Natalie Edelstein, 2018 “Emerging Voices” Scholarship Recipient
As I sat and watched the 91st Academy Awards from my couch on Sunday, February 24th, I couldn’t help but notice that the awards this time felt a little different. Seeing women like Yalitza Aparicio and Regina King nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, was a truly exciting moment and got me thinking about the importance of representation. While Hollywood still has a long way to go, some of this year’s biggest blockbuster hits, like Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther, have done a great job elevating the conversation about representation in the media.
Carlos Cortes, author of The Children Are Watching: How the Media Teach About Diversity, offers a significant example of why representation matters in his article “A Long Way to Go: Minorities and the Media”. Cortes examines a 1986 episode of The $25,000 Pyramid, where one contestant was attempting to give his partner clues to help him guess the word on screen correctly and earn money. During this specific episode, the word “gangs” came up on the cluer’s screen. Cortes explains, “without hesitation, he fired out the first thing that came to his mind: ‘They have lots of these in East L.A.” (a heavily Mexican-American area of Los Angeles). Responding at once, his guest celebrity partner answered, gangs. Under competitive pressure, two strangers had immediately and viscerally linked “East LA” with “gangs.” Cortes goes on to explain that representation in mass media is to blame for this immediate association of gangs and a predominantly Latino part of Los Angeles. Cortes states that “the entertainment media have offered a comparatively narrow range of other Latino characters, while the news media have provided relatively sparse coverage of other Hispanic topics, except for such problem” issues as immigration and language. The result has been a Latino public image — better yet, a stereotype — in which gangs figure prominently.”
Cortes’ assessment is an important one. It is the job of media professionals to make sure everyone sees themselves accurately represented in movies and news stories, and while we are far from a perfectly representative media landscape, we are making great strides to tell better, more inclusive stories. Media professionals across the country must continue to make commitments to tell more diverse stories so that more young woman can look at their televisions and say, “She looks like me”.