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Racial Representation in the Media

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laurie petrou

on 28 March 2018

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Transcript of Racial Representation in the Media

"This goes out to all those black and brown boys and girls and non-gender-conforming who don't see themselves. We're trying to show you you and us. So thank you, thank you, this is for you."

Why is this Important?
We have an ethical responsibility as media makers to tell a variety of stories from a variety of perspectives, and to represent the many facets of humanity.

At the very least, we should facilitate them.
1960s TV and Race.
Case Study: All in the Family

From Salon:
"the heart of the show was topical humor. The Bunkers and their friends and neighbors debated war, religion, drugs, gun control, sex, sexism, gay rights, race relations, immigration, taxation, the environmental movement and everything else under the sun. The series wasn’t just a situation comedy, it as was an ongoing national conversation rooted in well-written, well-acted, multifaceted characters."

“If your spics and your spades want their rightful share of the American dream, let ‘em get out there and hustle for it, like I done,” Archie groused to Mike ( on the topic of civil rights).

“So now you’re going to tell me the black man has just as must chance as the white man to get a job?” Mike demands.

“More,” Archie says. “He has more. I didn’t have no million people marchin’ and protestin’ to get me my job.”

“No,” Edith interrupts. “His uncle got it for him.”

Showrunner Norman Lear through Archie Bunker:
Shone a light on racism

The show tackled race in an overt way without hiding from it.
All the characters were flawed and well-flushed out.

FILM: Representation
USC's Annenberg: "Inclusion or Invisibility: Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity in Entertainment" (2016)


Who is Behind the Camera?
(And whose stories are they telling?)

Researchers find a strong relationship between the race of a film's director and the race of the cast —
when a non-black director helms a picture, 9.9% of speaking characters are black. Under a black director, 52.6% of speaking characters are black.
Historical Asian Representation in Hollywood
This era of television is purporting a ‘post-racial’ ideology that argues North American society is now living in a ‘colorblind’ society.
Why does it matter
what television has to say about people of colour? According to a United States Commission Report, “audiences place a higher value on television as a source of information and entertainment than on other media”.

We are susceptible to racially charged ideals that alter the ways in which racialized people are perceived in real life.


A study conducted in 1962 revealed that only three African American faces would appear once every five hours on television. Later on, from 1969 to 1970, “half of all TV drama contained a black performer” and in years following, “six percent to nine percent of all characters on TV shows have been black”

Even though this data illustrates that minorities, in this case African-Americans, failed to receive equal representation, it also demonstrates that improvements were made following the Civil Rights Movement. Also in the Aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, the Kerner Commission conducted a study on the effects of television on “perpetuating the inequality of blacks”.

The Commission discovered two ways in which the media was ineffectively or negatively depicting African Americans before the Civil Rights movement:
not only was there a lack of black characters in shows, but when they did get airtime “they were presented as whites saw them, not as they saw themselves”.
The Maid
Octavia Spencer wins Best Supporting Oscar for the Help.

Hattie McDaniel was the first African American
to win an Oscar - 1939.
Mammy from
"Gone with the Wind"
Between 1890 and 1920: Stories of mammies as loyal protectors of White children were important in Southern childhood, and a lot of attention was paid to their bodies, such as descriptions of large breasts and fat bodies being a source of comfort and support. (Hale, G.E.)
The Amazing Shonda Rhimes
Previous'Golden Age' of talking race on TV
Norman Lear's shows, Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times - all overtly addressed racial and social issues. By the time the Cosby Show came along, it became subtext.
When The Cosby Show ended its run, The Fresh Prince, Family Matters, A Different World, Roc, Hanging With Mr. Cooper, Living Single, and Martin were all on the air.
But by the 90s, most black sitcoms had moved to
fledgling networks where shows like Moesha, Everybody
Hates Chris and Sister Sister were.

Now we have shows like Blackish that unflinchingly discuss race but offer so much more as well.
Shondaland shows populate the stories with difference in a way that doesn't discuss it but looks like real life.

So are we getting it right yet?
Orange is the New Black
Showrunner Jenji Kohan calls Piper her Trojan Horse.
The show features stories of black, Latina,
transgender, immigrant characters

“really fascinating tales of Black women, Latina women, and old women and criminals” are a “hard sell” for networks. Piper, as the “girl next door, the cool blonde,” is a “very easy access point … relatable for a lot of audiences and a lot of networks looking for a certain demographic. [She’s] useful.”
What does this mean?

