Misrepresentation of People of Color in the Media

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By Isabella X.O.

Warner Bros. recently casted Rooney Mara, a white actress, to play Native American character “Tiger Lilly” in a new adaptation film of Peter Pan, called “Pan”. The casting is a blatant example of white washing in Hollywood. This is case is comparable to Johnny Depp starring as a Native American in the tanked movie, “Lone Ranger,” last summer. Native Americans made up 2% of the US population in 2010, according usnews.com, but in 2008, only .3% of roles in TV and films had Native American actors and actresses.

Although the role of Tiger Lilly is fundamentally racist, stereotypical, and problematic, it existed as an opportunity for an unknown Native American actress to be elevated to a higher celebrity status and to raise awareness of racial disparities in the media. The Tiger Lilly case is only a recent example of the existing travesty of the amount and quality of representation of people of color in media.

According to a study by USC, “across 100 top-grossing films of 2012, only 10.8 percent of speaking characters are black, 4.2 percent are Hispanic, 5 percent are Asian, and 3.6 percent are from other (or mixed race) ethnicities.” The same study noted the lack of positive roles assigned to the few people of color (POC) characters. The roles written often perpetuate stereotypes, whether it is the sassy, independent black woman, the spicy Latina maid, or the nerdy and emotionless Asian student.

This lack of representation goes beyond visual media and is apparent in literature. According to a study by the cooperative children’s book center, 3.3% of 3,600 books were about African-Americans, 2.1% were about Asian-Pacific Americans, and 1.5% were about Latinos. This explains low literacy rates amongst black and Latino kids, and why my younger brother and cousins always shrivel their noses up to the question, “Why don’t you go read a book?”

The overrepresentation of white characters in American culture contributes to the systematic oppression of people of color. Negative stereotypes perpetuate discrimination, Eurocentric beauty standards provoke low self-esteem, and white washing, like in “Pan”, erases POC humanity.

Young people of color carry the social and emotional burden resulting from this negative representation; the National Alliance of Mental Illness said that generally, women of color are more likely to experience depression than both men of color and those who are non-POC. Black and Latino males face the highest rates of getting stopped-and-frisked.

Essentially, all of this bad stuff is happening to us because media influences personal opinion. The media currently communicates messages that affect the way others think about POC, and how people of color think about themselves.

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