Television still needs more diversity

By on April 20, 2016

Growing up, I pretty much only saw straight, white people on my television screen. ABC’s “Lost” (also known as the greatest television show of all time) was the only program that I watched that had diversity. Yet, since I am a straight, white girl, I did not really notice that I was only watching straight, white people.

That privilege was not extended to the LGBT students or students of color at this university. White people made up 77 percent of series regular characters on broadcast networks in the 2009-2010 TV season, while heterosexual characters made up 97 percent, according to a Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) report.

This is a problem because the media has such an impact on the way we think about ourselves. For example, one Communication Research study found that white boys had higher self esteem after watching television than white girls, black girls or black boys, according to CNN. This is likely because white boys have an ample number of positive characters to be inspired by.

Thankfully, television is becoming more racially diverse. People of color make up 33 percent of regular characters on broadcast programming in the 2015-2016 TV season, as compared to 27 percent in the 2014-2015 TV season, according to a GLAAD report. The report found 16 percent of regular characters on broadcast programming are black, which is the highest percentage since GLAAD began tracking this information 11 years ago.

Meanwhile, 4 percent of series regulars on broadcast primetime shows in the 2015-2016 season are lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender, according to GLAAD. This is compared to less than 2 percent in the 2005-2006 TV season.

About 3.8 percent of American adults identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay or transgender, according to Gallup. And about 77 percent of Americans are white, according to the 2014 U.S. Census.

But, about 55 percent of millennials identify as non-Hispanic white and seven percent are part of the LGBT community, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. More importantly, about 50 percent of children under five living in the United States are a racial minority, according to U.S. News.

This suggests television is still not representing the nation we are and the one we will become.

And viewers are starting to get mad.

There is no better example than the drama that has occurred behind the scenes of CW’s “The 100” this season. As compared to most shows, “The 100” has a fairly diverse cast, with a bisexual female lead, a half-Filipino male lead, a Latina character with a disability and countless other people of color in positions of power. In its first two-and-a-half seasons, fans and critics lauded the show for being progressive.

That is, until (major spoiler alert) the show killed off a fan-favorite lesbian character, Lexa, just after she had sex with Clarke, the bisexual lead. This perpetuated a trope where lesbians die after having sex or finding some sort of happiness.

For many LGBT viewers, this felt like a heartbreaking betrayal, especially since those fans say “The 100” team marketed and targeted them directly. Not only did Lexa’s death suggest to LGBT fans that they could never find love and happiness, but it took away a character who inspired them and made them feel like they had a place in the media landscape. When there are so few lesbian characters on television, losing one is a major blow to LGBT representation.

The writers had been foreshadowing Lexa’s death all season, and the actress has a big role in “Fear The Walking Dead.” So, of course, the writers did not kill Lexa because she is a lesbian who had sex. They killed her because the actress had other obligations and it suited the themes and narrative. It doesn’t matter your race or sexual orientation; no one gets a happy ending in “The 100.”

But writers do have a responsibility to their viewers to recognize that what they create has real-world implications. And in the case of “The 100,” these implications were pain, anger and hurt from fans. In other words, if there is a trope about killing lesbians, writers should not perpetuate that trope. “The 100” should be a lesson to other television shows about how to handle minority representation.

Still, the answer to bringing more diversity to television is not to avoid killing characters of color and LGBT characters. What would be the point of having a character on a show that the writers were scared to kill off because they were worried about being called racist or homophobic? That would just lead to bad writing of minority characters. The answers is for writers to create more LGBT and non-white characters who have agency and development, just like the straight, white people on television.

Only then will television represent our world the way it should.

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About Julia Perkins

Editor-in-Chief
Email: editor@quchronicle.com
Twitter: @JuliaPerkinsHP
Year: 2016
Major: Print journalism