When the producer, director, content-creator has depicted an actor/character dressed as someone of a different race, or changed the race of a character from one to another (ie in an adaptation of a book to film).
'Blackface' and 'Yellowface' were used instead of providing acting jobs to P.O.C.
Shonda Rhimes Diversity Award Speech:
"It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another. And I don’t believe that that happens out of any specific racism or sexism or prejudice.
People hire their friends. They hire who they know.
It’s comfortable. You want to be successful, you don’t want to take any chances, you don’t want to rock the boat by hiring people of color’ ...'‘
I like the world that we work in to look like the world that we live in.

Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.’
Is there any other kind of racebending?
Racebending.com campaigns
X-Men as a metaphor for racial prejudice
"The X-Men are hated, feared and despised collectively by humanity for no other reason than that they are mutants," Chris Claremont, a longtime X-Men writer once said. "So what we have here, intended or not, is a book that is about racism, bigotry and prejudice."
Martin nodded to the work of Neil Shyminsky, an academic who's written about the X-Men's complicated relationship with real-life racism:

[He] argues persuasively that playing out civil rights-related struggles with an all-white cast allows the white male audience of the comics to appropriate the struggles of marginalized peoples ... "While its stated mission is to promote the acceptance of minorities of all kinds, X-Men has not only failed to adequately redress issues of inequality – it actually reinforces inequality."
Who do you See?
In movies?
On TV?
Who delivers the news stories, and whose stories do they tell?
In books, games, online, in advertising?

The Academy: 6,000-odd voting members, 94% of whom are white.
The Help
Criticism: that this is a tale of the civil rights era told through a white lens, by a white author and director.
From Martha Southgate at Entertainment Weekly:

“Implicit in The Help and a number of other popular works that deal with the civil rights era is the notion that a white character is somehow crucial or even necessary to tell this particular tale of black liberation. … This isn’t the first time the civil rights movement has been framed this way fictionally, especially on film. … Why is it ever thus? Suffice it to say that these stories are more likely to get the green light and to have more popular appeal (and often acclaim) if they have white characters up front. That’s a shame.”
Wesley Morris at The Boston Globe:

“The movie is too pious for farce and too eager to please to comment persuasively on the racial horrors of the Deep South at that time. … The death of the civil rights activist Medgar Evers is reported on television, so white supremacy is in the air, but the movie would have us believe that the racism of the time was the stuff of bridge clubs. Indeed, the meanest male in the movie is the abusive, mostly unseen black husband who, in a poorly made sequence, comes after Minny. … “The Help’’ comes out on the losing end of the movies’ social history. The best film roles three black women will have all year require one of them to clean Ron Howard’s daughter’s house. It’s self-reinforcing movie imagery. White boys have always been Captain America. Black women, in one way or another, have always been someone’s maid. These are strong figures, as that restaurant owner might sincerely say, but couldn’t they be strong doing something else? That’s the hardest thing to reconcile about Skeeter’s book and “The Help’’ in general.”
The 60s and 70s saw films like Shaft, often considered Blaxploitation films. How did they make a difference? And how also can they be criticized?
80s and 90s American mainstream began to see filmmakers like Spike Lee
Boyz 'n' the Hood, Do the Right Thing, broadening the spectrum of representation, the stories told

The Help
2015: Straight Outta Compton

Asian-American Stereotypes in Film and TV
Perpetual foreigner
Martial arts
Model minority
Gendered racism—sexualized female, asexual male and sanctioned racial-gender coupling
Inferior and subordinate
Archvillain, Dragon Lady or yellow peril
Caricature, yellowface bizarre and/or unfathomable
Willing/Deserving targets of open denigration
Stereotyping and Tropes based on race in films and TV
What did The Help do for discussions around race?
Master of None:
Ep: Indians on TV
Tropes: The wise elder, the drunk, the princess, the sidekick


Thoughts on 'Dear White People' and Do the Right Thing.
What were some of the key themes of the films?
How was privilege played out in the plot(s) and characters?
Any criticisms?
From Democracy Now



Tarell Alvin McCraney, accepting the adapted screenplay Oscar with Barry Jenkins
Racial Representation in the Media
Bechdel Test
2016 Hollywood Diversity Report: http://www.bunchecenter.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2016-Hollywood-Diversity-Report-2-25-16.pdf

