It's Not A Debate: TV And Film Content Clearly Impacts Real World Behavior
Across all entertainment sectors, creators have the unique opportunity to reinforce beliefs, making them convincing and accessible for others to embrace.
November 16, 2021 at 3:32 pm
Opinions are the writer’s own and not those of Blavity's.
There should be no debate that what we watch on TV and film impacts how we see the world and shapes people’s perceptions. This becomes dangerous when we allow the entertainment industry to distort people’s understanding of the social issues that continue to impact us today.
Comedy, one of the most popular genres, helps set the tone for what is acceptable and unacceptable to criticize in our society. But some people want us to think differently.
Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos claimed that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm. Sarandos’ way of thinking expels the fact that film and TV have been filled with stereotypes about the LGBTQ community for decades. This has led to real-world harm, especially for trans people and LGBTQ people of color. Content on screen can be harmful, even when it’s unintentional.
Across all entertainment sectors, creators have the unique opportunity to reinforce beliefs, making them convincing and accessible for others to embrace. When these beliefs are rooted in racist, sexist, xenophobic — or in this case — transphobic ideologies and stereotypes, that’s problematic. Sarandos and other executives in Hollywood have the power to change their rules and, as a result, change culture. But that can’t happen when Hollywood thinks that these beliefs and stories don’t have the power to incite hatred or violence.
Comedy can offer a way for people to understand complex racial justice issues. First-of-its-kind research from the Center for Media and Social Impact has shown how comedy can focus a critical lens on injustice. Comedy is a way for people to show up in their full humanity in a playful and creative manner while making people laugh. But that’s just the surface. It’s also a new way to cut through traditional media and social noise to engage people around the issues that matter most.
Through our #ChangeHollywood initiative, we’re supporting companies that are trying to create structural change. We’re helping the industry find its blind spots, and supporting content that’s developed authentically and equitably. The broader entertainment industry has a responsibility to be playful, creative and cultural without being harmful, producing more anti-racist media and supporting anti-racist workplaces. Our Writers’ Room Database of Experts and Directory of Anti-Racist Trainers are just two of our resources aimed at helping the industry fulfill these needs.
Negative narratives also prevent people from advocating for or receiving justice. It’s important that these representations are rooted in reality and the experiences of communities being represented. To #ChangeHollywood, industry leaders need to prioritize creating an equitable and inclusive industry that produces accurate and complete portrayals of Black and marginalized groups.
Take scripted crime TV for example — the main way tens of millions of people learn how to think about the criminal justice system. Our Normalizing Injustice report found that the genre regularly distorts the criminal justice system. Crime TV and comedy might be on different sides of the entertainment spectrum, but inaccurate representation in both genres is equally detrimental.
Content does have a clear impact on people's behavior. When content is based on stereotypes, ideas of people’s lived experiences become inaccurate and lack authenticity. Whether the narrative distorts the truth about crime and race or distorts the lived experience of being trans, stories can render harm. Not addressing harmful narratives dismisses any need for accountability. It also deems harmful content — whether from a comedy special or scripted crime TV — acceptable and justifiable.
We can control what goes on screen; that’s part of the day-to-day work at Color Of Change. We’ve always been pioneers of changing the narrative, especially for Black people and communities, because content can translate to real-world harm. To see the entertainment landscape hold media accountable for the narratives they advance would be a win for everyone wanting to see themselves accurately and authentically on screen.
We know that the industry plays a significant role in shaping people’s perceptions of the world. We also know just how adverse the role of entertainment is when it comes to distorting people’s understanding of injustice. By creating more culturally competent content, we can break the entertainment industry’s belief that unequal and disempowering narratives are OK — even if it’s just for laughs.
Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We move decision-makers in Hollywood to eradicate racism and exclusion in the industry by consulting in writers’ rooms on shows like ‘The Rookie,’ as well as push for the implementation of an inclusion rider. Visit ColorOfChange.org