In the wake of the 21st Century and living in multi-cultural societies, Hollywood still fails to make progress in on-screen representation. Women of colour who are from marginalised groups are largely excluded from leading roles and according to research, men are occupying more than twice as many roles as women in 2017 films. Representation of those from different backgrounds and ethnicities is essential in making people feel empowered, included and heard.
Does representation matter? Absolutely. Although characters may not represent our lives, they still represent the culture, language and heritage. There is still a long way to go for Hollywood to become more inclusive towards people of colour and this is shown from the alarming statistics that state Asians made up just 3.1% of film roles in 2016, Latinos made up 2.7% and black Americans had 12.5% of film lead roles. Whereas, white-dominated films were at 78.1%. From these shocking statistics, it’s clear that there is an imbalance in representation, however, a balance is essential in film and TV, simply because the media is a reflection of the world we live in. Having a diverse film cast that includes people from different ethnicities, those who have disabilities, different socio-economic backgrounds, members of the LGBTQ+ community ensures that people from all over the world who face different challenges have the chance to feel included and important.
Having people that look like you, on a big screen, having their voices heard and have similar experiences to you can be a source of support in and of itself. It’s unfair that only over a quarter of speaking roles went to people of colour in 2015’s top movies – that Asians and Latinos had tiny slivers of roles. It’s unfair that women made up less than one-third of protagonists in top movies in 2016. It’s unfair that black, Asian and Latino actors were completely left out of acting categories in the Academy Awards last year and the year before that. The more TV you watch, the more media you consume, therefore the more likely the media builds up, and the accumulated effect is to make you feel that what you’re seeing is normal. By excluding people of colour from big screens, we normalise this exclusion in society and create a world where people are made to feel ashamed of their different backgrounds. Is this a world we want to live in?
Positive representation matters. To see yourself reflected in leading roles of award-winning films, sends out the powerful message that everyone should be included and celebrated.