Identity

This report on immigrant representation on TV will make you scream

Hollywood may be vocally supportive of migration - but on screen we're still being unfairly demonized.

Today migrants make up 17 percent of the US population.

But on TV? We account for a paltry 6 percent of characters.

Define American, a non-profit media organization focusing on identity “in a changing America”, just released a “media guide” examining migrant representation on TV – and the findings are not exactly uplifting.

“Many Americans rely almost exclusively on film, television, and news to shape our understanding of the world,” reads the introduction to the 11-page PDF document.

“That’s why it’s problematic that historically, stories of immigrants, refugees, Muslims, and people of color have been negative, harmful, and divisive, as they shape others’ views of those groups of people.”

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone (unfortunately) that people of color are frequently portrayed as villains on TV. But we were not expecting the results to be this bad.

The research presented in the guide, which analyzed popular broadcast and streaming shows between 2014 and 2016, revealed that migrants are conspicuously absent from American TV, playing just 6 out of every 100 characters.

And when we do get time on the silver screen? It ain’t too pretty.

An entire 25 percent of storylines involving immigrants were about unlawful activities – even though studies show that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than the native population.

And for certain groups it’s worse than others: a whopping 50 percent of Latino migrant characters on TV were portrayed as criminals.

W. T. F.

Middle Eastern and black migrant characters are also disproportionately criminal.

In fact, it would seem TV is perpetuating the “good migrant” myth, strengthening a false dichotomy where there are white, friendly, highly-skilled migrants, and then there are…well, the rest of us.

Almost all of the white migrant characters on TV – 94 percent of them – were in scientific, medical, or military fields, whereas migrants of color generally played lower-level positions.

About 25 percent of Latino migrant characters, for example, were either unemployed or had low-level, low-skill jobs.

Folks, we have every reason to be outraged. And to make a change. Let’s get ourselves on that screen!

Define American describes the document – which also includes recommendations on how to portray migrants in TV – as a “toolkit” which it  hopes will “help increase accurate representation of immigrants on screen as well as help foster more humanizing narratives in entertainment media”.

We hope so, too.

Pay a visit to the Define American website for more information – the work they’re doing is impressive and important, and can have an impact on all of our lives – or at the very least our media narratives!

Share this article and demand better, more realistic representation!