“I truly believe that he thought it was him. He just kept staring at the screen and looking back at us and smiling.” said the mother of Kenzo, a young boy who found his lookalike, Antonio from Encanto on screen (Source: PopBuzz).
Remember when our lives consisted mainly of play and pass-time? When our parents flipped on shows like PBS Kids, Disney Channel, or Nickelodeon and we would just spend the hours away? I know for a fact that I never really paid much attention to the diversity or accuracy of the characters. All I would do was just smile or laugh at the admirable things my on-screen friends would do. But as I grew up and started to get exposed to higher media, I started to notice similar trends… There seems to exist a lack of racial representation in film media as a whole.
Over the past few decades, the cinema industry has seen a significant increase in diversity. Younger children have started to see more characters like themselves in fantastical worlds with superpowers, or even, just leading ordinary lives much like their viewers. This representation of diversity on screen doesn’t exist in only children’s cinema. With the recent 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) nominations on Wednesday January 12, viewers saw an increase in the range of actor’s ethnicities, genders, and figures.
This year’s SAG nominations were split into categories based on “Outstanding Performance by Actors in Television, Movie, Comedy, Drama, and Ensemble. Some major nominations include: Will Smith, Javier Bardem, Cynthia Erivo, Sandra Oh, and Ho-yeon Jung. For shows and movies, I was glad to see a couple of my favorite ones nominated such as: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”, “Ted Lasso”, and “The Tragedy of Macbeth”. For more information, check out the full list of nominations here.
These current nominations represent an immense increase of diversity compared to other award ceremonies such as the September 2021 Emmy’s Awards. During the time, it was widely criticized for its majority of white nominees with the viral twitter controversty hashtag: #emmysowhite. But despite the record nominee lineup, the results were shocking. On the night of the Emmys awards ceremony, the only display of diversity was among hosts and staff who were the ones presenting major awards to white actors.
But where do these results come from? Who is really in charge of voting nominees and creating the final decisions? It is important to select a diverse committee because after all, they are the ones voting on the winners. For the SAG Awards, new, paid members are selected annually and randomly by a computer lottery. Some may argue that having diverse members further increases the chances of bias, but maybe balanced bias can exist. If there is a lack of representation within the selectors, then how does that reflect in the awards? But then again, does having a diverse committee automatically lead to diverse results? One thing’s for sure, the SAG Awards has been doing a much better job at facilitating its awards compared to the Emmys.
The SAG American Federation of TV and Radio Artists Board is a sub-committee of SAG which protects members and their media arts. Members include directors, actors, journalists, broadcasters, and dancers. In April 2021, The SAG-AFTRA came up with a Diversity Action Plan in hopes to encourage inclusive language and practice guides to reporters and journalists, as well as implicit bias training among national and local boards. SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris says the goal of the diversity plan is to advance “concrete actions to stem the tide of hate.”
Many may not realize it, but what we see on screen normalizes how we view our world. Now more than ever, the world is full of children looking up to these new changes. Like Kenzo, we all want to find someone that looks like us on screen. Growing up as a person of color myself, I remember not seeing many characters that looked like me from my favorite shows. Even if I did, they were not culturally appropriate and did not reflect a true and accurate depiction of who I was and how I looked.
For example, Cho Chang from Harry Potter was one of the only Asians in the series who was given a “basic” Chinese name, or so it was believed. She was also placed into Ravenclaw, the house which many fans anticipate as “the smartest house”. Long Duk Dong is also another example of failed cultural appropriation. He is a character from the movie Sixteen Candles and is poorly represented from his name to even the way he parts his hair. Even movies like Mulan, have inaccurate art designs of characters with small, turned up eyes.
Although there has been a huge push for improvement in diversity and cultural appropriation, there is still a lot of work to be done. Systematic racism exists in many to almost all industries– cinematography included. Racism is not just slurs, propaganda, and violence. Racism is rooted deeply within our world, and it is something that people of color are asked to combat everyday. While various activists fight for their own communities and values, Media and TV representation can also be part of that crucial push towards a community that we all want to see and be a part of.
On February 27, The SAG winning awards were announced to actors like Ariana DeBose, Lee Jung-Jae, Jessica Chastain, and Will Smith. The shows and movies awarded included Ted Lasso, Squid Games, No Time to Die, and CODA. For more information on winners, see the full list of nominations here.
I personally believe that the awards presented were more diverse than the Emmys in 2021, but I definitely would argue that there is still room to include more diversity, especially for many Hispanic and Latino actors/actresses.