Diversity in Film/Television- A
“Diversity is our strength
#WelcometoCanada”, is a now infamous tweet that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,
(Business Insider, 2017) wrote in regards to welcoming immigrants (minorities).
Diversity seems to be tied to such strong and positive political views/debates
in Canada, but why? Arguably, it can be due to the word’s magnitude,
contributing factors, benefits and the various environments that it creates…
right? Yet, diversity in film/television
is not portrayed positively in film/television in Canada. There tends to be much
taboo and disregard to the word and usage in film/television. Therefore, the
research question of- is there a correlation between diversity in
film/television and self-esteem across varying demographics, was constructed. In
Canada, many contributions have been made to increase diversity in
film/television over the years. Yet, these steps are not sufficient, and needs
to be improved because of the sensitive relationship between diversity and
self-esteem. The way in which diversity
is represented can shape how an individual feels about his/her self and how
others similarly feel towards an individual.
As a result of the theme and context
of this paper, there can be many counterpoints towards this topic. Such as, the
need to broaden research to include different areas of media such as social
media, pictures, videos, art. These areas may have a more diverse climate and
increased feelings of self-esteem among demographics. There seems to be a lack
of up-to date research, sources and findings. There were many studies conducted
in past years rather than present or currently. Therefore, such findings may
not be relatable or valid due to the date. There may have been potential bias
from the researchers when conducting the studies because most of the
researchers were minorities, and this could have swayed their data, due to
emotion and relatability. Also, self-esteem may have other contributing factors
such as bullying, family or social involvement. One may argue that there is a
lack of minority actors and actresses (a lower diverse pool to choose from) in
television and film, so it is hard to increase diversity. These counterpoints
can be argued against my stance that diversity in film/television is not
relevant and there is no correlation between such factors. Rather, it is
because of different or other contributing factors.
However, in this essay I will first
operationally define the words: diversity, self-esteem, demographics and
characteristics because these words are broad, and can have much
interpretation. Secondly, I will discuss the importance and strategies to
increase diversity in film/television .Then, five claims will be made to
support the standpoint/argument- that
there should be more steps to made to increase diversity due to the sensitive
relationship between diversity and self-esteem in Canada. The first claim will
focus on statistical evidence of inequality in the film/television industry.
The second claim discusses the varying impact of diversity and characteristics
in demographics. The third claim will involve impacts to black males and
females as a result of a lack of diversity. The fourth and fifth claim will
discuss the white demographic and the significant toll the lack of diversity
creates. After each claim is stated, I will provide supporting evidence. Then,
I will analyze the evidence.
The focus of this argument is
centered on the lack of diversity in any film/television show in the last five
(5) years and the impact of stereotypical characteristic portrayals. Diversity
can be defined as the inclusion of different types of people. Demographics are
black or white, female or male, variety of ages. Self-esteem is a person’s
feeling of worth/value and Characteristics are features, or qualities/traits
(that one displays) to a person. However, different forms of media such as
pictures or videos and other demographics such as Asian, Latino, Indigenous,
LGBT or religion will not be discussed.
Canada welcomes and strives to
create a diverse population. Therefore diversity in film/television should be
important because “the media
provides an important source of information through which citizens gain
knowledge about their nation, and our attitudes and beliefs are shaped by what
the media discerns as public knowledge” (Mahtani, M., 2017). This simply means
that film/television is in control of how we (as Canadians) view, analyze and
depict each other. If film/television portrays negative illustrations and
characteristics of a certain demographic, then a Canadian is likely to believe,
treat and scrutinize that demographic more harshly and negatively.
a result, that poorly illustrated demographic can have negative feelings of
value and worth. Therefore it is important to portray both demographics
positively. There are various solutions to increase diversity in
film/television. For example, companies that make film/television shows should
invite an independent third party to point out any (negative) stereotypes or
characteristics before airing. Companies should also provide equal amounts of
demographics in a film/television, and viewers should not support
film/television that do not have positive, diverse, character portrayal.
Through these solutions to increase diversity, self-esteem can increase in both
It is important to have diversity in
the film/television industry .The lack of inequality in the film/television
industry can decrease self-esteem. In a comprehensive report and analysis,
researchers Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Pieper, K., (2017) found that “viewers
will see 2.18 males for every 1 female character on screen, and females were
much more likely than males to be shown in sexually revealing attire.” In
film/television, a male is shown more than double the amount a female is shown.
