History was made as Viola Davis became the first black woman to win Best Actress in A Drama Series at the 2015 Emmy Awards. After graciously accepting her award, she brought light to a prevailing issue in American media with one of the most moving speeches to ever grace the Emmy’s. However, one line stood out among the rest: “You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.”
POC, people of color, is a term used to describe anyone who is not white. African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other races make up this rapidly growing populace in America. So why is it that they hold only 16.7 percent of Hollywood roles, seven percent of radio licenses, three percent of TV licenses and are the least hosted and represented on popular evening news channels such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC?
Paul Choi, junior accounting major and a prominent member of UMBC’s On Demand: Entertainment and Media Club, said in regards to his culture that, “there is a lack of Asian celebrities in the US, but it could be due to the lack of Asians in the US.” However, people of color are 39 percent of the US population and that number is steadily on the rise.
One aspect of this is that roles that are meant for people of color are often white-washed to be played by white actors. Upcoming films such as Pan, a retelling of Peter Pan, features Rooney Mara, a white actress, in the role of Tiger Lily, a Native American character. Stonewall, a movie depicting a historic LGBTQ revolution, credits a fictional white character to the start of the movement when in actuality that person was most likely African American.
Not only are people of color underrepresented, but misrepresented as well. The roles that are available are stereotypes meant for nothing more than the amusement of an audience. The socially awkward Indian friend on CBS, the sassy, loud black secretary on a lowbrow ABC Family comedy, and the ambiguously Middle Eastern terrorist on an NBC crime drama are common roles for people of color.
Freshman Asian studies major, Varsha Vivek, said that, “when there are whitewashed characters or flat characters, viewers can’t relate,” and that, “underrepresentation in film can be harmful to the self-confidence of [people of color].”
Unfortunately, the problem does not end in the entertainment industry. The predominant voice among not only newscasters but also radio and talk shows is, of the majority, white. Not only does this silence people of color, but it also tends to portray them more harshly than their white counterparts.
When no one is speaking for you and no one looks or acts like you in the most prominent aspect of American culture, frustration, confusion and ultimately an inferiority complex latches onto you. Everyone deserves a voice and a representation across all aspects of media regardless of minority status.