BOB ❤ ABISHOLA features a storyline about a middle-aged businessman from Detroit who tries to woo … [+]
In recent years there have been a plethora of in-depth studies investigating just how often certain groups of people are portrayed on television, if they’re actually shown at all, and if those on screen moments promote unhealthy stereotypes within the groups.
Could the study findings encourage changes to be made within the entertainment industry in the coming years?
Only future research that builds on the original findings will be able to quantify if change occurs, but there is hope that by simply taking stock of the current situation the-powers-that-be will use this information as a springboard to make positive advances.
One study that may lay the groundwork for just such changes is an investigation into how immigrants and immigrant 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 featured immigration topics and immigrant characters. Their sample included 143 episodes of 47 of the most popular TV shows that aired during 2017-2018.
Researchers looked closely at how immigrants and immigration issues were depicted and compared these depictions with the reality of the immigrant experience.
This study found a number of problems with these storylines, including that female immigrants in every racial group are underrepresented, that immigrants are often overrepresented as criminals ,and that immigrant characters are frequently portrayed as less educated on TV than they are in reality.
In addition to this, the study found that most immigrant stories are about Latinos with blacks and Asians being representing on average only 8% and 16% respectively. And, while lesbian and gay immigrants are represented on TV, transgender immigrants remain invisible.
To help change the television narratives about immigrants, an advocacy group called Define America has consulted with industry professionals to help them develop more realistic immigrant characters and created more complex immigration-related narratives.
Define America is a not-for-profit media and culture organization that promotes the use of storytelling to communicate more accurately the experiences of immigrants, with the ultimate goal of shifting the conversation about identity and citizenship within America’s ever-changing political structure.
To further this mission, the organization has consulted with content creators, including those on shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Superstore, and Orange is the New Black, and with streaming services including Netflix and Hulu.
Define America has also introduced an 18 page guide entitled “Immigrants and Immigration: A Guide for Entertainment Professionals.”
The booklet includes sections such as myths about immigrants, immigration law 101, information about both DACA and family separation, plus global refugee statistics and other helpful resources.
In November, partnering with the Television Academy, the organization held a panel discussion entitled “Immigration on Television: Stories from America.” In attendance were 300 writers, producers and entertainment industry influencers.
Nico Santos stars as Mateo on “Superstore.”
2017 NBCUniversal Media, LLC
The discussion included actor Nico Santos reflecting on how his character’s storyline on Superstore was strengthened by working with Define America, and Gine Yashere, a writer on the series Bob Hearts Abishola, spoke about her experience collaborating with show creator Chuck Lorre to accurately portray a Nigerian American immigrant family.
Throughout the conversation, as well as at its conclusion, the panelists challenged the audience to consider coming up with unique methods to move past the stereotypical ways in which immigrants have always been portrayed and create storylines that authentically show the immigrant experience.
The hope is that by releasing the study and conducting events such as the panel discussion, authentic stories that depict immigrants and the immigrant experience will become the norm rather than the exception.
Viewers could very well see this evolution begin in 2020.
For more about the Define America immigration study, please visit this site.