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Why anything I write matters

A discussion of minority representation in film

Weekly Colmunist

Published: Monday, December 2, 2013

Updated: Monday, December 2, 2013 22:12

How much TV do you watch a day? You’ll watch an episode of “Friends” here and there, and binge watch “Orange is the New Black.” According to Huffington Post, every week you spend nearly 35 hours on the Internet and 31.5 hours watching TV. In the last year 225 individual million people in the U.S. and Canada (68 percent of the population over the age of two) went the theaters at least once with the average moviegoer seeing six movies. (And that’s just the movies in theaters, not to mention later viewings at home.) Why is this important? For the same reason why articles on feminism, race and media: representation matters.

You’re seeing movies that vastly underrepresent women, African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. This is done despite the fact that Latinos and Africans Americans are filling seats in theaters. According to Motion Picture Association of America, whites comprise 56 percent of tickets sold while they are 64 percent of the population; Hispanics are 26 percent and 17 percent, respectively, and African Americans are 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively. Women and men are nearly equal in the population and evenly split in ticket sales. Here is how representation in film breaks down according to the University of Southern California’s research on the top 500 films released from 2007 to 2012. Looking at the year 2012 (4,475 speaking characters), whites were 76.3 percent of speaking characters, Hispanics 4.2 percent, blacks 10.8 percent, Asians 5 percent, with other ethnicities comprising 3.6 percent. Females were 28.4 percent of speaking characters in 2012. These numbers have varied by only a few percentage points in the past five years.

Not only is the representation skewed, but you have to consider the roles you’re seeing these characters play. In 1939, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Oscar, for her supporting role of Mammy, a maid in “Gone with the Wind.” In 2011, Octavia Spencer won the same category also playing the maid who was aided by Emma Stone in “The Help.” Women are most valued for their age and their appearance: the percentage of women shown in sexualized attire or partially naked was 31.6 percent and 31 percent in 2012, respectively. Men were at 7 percent and 9.4 percent respectively. In terms of age, 73.3 percent of female characters are under age 40; however, only 58.1 percent of male characters are in that same bracket. The percentage of female characters aged 13 to 20 shown with some or full nudity has more than doubled from 23.3 percent in 2007 to 55.8 percent in 2012. Hispanic females suffer a similar plight as 41.1 percent are found in alluring attire and 39.3 percent partially naked. Black males are least likely of all the ethnicities to be portrayed as fathers or romantic partners. In only 9 percent of films were black characters 12-14.9 percent of the cast, i.e. near their percentage of the population. In case you’re worried that soon black and female characters will soon dominate your screens only 2 percent of films in 2012 had either more female characters or more black characters than the dominant white male group.

Now, I’ve told you the problem; let’s talk about the solution. If a non-black director is behind the camera, only 9.9 percent of his characters will be black, on average, compared to 52.6 percent of the cast being of that ethnicity with an African American director. In 2012, the ratio of male to female directors, writers, and producers was 5 to 1, with only 4.1 percent of directors of the female gender. The percentage of females onscreen increased by 8.7 percent with female writers and 10.6 percent for female directors. They were also less likely to be objectified in these films.

Now, why do I care? Most importantly, the misrepresentation of women and minorities is affecting the way we act as a society. Children aged two to five spend over 32 hours on entertainment devices (TV, DVRS and game consoles), and children aged 6-11 watch over 28, according to Nielson. According to American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “By the time of high school graduation, they will have spent more time watching television than they have in the classroom.” They advise against excessive television watching for children. As brain development occurs, many children aren’t equipped to separate reality from the films they see. These stereotypes will continue to enforce the supremacy of the white male in our society until we confront the inequality behind the camera and the resulting misrepresentation on camera.  

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