A study of the representation of immigrants on television produces surprising results. Will this incentive bring about a significant change in the future?
In recent years there has been an abundance of in-depth studies examining how often certain groups of people are portrayed on television, whether they are shown at all, and whether these on-screen moments encourage unhealthy stereotypes within the groups.
Could the study results spur changes in the entertainment industry in the years to come?
Only future research building on the original results will be able to quantify change, but it is hoped that those in power will use this information as a stepping stone to positive progress by simply taking stock of the current situation.
One study that could lay the groundwork for such change is an examination of how immigrants and immigration issues are portrayed on the small screen.
The Norman Lear Center for Media at the University of Southern California in collaboration with Define American, analyzed a strategically selected sample of shows that included immigration themes and immigrant characters. Their sample included 143 episodes of 47 of the most popular television shows that aired between 2017 and 2018.
The researchers have done a lot of research into depictions of immigrants and immigration problems and compared these depictions to the reality of the immigration experience.
This study found a number of problems with these storylines, including that female immigrants are underrepresented in all races, that immigrants are often overrepresented as criminals, and that immigrant characters are often portrayed on television as being less educated than they really are.
Additionally, the study found that most immigrant stories are about Latinos, with Blacks and Asians averaging just 8% and 16%, respectively. And while lesbian and gay immigrants are featured on television, transgender immigrants remain invisible.
To change the television counts about immigrants, an advocacy group called Define American has consulted with industry experts to help them develop more realistic immigrant characters and create more complex immigration-related narratives.
Define American is a nonprofit media and cultural organization promoting the use of storytelling to more accurately communicate immigrant experiences, with the ultimate goal of transforming the conversation about identity and citizenship within America’s ever-changing political structures.
To further this mission, the organization has consulted with content creators, including those from shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Supermarket, and Orange is the new black and with streaming services like Netflix
Define American has also introduced an 18-page guide called “Immigrants and Immigration: A Guide for Entertainment Professionals”.
The brochure includes sections such as Myths About Immigrants, Immigration Act 101, information on DACA and family segregation, as well as global refugee statistics and other helpful resources.
In November, the organization, in collaboration with the Television Academy, hosted a panel discussion entitled “Immigration on Television: Stories from America”. 300 authors, producers and influencers from the entertainment industry were in attendance.
The discussion included the actor Nico Santos, who pondered how the plot of his character was based Supermarket was strengthened by working with Define American, and Gine Yashere, a writer on the series Bob Hearts Abishola, shared her experience working with series creator Chuck Lorre to accurately portray a Nigerian immigrant family.
Throughout the conversation, as well as at the end, the panelists challenged the audience to come up with unique methodologies to overcome stereotypical depictions of immigrants and develop storylines that authentically portray the immigration experience.
It is hoped that by publishing the study and hosting events like the panel discussion, authentic stories depicting immigrants and the immigration experiences will become the rule rather than the exception.
Viewers could very well see how this development begins in 2020.
For more about that Define American Immigration study, please visit this one Page? ˅.