This amount of film/television screen time, can increase self-esteem in males
but decrease self-esteem across females. Males can inwardly feel superior and
unstoppable, as a result of their dominant force of representation. Conversely,
females can feel inferior and excluded when watching film/television because of
the lack of representation. Such feelings can result in the higher levels of
self-esteem in males and lower levels of self-esteem in females. Also, a female
can have a lower self-esteem due to the lack of diversity in her attire and
image. By wearing revealing clothing, a female may feel devalued, and only see
themselves as an individual made for mere pleasure.
Smith, Choueiti, Pieper, (2017) found that, “70.8%
characters were white and 13.6% characters were black”. As a result of more
white characters portrayed in film/television, self-esteem can be higher in
white males and females. Conversely, self-esteem in black males and females can
be lower because of the lack of representation and diversity. The black
demographic may feel less significant, compared to the white demographic.
Overall, the lack of diversity and inequality in the film/television can
directly contribute to lower levels of self-esteem in demographics.
Too successfully increase self-esteem in demographics
requires positive character portrayal in film/television. The lack of diversity
and positive stereotypical representation in film/television can negatively
impact one’s self-esteem. Researchers have concluded that “television exposure
predicted a decrease in self-esteem for white and black girls and boys, and an
increase in self-esteem among white boys” (Lee, M. 2012). Television shows tend
to have more white male actors, represented positively. White males are
portrayed as “powerful, strong, rational and the main character. While, white
girls are portrayed as emotional, sensitive and a love interest” (Lee, 2012).
However, black males and females tend to be represented negatively. Black males
are “more likely to be depicted as menacing or unruly, and black female
characters are more likely to be shown as exotic and sexually available” (Lee,
2012). Due to the positive representation of
white males in film/television- they may subconsciously feel encouraged, positive
and grand. White males could have a higher overall self-esteem.
However, for white girls, black boys and
girls, they may subconsciously feel unsuccessful, and inferior in comparison.
White girls are illustrated as a wife, mother or partner in film/television.
So, this demographic may group up to always feel and be dependent, thus
creating lower self-esteem. Black boys are represented as threatening in
film/television, and this can lower self-esteem because of the undesirable and
destructive traits portrayed. Black girls are shown as a trophy and
promiscuous. Therefore, this demographic may, in fact, play directly into that
role in real life. This can lower self-esteem because this portrayal can be
seen as being devalued and trashy. Each demographic may use these views in
film/television and objectify the varying characteristics in real life. The lack of diversity in depictions of
strength and power, can negatively affect self-esteem in these demographics due
to the lack of positive representation through characteristics. Therefore, more
efforts need to be made to increase diversity and positive characteristic
representation in black male and females, and white girls.
in film/television occurs as a result of exclusion and negative portrayals in
black demographics. The lack of diversity and the negative portrayal of the
black demographic in film/television in Canada can decrease self-esteem.
“Minority groups are regularly excluded and marginalized. Canadian media
continue to broadcast negative and stereotypical images that serve to demean
minority Canadians” (Mahtani, M., 2017). Negative images and characteristics of
black male/female demographics in Canada, teach and show them that they do not
belong, and are irrelevant to society. Black males/females are often portrayed
as criminals, and having a lower Socioeconomic Status (SES).
These negative portrayal may evolve
into real-world situations and perspectives. A black male/female who only sees
himself as a criminal and having a lower SES as a result of numerous
contributing factors, can have decreased self-esteem. He/she- ( along with
other demographics) that mainly see
negative depictions, can start to believe that they cannot achieve anything
better than what is being represented in film/television. Therefore, the black
demographic may feel as though there is no point of ambition and aspirations. A
positive portrayal is not what is being presented, and it is not applicable.
The black demographic may feel as though they do not belong, may feel excluded
and lesser than others in Canada, thus lowering self-esteem. There should be
more diversity in film/television to increase self-esteem in the black
Negative portrayals of particular
demographic groups in film/television can affect how other demographic groups
view, treat and act towards that group.
Mahtani (2017) states that, negative portrayal in film/media “also affect non-minority
Canadians’ understandings of minorities through the replication of negative
stereotypes of minority groups”. These negative stereotypes can increase
disrespect towards a certain demographic, thus, that demographic can have lower
levels of self-esteem. Demographics with higher levels of self-esteem can feel
superior and treat demographics with lower self-esteem negatively, thus,
emphasizing, repeating and increasing a poor cycle.
Having negative depictions of black
characters in film/television can significantly shape and affect black
children’s self-esteem negatively. “African Americans on television are both
underrepresented in leading roles and misrepresented as a group…this will leave
Black children to feel less positively about being Black and about themselves
in general” (Graves, 1993; Strongman, 1991 as cited in Ward, L., 2004). The
findings that Ward (2004) concluded, emphasize the extreme impact towards a
black child’s self-esteem and feelings in general.
