Opinion: Forced diversity is ruining your favorite forms of entertainment

We need media companies to focus more on inclusion, less on checking boxes

There is a right way to include diversity in TV shows, and then there is a wrong way. Unfortunately, many filmmakers only think that they need to check the boxes of diversity and inclusion. Instead, they should include people from diverse backgrounds at all levels of the production.

Filmmakers have to be responsible for what they put out there. Characters who are only tokens for filmmakers matter to a lot of people and contribute to the misrepresentation of entire races, genders and communities.

The characters need to be diverse and inclusive. The writers in the room who are creating the characters need to share their culture and perspective. Hollywood needs to hire a diverse cast and crew to be able to provide characters with depth. It's not enough to have diverse characters who only have white problems. We need diverse characters who have similar experiences to a real person of their background.

The characters in the media we consume should be reflective of the real world, but instead, we have characters whose entire personalities are based on stereotypes. These characters are so forced that they have become unnatural and lack depth.

This type of representation is known as tokenism, meaning that characters from marginalized groups exist only to portray a certain race, usually in an inaccurate, stereotypical fashion, rather than for the sake of being inclusive. 

"Putting Black characters, putting characters with disabilities, putting queer characters upfront, whether it was bold, or whether it was tokenism. It was seen as positive as long as the person was playing a positive character, " said Jason Davids Scott, associate professor and associate director at the Sidney Poitier New American Film School.

The Film School has helped contribute to this conversation as students learn it's essential to be accurate and truthful when talking about diversity and inclusion. The school has a Sex and Violence in Film and TV: Ethics Survey, which teaches students production codes, ethical industry realities and practices. 

The lack of accurate representation in media also affects ASU students from marginalized backgrounds. ASU is getting more and more diverse. According to a Fall 2021 update from the University, about 45% of on-campus, first-year students came from underrepresented populations. However, the entertainment that we consume does not reflect this diversity.

Jimmy Guan, a sophomore studying film, is affected directly by tokenism as a first-generation Chinese American. "Tokenism on-screen belittles us as individuals and limits the possibility of people of color having important leading roles in this industry," Guan said.

People want to relate to characters. That should be the purpose of representation. However, many times it can come across as including a character from a marginalized group to win over an audience, rather than to represent these groups to people accurately. Even worse, these characters are introduced in a stereotypical manner, which may give audiences the wrong idea about marginalized groups.

This makes the media industry fall into the trap of misrepresentation. People are more likely to interpret these characters as a reality and judge people based on these characters. For example, many will interpret what they see on TV as reality.

"Nowadays diversity is seen as a trend and it shouldn't be that way, filmmakers should not be looking at diversity as something that checks boxes. They are not grocery shopping. They are making shows that affect people and it's scary that they don’t realize that." Johan Arizpe, an acting student at CasAzul Artes Escénicas Argos, said.

Many people have started holding filmmakers accountable and have demanded that representation should be accurate and truthful. Although Hollywood is growing up and maturing, there is still a long way to go to find a balance in diversity.

"There are more people of color and women and you know, non-binary, trans people, of all walks of life coming to writers' rooms now, and they're being asked for their story," said Nita Blum, advisor for Womxn in Film at ASU and clinical assistant professor with The Film School.

Scott hopes that we can reach a point where there is going to be "another character from that culture, who has a completely different approach, and another one and another one. And we'll start to talk about intersectionality having a gay Black person, having a disabled Asian."

"Be responsible with your storytelling, be a truth-teller. Even if you're telling a story, and it just goes to the Phoenix Film Festival, you're reaching hundreds of people just by doing that alone, and you don't know who you're affecting," Blum said.


Reach the reporter at fgalanma@asu.edu and follow @fgalanma on Twitter. 

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