how an Asian should act had been established, the viewers are now familiar with Asian characters so whenever they see Asians in any other television show or movie, they apply that stereotype to the Asian in that TV show or movie.
This is part of the reason why casting directors do not provide different roles for people of color since the viewers have already familiarized themselves with a certain expected behavior of a person of color. Another reason why people of color often do not have any serious lead roles in order to preserve the white American’s image as a national hero. As mentioned before, the movie “Avatar: The Last Airbender” had chosen to whitewash its lead hero characters but kept the lead antagonists and their followers as people of color.
Another example would be the movie American Sniper, which had also played on the image of an American hero, serving his country and protecting the America from terrorists. This war movie was faced with criticism for overplaying the image of the American hero by dehumanizing Iraqi people as savages and giving the role of bringing order and civilization to the white American hero. This was especially racially insensitive as it had only encouraged more negative stereotypes towards Iraqi people and those that practice the Muslim religion.
Racism in the news is often times implicit, for example, the Ferguson and Baltimore uprising event, where people of color were peacefully protesting the killing of a black man by the police, news channels such as ABC news had used the word “thug” to label peaceful people of color protestors. When compared to the Keene State College Riot, where white Keene State College students “had thrown rocks at police, set fires, and forced police to respond with riot gear, rubber bullets, and tear gas” because their baseball team had won, they were not called thugs but were instead called “kids that were simply having fun” (Greenwald, 2015).
This double standard does serve as implicit racism as they are catering to a stereotype that is “expected” of their race. The way that media has reported events such as the 2013 shooting of Trayvon Martin had sparked a sense of unity within the black community promoting the hashtag “black lives matter”, however with police officers there has been an increased amount of shooting innocent black Americans because they had been influenced by the stereotype that has been reported by the news.
The “black lives matter ovement” had sparked the awareness of racism in media, raising a sense of camaraderie with people of color (Garza, Tometi, & Cullors). Music is also another form of media that has race tied into it. Different genres like hip-hop and rap, r&b, and r&b soul are the most popular music genres that have roots in African American culture and have influenced a range of music genres in America. White artists such as Iggy Azalea, and Eminem have made songs in this genre, and their music has been popularly received.
Some African Americans find that white people releasing hip-hop and rap music are controversial as these genres were meant to talk about the violence and struggles faced in the ghetto and socioeconomic burdens, something that the white race could not relate to since most of them are middle class. The feeling was that the white race was taking a part of black American culture producing music on false experiences and to African Americans that was something that they found implicitly racist because to them, white artists were taking a part of African American identity and were taking away its importance (D’Addario, 2013).
Iggy Azalea, a white rapper, is scorned by African Americans because she appropriates southern black accent when she raps and she takes away the importance of producing one’s own lyrics that are about one’s own personal struggles and experiences, which is the epitome of hip-hop (Hanh, 2014). Unlike Iggy Azalea, white rapper Eminem has been praised by the African American community because he acknowledges his white privilege in his songs and respects the culture and rules of hip-hop, rapping about the struggles that he faced growing up living in a lower class primarily black Detroit neighborhood (Westhoff, 2015).
Black artist also face criticism about the music genre that they created from the white race. When Solange Knowles, a singer, stood up for her colleague Brandy’s album when it was criticized by white music blogs by mentioning that “black people had made the contribution to the genre whereas white music critics lacked the knowledge and respect for these contributions”.
New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica responded with “[Solange was] biting the hand the feeds her” which was an implicitly racist remark because Caramanica was implying the white race was the one giving Solange and Brandy the success that they had and without the support of the white race, their music would not have prospered (Blay, 2014). Another issue that is brought up is that people who are not part of the African American community that listens to hip-hop and rap want to adopt black culture but when it comes to any negative issues that the black community faces such as police brutality, they do not want to speak out on it.
When the hashtag “black lives matter” people of color had united and supported the movement, however, when white Americans were called upon to support the movement, they countered with the hashtag “all lives matter” which was a way of saying rather than supporting the black movement, and speaking up against police brutality, the white community had instead chose a colorblind view towards race by stating that there is no race involved, instead everyone should be on equal terms.
Those who say that racism does not exist in the media take this side because they have adopted the mindset that the reason why minorities are treated the way that they are treated is because they have brought it upon themselves. The reason why people of color are not getting any important lead roles in the media is because they have brought the stereotype upon themselves and if they had established a more positive stereotype from the beginning then people of color would be able to have more important roles. For minorities such as black Americans in the news, they are looked down upon because they are on the lowest rung of the social ladder.
If black Americans had worked their way up the social ladder and avoided living in bad neighborhoods then they would be looked at in a more positive light. With regards to music, black Americans should be happy that their music genre has been adopted into many forms. All these approaches take a blame approach towards the minority and assume that all races start off equal but it is how minorities decide to establish themselves. In order to combat this, there should be an acknowledgment of the struggles that minorities face.
Minorities were not able to establish themselves in a positive light from the get go due to the segregation that they faced in the past. By acknowledging the struggles that minorities have faced, there would be more of an understanding of the current status of minorities which would act like affirmative action towards minorities, giving them the boost they need to establish a positive position on media. Implicit racism will continue to exist but only in the form of unintentional racism if society continues to establish affirmative action towards minorities.