By Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES – America is a nation of immigrants. When you walk down the streets of Los Angeles or New York, for example, you see a mixture of Hispanics and Latinos, Asians, African-Americans, and Europeans blending in with the White Americans. Yet, our television screens do not reflect this mixture.
The millions of minorities that are so visible on our streets and in shopping malls, in our offices and health care centers, are quite invisible on TV. Most of the time, minorities are portrayed as the “bad guys”, or given secondary roles in poorly-paid professions, or “mere props” in the background.
The US organization, Children Now, came up with a 1998 study entitled A Different World: Children’s Perceptions of Race and Class in Media which supports this sad fact. Their research found that because of what they see on TV, children associate white characters with various attributes: having lots of money, being well educated, being a leader, doing well in school, and being intelligent. Conversely, they associate minority characters with breaking the law, having a hard time financially, being lazy, and acting goofy.
Commissioner Michael J. Copps from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) noted this poor representation of minorities in media. In a recent media interview organized by the Filipino American Leadership Council (FALCON), and Mabuhay Alliance, Commissioner Copps admitted that the media does not reflect the significant contributions of other ethnic groups in society.
“The way to address this problem is to help the minorities own more media companies so that they will have a voice in how their race is being reflected,” Copps said.
Another FCC Commissioner, Jonathan Adelstein, said that you don’t see enough good role models of minorities portrayed in media. “Media must be obligated to reflect the many contributions of other ethnic races to American society. It must truly reflect what America is all about. But if only the whites control and own media, minorities lose a voice,” he said.
Copps and Adelstein said that they are not in favor of media consolidation – if most media companies will be owned by one same group. “This is the enemy of diversity,” they said.
The interview with the FCC Commissioners was organized by FALCON as a result of the media disparagement of Filipino health care professionals in the TV show, Desperate Housewives. FALCON is a coalition of major Filipino American professionals, humanitarians, businesses, and socio-civic organizations in the United States which serves as an advocacy group that works to safeguard, protect, and defend the constitutional rights, honor, image, integrity and general welfare and interests of Filipino Americans in the United States.
Back in 1993, the American Screen Actors Guild (SAG) began to collect statistics on the number of ethnic and minority actors appearing in American television and films. The results were grim. The face of North American entertainment was overwhelmingly white, mostly male and young. Members of visible and ethnic minorities were significantly under-represented across the whole range of entertainment media.
Critics and advocacy groups began to pressure the industry to produce shows and films that adequately reflect the racial and ethnic diversity we find in our communities and there have been significant gains.
In its 2000 report, SAG announced a seven per cent increase in industry jobs and record numbers of roles for performers of color, with African Americans accounting for 15 per cent of all characters in television and film. However, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) pointed out that of the four major networks’ 26 new prime-time shows for the 2000 season, none featured people of color in lead roles. The NAACP’s 2000 survey of Hollywood and Beverly Hills screen writers found that only 7 per cent of the 839 respondents were members of minority groups
Another study in 2002 by UCLA concluded that “minorities are even more under-represented in key behind-the-scenes creative and decision-making positions than they are on the [television] screen.” Many analysts are concerned that the dearth of minority executives, producers, directors and screenwriters is fuelling the tendency to ignore or misrepresent ethnic groups.
FCC said there are incentives being given to minorities who want to own media companies like tax credits and such other programs to promote diversity.
“If more minorities own media companies, then we can have diversity,” Copps said.
“You can have more models of various ethnicities in front of the camera if the one who owns the camera is of another ethnic background too, “ said Adelstein.