The topic of diversity through various facets of our society is — rightly — getting a lot of attention as of late. This facilitates vital discussions about how social inequality features as a core aspect of the world we live in. After all, the very fact there is an imperative to address the diversity in almost all contemporary life is in itself an indicator there is a clear core of monocultural bias.
One of the areas getting attention is diversity of presence in the media. This is from a visible standpoint of actors and performers, as well as behind-the-scenes contributors. Among the criticisms surrounding these efforts is that they are in some way performative. Indeed, there is the suggestion making concerted efforts to broaden the range of media contributors only really affects those industries.
Let’s dive into the issue. Does diversity in the media meaningfully impact the real world as well as the industry itself?
The Power of Representation
One of the most important roles greater diversity plays in the media is representation. It addresses the need for characters and creators to be involved with projects in ways that accurately and positively reflect the lives of people from more diverse backgrounds and communities. This ensures there is a sense of inclusivity in an honest and impactful way.
Genuine representation has become a point of focus, especially through streaming services as of late. This isn’t just TV-based outlets such as Netflix and Hulu, there’s a concerted effort to tell the stories of marginalized people on podcasts, music streaming services that offer wider access to diverse artists, and even video game streaming. The continued prioritization of representation here affects the real world, one of the most important of which is the fact that when members of communities see themselves positively and honestly portrayed in media, it helps to boost a sense of self-worth, and bolsters validation of their experiences.
It’s vital to note representation in media can have an impact on the paths of audiences, too. The issue with monocultural representation in the media is more than the fact it isn’t accurate to the diverse roots of our communities. It also reinforces the idea that certain careers and lifestyles are only for those of specific races, people with typical neurology and mobility, or from certain socioeconomic backgrounds. When diverse contributors are shown in the media, this helps to buck the cultural stereotypes and demonstrate that access to these paths is achievable for everyone. As such, there is still a need to ensure diverse contributors are not just involved in media but are visible as leaders in their fields.
Insights and Empathy
There is, understandably, a lot of attention on how diversity in the media directly impacts those represented. However, it is also the case that this has the potential to positively affect everyone who engages with it. Creators and characters are tools in developing cultural education in ways that build empathy among audiences. We are all aware of how all humans need certain important basics to live — but empathy has a direct impact on helping diverse communities to collaborate and thrive.
On the most basic level, this means different stories are being told. Specifically those about issues that those who have been closeted with media from a single cultural perspective may not have been fully aware of. A prime example of this is the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. This dark part of American history has largely been swept under the rug. However, HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country TV series both include it as part of narratives that explore the history and impact of racial violence. Utilizing not just diverse characters and production staff, but also vital elements of cultural history provides audiences with an education on problems that continue to this day. It also shows how white supremacy in the system impacts the type of messaging we are all receiving through traditional media.
This diversity also has a knock-on effect in helping audiences to understand how stories not being addressed has contributed to the invalidation of communities. This in itself is a form of abuse perpetuated by a society that refuses to acknowledge it has problems with discrimination. The stories are a route to conversations that haven’t often been present and provide not just factual information but valuable emotional perspectives.
It is easy to think of the media as just something we consume. That they’re elements that can entertain and inform us. But this idea ignores the fact that media productions are workplaces. As such, diversity here also means wider ranges of creators, administrators, technicians, and — perhaps most importantly — leadership.
While we’re certainly not at optimum levels of diversity in workplaces, it is positive employers are making concerted efforts to make improvements. Indeed, the real-world impact media employers make is present when the effort to diversify staff is applied in any industry. The differing cultural backgrounds provide diverse perspectives, which in turn informs creativity and innovation. It also tends to cultivate the kind of work environment in which workers feel comfortable, supported, and free to explore and excel.
The very tangible result of this is that the quality of the media produced is improved. Workers who are encouraged to share their perspectives allow us all to experience valuable stories, ideas, and approaches that enrich us emotionally and educationally. The innovations of teams and leaders who are from varied cultures promote the upward trajectories of our creative and technical industries.
There is no doubt that diversity in media has a direct, positive impact on the real world. It supports the kind of representation that inspires. It educates audiences in ways that help develop vital insights and empathy. Not to mention that a variety of contributors is key to driving creativity and innovation. Diversity in media is not just impactful, it is essential.