Diversity gone wrong: do intentions matter?

Hellen Chung, Opinion Editor

After decades of Caucasian faces dominating the big screen, media underrepresentation has progressively diminished as more diverse faces appear. Although characters have become more representative, the distinction between genuinely embracing diversity and utilizing it for the industry’s gain is blurry. 

Viewers often develop a deeper connection to characters that look more like them, but they may not pertain to the same values or characteristics. For example, Disney Channel, a highly influential television channel for many current adolescents, featured a show called Jessie. The show followed a nanny of wealthy children and featured an Indian character, Ravi. His character is super smart, but his intelligence was shown to be “nerdy” and he was heavily mocked. By attempting to include more diverse faces in youth entertainment, Disney Channel actually ended up promoting stereotypes to young kids and pushed the idea that South Asian people are “nerds” and “losers”. 

The writers, producers, and directors behind these characters have constructed them in a way that feeds into stereotypes. Rather than making characters that accurately represent groups, they clutch onto conventionalized ideas that aren’t necessarily true. Why? Because diversifying the image of their pieces promotes them as inclusive, which in our day in age, is favored; however, they are unwilling to devote the time or energy to properly portray the minorities they highlight. Writers merely include minorities as a tactic to draw people in. 

As companies continue bragging about their diversity and inclusion, they maintain the social norm that being white, cisgender, and straight is the standard, while everything beyond that is atypical. It is almost as if they have ostracized most of the world by trying to include them since they have publicized it in such a black-and-white way. If they include people of color, then they are diverse, regardless of their accuracy or intentions.

On the other hand, there are some works that have taken the initiative to better recognize minorities within entertainment. Never Have I Ever, a show on Netflix, stars Devi, an Indian-American girl in high school. Unlike other shows and movies, Never Have I Ever has introduced a plotline free from the long chain of Eurocentric beauty and superiority. It also abolishes the nerd-loser trope that overpowered the character of Ravi in Jessie. This work breaks stereotypes that have plagued screens for a while and has put the characters in a refreshing light of recognition.

As American society highlights equality and the acceptance of diversity, industries such as entertainment are also expected to reflect those values to satisfy the audience’s demand. The media does meet this goal in theory, but it neglects the importance of proper recognition and accurate representation. It can be hoped that more authentic characters hit the big screens and captivate the audience with their genuine identities.