How Hollywood Portrayals Contribute to Marginalization

For the last 11 years, only 31.8% of actors in top movies with dialogue have been women. Many of these women are white, heterosexual, wearing “sexy attire,” and thin, perpetuating the standard of beauty Hollywood has continued to show. Stacy Smith, the director of the Media, Diversity & Social Change Initiative says, “The picture young female viewers see of themselves in media is one of erasure and marginalization and reinforces the idea that a girl’s value is not only on her appearance but also her romantic interests, rather than what she can do or be.”

The increased sexualization of women in media contributes to the decrease of older female actors seen on screen who do not always fit in with Hollywood standards. These standards also discriminate against women who are plus size, of color, disabled, or a member of the LGTBQ+ community. By not representing all women, many adolescent girls are constantly reminded that if they do not fit the media’s criteria, they won’t succeed. 

The news source, Deseret News, explains the way women are shown on screen by saying, “Sixty-eight% of young women weren’t shown in school or doing homework, and when school was mentioned, only 12 percent of female characters talked about or were shown doing science, technology, math, and engineering activities, with only 7 percent of elementary or high school characters mentioning a professional dream or role model.” This outdated idea that women are only used for chores and are less capable than men preserves the idea that women deserve lower wages and that they shouldn’t take on higher positions. 

As an adolescent, much of your perceptions of women, the BIPOC community, mental illnesses, the disabled community, religions, the LGBTQ+ community, and any other marginalized group come from what you see on screen. If the media had diversity and no harmful stereotypes, there would be far less of a problem; unfortunately, that is not the case. 

Out of the actors in top movies, only 4.8% were Asian, 6.2% Hispanic, 12.1% African American, 0.7% part of the LGBTQ community, and 2.5% disabled. These small percentages can apply to directors as well. This means that a person of an underrepresented community might have to watch film after film until seeing one character that looks like them. 

If these characters do look like them, chances are that they are being stereotyped, generalized, or misrepresented. For example, in the show, Modern Family, the actress, Sofia Vergara, plays a Latina character named Gloria. In the show, she often uses her accent and ethnicity for jokes. Even though Sofia Vergara personally doesn’t mind playing her character this way, many viewers are disturbed by this portrayal. Making her accent a device used for laughs only increases the idea that having an accent or being ethnic is ‘funny’ and that it makes her unusual. There are other stereotypes in the media concerning different ethnicities including the model minority myth for Asians; this myth is that Asian people are more successful, whether it be academically or socioeconomically. This can be very harmful, as it pressures Asian people to fulfill the standards set for them, one of the main factors of depression and imposter syndrome for Asian people. 

Additionally, a common stereotype of Black women seen in the media is that they are aggressive or angry. Leah Sinclair, a freelance writer, wrote for The Guardian stating, “I too used to buy into the angry black girl narrative. You know, the one you see on TV: the lady who’s always yelling, hand gestures everywhere, neck rolling – the bubble-gum-popping black girl who always has plenty to say, usually something nagging, loud, and confrontational. You’ll see her on “reality” TV shows such as Love & Hip Hop and Bad Girls Club, or go back to the 1930s and she was Sapphire on the radio (and later TV) show Amos ‘n’ Andy.” Though stereotypes in the media may seem small, they greatly impact people’s perceptions of others in the real world, making it harder for minorities to escape the preconceived notions other people initially have of them.

The media often tends to portray those with mental illnesses as ‘dangerous’ or separated from others. They may also romanticize these mental illnesses, some using OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, as a way for characters to solve problems when the real mental illness is far different from this depiction. The information source, PsychCentral, states, “Sometimes, I overhear people casually using the term ‘OCD’ (obsessive-compulsive disorder). They’re ‘OCD with being clean’ or ‘OCD with organizational skills.’ In fact, however, a real struggle with OCD is a manifestation of anxiety that creates an actual disturbance in one’s life.” The media’s portrayal of mental illness only contributes to the stigma against those who have them and misinforms the public about what the real mental illness entails.

The media’s lack of diversity and incorrect depiction of the marginalized only contributes to marginalization, perpetuating the ‘outsider’ idea. The only way to end this outlook on minorities and those who are misrepresented in Hollywood is to continue to support films with diverse casts. For example, in 2018, the film Crazy Rich Asians contained a full cast of Asian actors. There is an increasing number of films featuring main characters who are not of the old Hollywood standard. Instead of watching films with characters who consist mainly of Caucasian male leads or sexualized women, we should support films that are diversifying their casts, representing reality, and opening the door to change.