Most everybody has seen the iconic play and movie Hairspray in which an excluded school girl, Tracy Turnblad, fights for the rights of people of color and different body types to be able to perform on television. With such a powerful storyline, the message the producers get across is hard to forget.
Although media consumers have been exposed to the topic of diversity on television in productions like Hairspray, the issue was not solved there. When watching older movies and television shows it is clear that the white actors depicted outnumber the black actors; there is a similar situation with fewer leading female roles existing than those of males.
Besides sheer numbers, its clear that when television minorities (women, blacks, homosexuals, impoverished people, etc) do appear they are forced into their stereotypical roles. Which leaves room to feature a white, straight, middle class, male protagonist.
However I can see television specifically making huge strides lately, largely due to one particular person. Shonda Rhimes is a well-established producer, writer, and director for television and film. Most recently, both writing and producing hit television shows Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal.
Rhimes has a remarkable amount of influence over the television industry; she is recognized for creating shows that defy old stereotypes. Her productions often feature powerful women, diplomatic non-white people, average homosexual couples, and valiant characters from the wrong side of the tracks.
Naturally, Rhimes is being recognized nationally for diversifying television. However in her most recent acceptance speech for the Ally for Equality award she talks about how she’s not diversifying television, but rather normalizing television. Rhimes points out that all these groups often left out in the media make up well over 50% of the population; since they are normal in society then by representing them in the media she is just making television look normal.
Shonda Rhimes says “the goal is that everyone should get to turn on the TV and see someone who looks like them and loves like them. And just as important, everyone should turn on the TV and see someone who doesn’t look like them and love like them. Because, perhaps then, they will learn from them” (Huffington Post).
The media is a rapidly changing industry on its own; but it will be very interesting to see how concepts like diversifying television or Rhimes’ normalizing affect different programs. Especially with more movies about these issues and more producers pushing to make better television this way, I’m sure television will look quite different 10 years from now.