Doesn’t it make sense that movies would reflect the reality of having a majority white population?

Q: Can you explain a little bit more about the issue of representation in media? I’ve been trying to explain to white friends why a population that is a minority shouldn’t be represented in such a small way, but am having a hard time explaining when pushed. In other words, the question I get is: Doesn’t it make sense that movies would reflect the reality of having a majority white population? Feels very “oy” but I can’t think of a good response.

A: So, I’m not sure I completely understand the question but here are some thoughts.

Yes, movies reflect a white population. The thing is the percentage of non-Hispanic white people in the U.S. population has reached an all-time low: 63%. The NY Daily News reported in 2013 that “Nearly half of American children younger than 5 are minorities, and the number of minorities under 18 is expected to surpass the number of white children by 2019. The total minority population has grown 21 times faster than the white population.”

However, Movies don’t reflect the current 37% people of color in the US. Just look at a study from USC in 2014 “according to the numbers in the study, was a lack of nonwhite Hispanic characters in the 3,932 speaking roles analyzed. Just 4.9 percent of those parts were filled by Hispanic characters, though they are 16 percent of the U.S. population.”

The USC study also showed that, “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 paper notes at the outset. “Just over three-quarters of all speaking characters are White (76.3 percent). These trends are relatively stable, as little deviation is observed across the five-year sample.”

So, the movies don’t reflect the population of the US. Movies should reflect the population. They don’t.

The USC study also found that black directors were more likely to cast black people in speaking parts (white directors cast black characters in 10.8 percent of speaking roles, compared with 46 percent of roles for black directors). So, we all need to support film-makers who identify as people of color and support films starring non-white folks.

What are your thoughts? If you have anything to add please comment below.

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2 thoughts on “Doesn’t it make sense that movies would reflect the reality of having a majority white population?

  1. I enjoyed this article and I do find that there is a disparity in numbers, but also an issue of accuracy. If you watch television and happen upon Spike’s Tut mini-series then you would not see a cast full of Egyptians, but of white actors and actresses who have been painted and tanned and computer enhanced to have a darker complexion. While I understand that Egyptian people are not dark skinned like myself, I actually have some Egyptian friends so I know this first hand, I do know that they are not white. In my opinion, much of the issue arises when qualified actors and actresses of color are foregone for white actors and actresses. I am hard pressed to believe that there are no Egyptian actors or any actors of color who could have played these rolls equally as well without the artificial coloring.

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  2. I know this is something that stumped me until recently. I found Dylan Marron’s videos illustrated the problem in a fabulously stark light: http://www.buzzfeed.com/fionarutherford/a-man-is-editing-hollywood-movies-so-only-people-of-colour-s#.buy6y1m9O

    Plus the realization that Hollywood often chooses to cast white actors when no race is specified (e.g. pretty much all fantasy stories; Lord of the Rings is an often cited example – only the elves had a specified skin tone) or when POC actors would make more sense (like commentor Ashton’s reference, also the movies Exodus, Aloha, and (upcoming) Gods of Egypt.)

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