Melanin in the Media – the Ongoing Shortfall of Minorities in Television

Yeabsira Getachew, Staff Writer

Do you ever see anyone who looks like you on TV? Depending on who you are, your answer may be different. If your answer is no, you have probably noticed the lack of minority representation on TV.

One of the reasons a lot of minorities aren’t represented in the industry is because of the beauty standard. It is well known that model/acting scouts look for specific looking clients to work with. In the 2019 article, “Is the Beauty In The Eyes of The Colonizer?” by Leah Donella from NPR she says “ many people still think of an ‘all-American beauty’ as a thin, blonde, blue-eyed white woman.” The idea that only one image of beauty exists or is embraced is completely unfair and rather racist. 

When you think about the young black women on tv, who do you think of? Young women including Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, and Amandla Stenberg are typically the names that come to mind. While these women are considered black, one important aspect must be noted: the industry tends to cast barely black passing, lighter skinned, mixed-black women with Eurocentric features to play in movies to portray diversity. Although these actresses are all extremely talented and beautiful in their own way, it’s not fair to only place these types of black women in the media.

In my personal experience as an aspiring actress, I’ve had a hard time finding roles to audition for or roles that I might aspire to in the industry. In fact, whenever I get emails about casting calls, they are all similar in what they are looking for. It’s disheartening.

It’s frustrating how rare it is to have a role that caters to me as a black girl. We definitely need more darker skinned people like Viola Davis, Michael B. Jordan, Tyler James Williams, and Keke Palmer to be in movies and on television so young girls and boys have people to look up to! These actors’ amazing talent is what allowed them to crack the glass ceiling and overcome this barrier.

Other groups that are, perhaps, even more excluded in the industry are Indigenous and South Asian individuals. It is quite rare to see Indigenous and South Asian representation on TV. One of the biggest breakthroughs in recent memory that highlighted Indigenous people for the first time was “Moana”. Moana was a Samoan Disney Princess and her creation definitely paved the way for more diversity. 

For South Asians, the breakthrough was Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin.”  You may think children’s movies aren’t a big deal, but it is crucial for children’s programs to be inclusive because they teach kids everyone is welcome. Studios like Disney should continue to provide strong diversity in movies and on television because it is extremely important for children to grow up acknowledging all people. Seeing characters on screen – even those in animated films and shows – prepares children for how diverse the real world is and teaches that they are accepted.

The root of this issue is a lot deeper than the surface. In the 2020 article “The Reckoning over Representation: Black Hollywood Speaks Out, But Is The Industry Listening?” by Elaine Low and Angelique Jackson of Variety magazine, they state, “The institution itself is imbued with white supremacy and a patriarchal structure designed to proffer advantages unequally.” Low and Jackson made the point that the industry isn’t broken, it was built this way. The neglect of people of color in the industry started when the industry did.

Thanks to hard work and determination, shows are beginning to be more inclusive! Netflix’s “Grand Army”, and CW’s “All American” as well as “Legacies” are all known to have a very diverse cast. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Although, this isn’t enough because diversity should be normalized in television everywhere. 

It is 2020, you would think we would be in a better place by now. Sadly, the lack of representation in the media has barely changed. It is up to us, the next generation, to reshape this discriminatory cycle. No matter who you are, just know, you are just as capable as the next.