Key Points from Readings:
Stuart Hall: 'Representation'
'Commodity Racism' - racializing people through advertisements created a space in middle-class Victorian homes for imperial spectacle
Using the colonies, particularly Africa, as 'theatre' - 'Darkest Africa' portrayed via heroic masculine imperial heroes (231) - allowing organized racism to reach a mass of people
Created a set of binary oppositions: civilization vs savagery, white vs black, culture vs nature
Culture/Nature binary: culture was cultivated and possible, nature was unchanging
Hall Cont'd
Signifying Racial 'Difference': main themes of racism based often around 'innate laziness' or 'primitivism', or lack of culture. Reducing cultures to 'nature', Hall argues, made it unchanging;
'designed to fix 'difference', and thus secure it forever' (234)
In addition to representations of degradation and violence, were sentimentalized representations such as:
'Uncle Toms', 'Mammies', 'Happy Natives'
This reduced people to a racist idea of essence.
Hall Cont'd
Racial stereotypes persisted well beyond the abolition of slavery - even abolitionist representations were sentimental and presented more binaries that depicted people of colour as simple, childish, and dependent (238)
American cinema in the first half of the 20th c offered a persistent 'grammar of representation', which Bogle describes as: 'coons' (slapstick entertainers, crazy, lazy, unreliable), 'tragic mulatto' (mixed race woman: exotic, sexual, tainted), 'mammies' (prototypical big, bossy house servants), and 'bad bucks' (strong, huge, violent, unpredictable, over-sexed). (239)
Hall Cont'd
American cinema and representation: the 50s finally began to address race (cautiously). Key figure: Sidney Poitier
Considered palatable to white mainstream
First black actor with star billing, played against stereotypes, but also his parts were never a threat to the system

1967: 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?'
Hall Cont'd
Power and Fantasy: representations of black masculinity as a result of slavery and imperialism
Robert Staples outlines notions of adopted values of strength, virility, sexual [arguably hetero] prowess etc as a means of survival (251)
A 'code of macho behaviour' as a means of recuperating power
Cinema: counter-revolution films - blaxploitation - positively portraying all the characteristics that normally would be stereotypes (260)
Absence and reversal of deference or dependency
POC at the first time at the center of a genre: they were heroic as well as villainous, they were the stars.
Hall Cont'd
Reversal of stereotype does not necessarily overturn or subvert it - escaping one stereotype might mean being trapped in another
Black feminist critics have contended that this 'black macho style' was adopted during the follow up to the Civil Rights Movement and prizes aggression and violence towards women
Strategy: positive images of POC, to right the balance (although it does not negate the existence of racism, but challenges them)
Another strategy: continually making new content, acknowledging that meaning cannot be fixed. The Oppositional Gaze
Black Panther and Afrofuturism

Trigger warning: disturbing images.
"Inclusion Rider"
Kent Test
The Danger of a Single Story: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Carvell Wallace: “Afrofuturism isn’t just the idea that black people will exist in the future, will use technology and science, will travel deep into space.
It is the idea that we will have won the future.”
Current Climate in Scripted Mainstream
Crazy Rich Asians
Based on book by Kevin Kwan
Directed by Jon M Chu
From Lainey on actor John Chu:
This is what sometimes gets lost in the diversity conversation. There is an unfair burden on minority actors because since there are so few of them, they end up being the faces of their generation. John Cho knows how much his presence on screen will affect the young people growing up watching him. He has to think hard about every role. He doesn’t have the luxury of being careless. Mindy Kaling and Shonda Rhimes have both discussed how their white counterparts get to just be creative and do their jobs without the constant pressure of representing an entire race of people.

Lilly Singh
- Indo-Canadian woman from Markham, one of the biggest YT creators in the world with 13M subscribers on YT. She has worked with everyone from Michelle Obama to The Rock, and will be in her first mainstream movie shortly, the new Fahrenheit 451 alongside Michael B Jordan!

- Trinidadian-American who does comedy and animation vids. 5.5M subscribers

How to Cake It
- you met Yolanda at Women to Watch, her channel has 3.5M subscribers

LaToya Forever
- from Toronto, she has 1.5M subscribers on YouTube and is growing really rapidly

- another Canadian, Jus has nearly 1M subscribers on YT and allegedly has the most followers on Snapchat of anyone in Canada

Alex Wassabi
- Filipino-American comedian/musician with 10M followers. His girlfriend is LaurDIY, Canadian YouTuber (and Ryerson grad!) who is part Japanese and part Finnish. 10M+ subscribers

Andrew Huang
- musician who creates for YouTube, from Ottawa, lives in Toronto now. 1.2M subscribers

One other thing to note re: YouTube as a platform for diversity - Gangnam Style was the most-watched video of all-time for about 5 years and introduced the world to K-POP, before it was dethroned by another monster music hit that was also not sung in English, which was Despacito. So that's back to back non-English mega-hits that featured Korean and Puerto Rican stars. The top-trending video of 2017 was this masked singing competition video from Thailand, entirely sung in Thai:
Unscripted: On YouTube
Final Test
Full transcript