Since its inception, the entertainment industry has been a powerful force in American society and culture. The entertainment industry consists of multiple facets, including film, television, and music. Each facet is its own multi-billion industry, with millions of Americans turning on the radio or television, and buying movie theater tickets on a Saturday night to enjoy the latest blockbuster. In a time in which technology has dominated most aspects of life for Americans, the entertainment industry has also gained influence and wealth in the process. Studies show that 96.7% of American households possess at least one television, and more than 1 billion citizens purchase movie theater tickets. While the enormous influence that this business has is commendable, with such power comes a large amount of responsibility. One incredibly important and relevant issue that the film and television industries face is the representation of minority races in their media. The concern of limited presence of racial minorities in film and television must be rectified, in order to remove race-related stereotypes and to emphasize the importance of equality for all races in society and for posterity.
In the last decade, it has become increasingly necessary for the film and television industries in society to broaden the range of actors, writers, and directors of multiple ethnicities in order to provide a comprehensive and inclusive portrayal of the experiences of people of color in entertainment. The sheer number of ethnically diverse characters in the entertainment industry is at a concerning low. For example, on the popular 90’s show “Friends”, the six main characters are all white, despite the fact that it takes place in New York city, known for its diversity. In fact, the majority of supporting characters on the show are also white, with less than a handful of small characters being a minority. A more recent example of a Caucasian-dominated show is “Girls”, which takes place in Brooklyn, a place made up by a variety of people of different ethnicities. “Whitewashing” is a coined term that addresses the growing problem of changing originally minority charactes into white characters. The recent movie “Aloha” directed by Cameron Crowe takes place in Hawaii. However, each and every character in the movie is Caucasian yet again. A character that is supposedly Hawaiian and part Chinese is played by a white woman. In addition to the lack of minority characters, the quality of the characters that do exist in the film and television industry is also lacking. Most characters of a minority race are created to fulfill some sort of stereotype about the race in general. For instance, there is a stereotype that every African-American woman must be “sassy”, a trope scene often in Tyler Perry movies. Additionally, even “positive” stereotypes for a certain race can be extremely limiting. The label placed on many Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) and Indian characters is that they are all exceptionally smart and great at math and science. This stereotyped character is scene on multiple popular television shows and movies to this day, such as guest characters on the television show “Modern Family”. The big issue with the use of typecasting in the film and television industry is that it pigeonholes people of minorities into a certain idea. It does not properly represent people of color as being just as complex and diverse as any Caucasian person is, and this continues a larger issue of compartmentalizing minorities outside of the entertainment industry and in society as a whole.
The incredible impact of the film and television industry on culture in American society means that the ideals and values presented in the media created and shared with citizens have a certain responsibility to encourage an awareness and respect for the multiple races that make up this country. For example, the entertainment industry plays a significant role in determining the standard of beauty in American culture. The majority of all female characters in films and television are skinny, blonde, and most importantly- Caucasian. This is the normalized cultural ideal of what everyone should consider to be beautiful, and what people should aspire to be. However, this paragon excludes the physical attributes of people of color, and in the process perpetuating the idea that their race is not beautiful or attractive. The majority of African-American characters on TV have straight smooth hair, which is not an embodiment of the naturally curly hair that many African-American people possess. For example, Beyoncé Knowles’ natural hair is continually hidden by straightening irons and wigs. When she participated in a commercial for a hair product company, her hair is digitally manipulated to be straighter and lighter than it is in reality. The unrealistic and often “whitewashed” epitome of beauty presented in this media is conducive to an unhealthy sense of self-worth that grows in the viewers of such media. The audience, such as young and impressionable teenage girls, are influenced to believe that their own looks will never be as pretty or attractive as a Caucasian women, and therefore their confidence and self-assurance is hindered in the process. When people watch a television show or a movie, they are looking for content, stories, and characters that they can connect with and relate to. However, most of the time in the entertainment industry, people of minority cannot find characters of their race, and when they do these characters have become washed-down shells that have become a tool in portraying a stereotype about their race. With this underrepresentation comes that growing idea in society that minorities are not as important, or as deserving as the majority race in America. If an Indian-American child grows up being surrounded by television shows that feature exclusively white leads, and by smaller Indian roles that have heavy accents and only eat Indian food, that child will start to feel like there isn’t a place for her society. People watching the same shows as her will learn from the categorizations presented in entertainment and make assumptions about her based on the sole fact that she is a certain race. The flawed ideology present in this industry is incredibly destructive, and change is most definitely needed.
Although culture in the United States of America has come a long way from the days of slavery and segregation, the country still faces major problems regarding the oppression of minorities. More specifically, the significant absence of the diverse range of races that make up society in the film and television industries is a particularly troublesome issue that must be acknowledged and fixed. These businesses lack proper portrayal of the minority in both quality and quantity, and in turn prolong unhealthy ideas about the importance of these races in American culture. Ultimately, real strides need to be made in the entertainment industry for larger and more comprehensive inclusion of the broad spectrum of people that consider themselves American.