As a result of not having many
leading roles in film/television, black children may not feel as involved or
treasured as they should. This can lower their self-esteem because they may
feel as though they are not important enough to be considered as a main
character, or competent enough to have a leading career. Black children may
always feel as though they are a second class citizen. Other demographics may
view black children in similar ways, which can also contribute to lower the
self-esteem in the black demographics. Likewise, the misrepresentation in black
demographics in film/television can decrease self-esteem because such examples
can alter the way a person feels and acts. A black child may watch a show that
depicts a black character lacking education, and therefore he/she may feel
embarrassed and badly about their race in general and themselves. It is
important to have a diverse and positive illustrations of black characters in
film/television, so that black children’s admirations can increase.
When black characters are
represented in film/television, it is hardly ever as a leading, positive role.
Rather black characters are represented in a comical, or demeaning role. “Black
characters are included in TV shows…as comic relief or supportive sidekicks”
(Ward, 2004). Black characters are portrayed to never be serious, or should be
taken seriously. Therefore this can decrease self-esteem levels within and
outside of the black demographic. As a result, the black demographic can feel
as though they should or never have a strong argument or stance. Or if they
ever do have a strong argument, it will not be head anyway. Also, if the black
demographic is always shown as a supportive mate/friend, they may feel as
though all of their efforts, and concerns should be thrown onto another
demographic and ignore themselves. There efforts or concerns are not important
and are not heard, so this can decrease the self-esteem levels in black
An individual’s feeling of worth can
be elevated by improving and increasing a variety of body images in
film/television. The lack of body image diversity, in film/television can
negatively impact white females’ self-esteem.
Researchers, Dohnt, H., Tiggemann, M., (2006), examined the relationship
between self-esteem and media influences (television shows) in young white
girls. The researchers found that “young girls who watched television shows
with an appearance emphasis, were less likely to be satisfied with their
appearance which correlates to having a lower self-esteem.” White girls that
watched television shows that had focus on ideal body images, seemed to
decrease their esteem levels. This may be due to a correlation between the
negative portrayal of having a diverse body type and positive feelings of self-value.
White girls who do not have this body type may feel lesser than others who do
have an ideal body type, which can lower self-esteem. Similarly, other
demographics that view white girls not having a certain body type may believe
that white girl is unattractive, which can correlate to decreased self-esteem
Dohnt and Tiggemann (2006), determined that
because there was a lack of diversity in female characters and their body
image/appearance, their self-esteem decreased. Young girls wanted to look/appear
similar to those shown in film/television. If a white girl did not, she may fee
lesser about herself. White girls may go to extreme extents to look similar to
impossible character portrayal in film/media. Such extremes, can lower
self-esteem, because such praised/impossible body images are not real or
healthy. Therefore, there needs to be more diversity in film/television to
increase self-esteem across white females.
Having high levels of self-esteem is
difficult for white men because of impossible body standards and idealistic characteristics.
There needs to be an improvement in diversity in white male body representation
and qualities. “Men who viewed ideal physical images of other men or images
depicting status and wealth would report lower self-esteem” (Hobza, C., L,
Walker, K., E, Yakusho, O., Peugh, J., L, 2007). These researchers found that
men, are often overlooked in studies that examine self-esteem and
film/television. However, it was concluded that men also feel lower self-esteem
when viewing film/television that does not include a variety of people (and
differing body images).
White men may have decreased levels
of self-esteem because of a lack of diversity in body images. White males may
feel as though they have to live up to a certain standard to feel attractive
and desirable from other demographics. This can decrease their feelings of
self-regard. Film/television typically depicts white males as wealthy and
high-powered. This can make white males who are not wealthy and/or high powered
feel inferior, ultimately decreasing their self-esteem. Other demographics that
mainly view white men as superior, may mock or jeer and generally treat white
men who are not wealthy or have an idealistic body type poorly. Such white
males may constantly feel pressured to attain wealth and power, by any means
necessary. This constant pressure can correlate to feelings of negative
In conclusion, there have been an
increasing number of steps made to increase diversity in film/television over
the years. However, these steps are not sufficient, and needs to be improved
because of the sensitive relationship between diversity and self-esteem. The
lack of diversity in film/television can either increase or decrease the way a
demographic feels about themselves, or another (positively or negatively). The way in which diversity is represented can
shape how an individual feels about his/her self and how others similarly feel
towards an individual. Black females/males and white females/males are all
affected by varying portrayal in film/television. Since Canada, makes an effort
to increase diversity within their population, the country should also make
more of an effort to increase diversity in film/television shows.