By Hugo C.
In today’s media, stereotypical roles are commonplace from movies to prime-time television. Too often are minorities portrayed as the villains, and women as sex objects. Perhaps a consequence of the demographics TV movie producers and executives are hoping to capture, or an indifference to everything but the bottom line -- as it’s commonly said that “sex and violence sells” -- but racism, sexism, and the exploitation of females is still pervasive in today’s media and society.
Considering the Hispanic / Latino community has historically represented a large segment of the U.S. population, it would be expected to see a somewhat proportionate number of Latino characters in movies and television, but this is often not the case. Going further, when this segment of the population is actually represented, it’s under the context of “abusive stereotypes and denigrating distortions”(Trevino 1). Very rarely do we see Latinos play lead roles, unless it’s as stereotypes such as the “Latin lover” which was “first popularized by Italian actor Rudolph Valentino,” and “became a film standard”(Trevino 1). Even if this stereotypical portrayal or lack of representation is not due to direct racism, it may still contain “subtle and unconscious prejudices on the part of writers and producers”(Trevino 1).
Although racism and discrimination of minorities may not be directly attributed to malice on the part of movie and TV executives, sexism and exploitation of females is common place and even encouraged in Hollywood. As it’s commonly known that “sex sells”, the majority of billboards for movie and TV ads created for their promotion are riddled with sexually-suggestive images of the female body. Females are often portrayed in stereotypical roles, such as housewives and office workers or secondary characters. Very rarely are female characters portrayed as the lead or as strong and independent characters -- their roles usually consist of the characters of romantic interest with the male lead. Contributing to this may be what the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film "found that only 5% of movie directors were women in 2011; this is a decrease from the reported 9% of female movie directors in 1998” (Azad 1). When “female protagonists have proven to be just as profitable as films featuring male protagonists,” the discrepancy may be more a result of an accepted sexism and discrimination in the industry and society (Azad 1). However, even with this exploitative portrayal, perhaps not all advertisements objectifying women are sexist by nature, and “American advertising has had to settle on the argument that women are attractive.” But is a clear exploitation of their attractiveness not sexist to a degree? (Thompson 1)
It's important to consider the audience's role in what's ultimately shown in movies and TV. If these types of stereotypes and "sexploitation" weren't attracting audiences, and consequently profits, they wouldn't be as lucrative in the industry. The faith of television programs is ultimately determined by Nielsen ratings -- this data "provide the basis for allocating advertising dollars, as well as criteria for deciding the particular mix of content to provide" (Napoli 32.) If a certain formula has proven profitable and successful with audiences in the past, regardless of any hints of discrimination or racism in the content, it will continue to be used until audiences demand change. As advertises demand for a specific demographic, it "systematically shapes the content that media organizations provide" (Napoli 26). Ultimately, it's more of an indifference to everything except producing profitable content.
Even in today’s society where advances towards racism and feminism have been made, the media’s portrayal of minorities and women in movies and television demonstrates a degree of racism in the form of stereotypes, lack of representation, and exploitation of these groups. Latinos continue to be left out of roles, unless it fits into a stereotypical image. Women are used as sex objects, only to be used for selling the product, appeal to profitable demographics, and never represented in a light which empowers them. Hollywood’s representation of these minority groups demonstrates a certain degree of racism, sexism, and exploitation, where profitability is prioritized.
Azad, Sifat. "PolicyMic." Are Women in the Media Only Portrayed As Sex Icons? Statistics Show a Massive Gender Imbalance Across Industries. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2013. <http://www.policymic.com/articles/4439/are-women-in-the-media-only-portrayed-as-sex-icons-statistics-show-a-massive-gender-imbalance-across-industries>.
Napoli, Philip M. Audience Economics: Media Institutions and the Audience Marketplace. New York: Columbia UP, 2003. Print.
Thompson, Derek. "Are TV Ads Getting More Sexist?" The Atlantic. The Atlantic, 31 Oct. 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2013. <http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/10/are-tv-ads-getting-more-sexist/247545/>.
Trevino, Jesus S. "JUMP CUT: REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA." Latino Portrayals in Film and Television by Jesús Salvador Treviño. Jump Cut, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2013 <http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC30folder/LatinosFilmTvTrevino.html>.