By Samantha N. Olson
In the summer of 2016, Warner Brothers Pictures presented the world with the raving cinematic phenomenon that is DC Comics’ Suicide Squad. An impressive amount of social progress is conveyed through the film, for minorities are prevalent in the limelight as supporting characters. However, there is one major flaw—minorities are overwhelmingly portrayed as villains or criminals. In DC’s smash hit, Mexican-American actor Jay Hernandez plays Chato Santana (better known as El Diablo), who is a hispanic criminal and gang leader. Up-and-coming actress Karen Fukuhara also portrays a minority: samurai and Asian heroine Katana. Though she is not a villain, she only has seven insignificant lines, giving her less than ten minutes of screen time throughout the entire film. Such negative (and perhaps nonexistent) representation in the mass media reinforces harmful stereotypes, sending a damaging message to minority youth.
Although approximately one-tenth of the U.S. population is foreign-born, the media unfortunately still commonly executes the American = white equation in programs such as the NBC sitcom Mad About You and the HBO hit Girls, where no non-white main characters are incorporated into the plot. The lack of minority representation is also highly apparent in the news media; social political and cultural analyst Farai Chideya states that in the mid-nineties, “the…[news] coverage of the O.J. Simpson trials portrayed a nation riven by the black/white color line.” Because of that thin line, the majority of the general public at the time connected Simpson’s race and ethnicity with the idea of criminality.
Globally, the media presumptuously fails to authentically depict minority groups. When they are represented, they’re depicted stereotypically, which further dehumanizes and suppresses the Black, Latino, Asian, Indian, Native American, and LGBTQ+ communities.
The film and cinema industry is one of the most impactful mediums that often reflects the experiences within a civilization. Although it serves as an outlet to entertain and educate people. and sometimes brings a change in their behaviors and practices, this industry can easily get absorbed by the juxtaposition between real and reel life.
In January 2016, the full list of nominations for the 88th Academy Awards was released only to reveal that every nominee in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories were all cisgender white actors for the second consecutive year. After a 17-year streak of including diversity within their nominations, news of a monochromatic academy has caused immense controversy with minority groups, especially in the black community. Black figures in the entertainment industry—actors, screenwriters, directors, and costume designers—took it upon themselves to take a stand against the academy by coining the “#OscarsSoWhite” hashtag on social media in order to make their voices heard.
The now renowned movement definitely sparked some controversy within the media and has apparently been effective—approximately a week after it surfaced, the governing board of the Academy announced that changes were to be made and that they were committed to heightening the number of women and academy members of color by 2020.
This year’s nominations have instilled hope for greater diversity, as films such as Fences, Hidden Figures, and Moonlight were nominated for the most prestigious category: Best Picture. Disney’s Moana, which features the first Polynesian princess in the history of the eminent film company, was also nominated for Best Music (Original Song) for “How Far I’ll Go,” written by Hamilton phenomenon Lin-Manuel Miranda and performed by Polynesian actress Auli’i Cravalho.
Notable diversity-supportive Oscar wins for this year include Moonlight for Best Picture and Best Writing Adapted Screenplay, Mahershala Ali for Best Supporting Actor, and Viola Davis for Best Supporting Actress.
It is clear that the Academy is beginning to make progress for minorities and is keeping their word about implementing a more diverse program by 2020. This year’s Academy Awards ceremony is physical proof that speaking up for justice and fighting for certain beliefs ultimately brings a positive outcome. We must let our voices be heard, and fight for more diversity in the media—together.