What Do We Want From America [In Terms of Diversity]?

As I was walking around doing errands yesterday I began to muse on one of my favourite topics: diversity in media. While this could’ve been a very pleasant stroll on an afternoon that felt much more like spring than winter, my mind felt the need to challenge itself with a question I’m sure often leaves the lips of those who are sick of “having diversity crammed down their throats”: Why is the US held responsible for all of this?

To unpack that a little bit, there’s a lot of outcry on [and off] the internet for the entertainment industry as a whole [film, television, et cetera] to showcase more minorities. While I can’t comment on what other countries are doing, I don’t think it’s too great a leap to assume that pretty much all of this discussion is in regards to American media. Does anyone think that people in India are clamouring for more Koreans in their Bollywood movies?

The answer to “why America?” is actually painfully simple, and it hurts me that it didn’t immediately come to mind on my walk [it was a beautiful day, alright]: all that’s being asked for is fair representation. In other words, all people are asking is for the media to paint a more accurate picture of the world we live in. The state of things at present is far from true to life as we know it, and I’m going to bombard you with graphs until you agree with me-

Screen Shot 2012-11-19 at 6.18.29 PM

Graphic by Briana Higgins, using the same research from the link above

If the makeup of the country reflected its own popular media then roughly nine out of every ten people would be a White man. That’s problematic to think about if only because wow, that population sure isn’t growing quickly anytime soon. Considering what the population of the United States of America actually looks like I want to turn to a brand new [as of this Monday] way of viewing diversity in media. I present the Harvey/Renee Index.

I’m going to let its creator, Comics Alliance writer Andrew Wheeler, explain what it is:

“One in three Americans is a straight white non-Hispanic cisgender male. That’s an estimate based on 2010 census data. The actual number is probably lower, and sliding. But if we take that number as a starting point, we can say that any team that’s more than 33% straight white non-Hispanic cisgender men is over-representative of that demographic category. A realistically representative team would be two-thirds made up of people of color, and/or women, and/or lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people, and/or people who represent any combination of those identifiers.

In the index, for ease of reference, we call the straight white non-Hispanic cisgender men ‘Harveys,’ and we call everyone else ‘Renees.’ So the U.S. population has one Harvey for every two Renees.”

For the less comic book-inclined among you, Harveys are named after Harvey Bullock, an average joe [straight, White non-Hispanic, cisgender] cop with the Gotham City Police Department. Renees are after his partner Renee Montoya, a lesbian Latina woman.

Wheeler further explains that a group of characters will score a certain number, that being however many Harveys or Renees extra there are in addition to a demographically representative team. Really, the best way to explain this would be to demonstrate for myself. While the index was originally created to grade superhero teams it can apply to all media, so I’ll be using it on the cast of one of my favourite FOX shows [graphics taken from the CA article, and were created by Dylan Todd using artwork drawn by Michael Lark].

2 Harveys:
 Detective Jake Peralta, Detective Charles Boyle

5 Renees: Captain Ray Holt, Detective Rosa Diaz, Detective Sergeant Terence “Terry” Jeffords, Detective Amy Santiago, Administrator Gina Linetti

+1 Renees

On the left side of the black line is the demographically representative team, with one Renee on the right. As a result the cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine scores +1 Renees. I opted to leave out Detectives Norm Scully and Michael Hitchcock due to them being recurring bit parts.

Wheeler fully admits that not every team or cast should score an even neutral. As Gordon and I discussed, the makeup of a certain location can and should affect the characters from that area, and there’s taking into account various lines of work, social classes, et cetera.

The most important takeaway from the Renee/Harvey Index is that it takes into account the actual real life world. After grading 23 superhero teams Wheeler came up with a final score of “+9 Renees… and +31 Harveys.” That imbalance is inevitably found when viewing television and film, and doesn’t even take into account solo features that don’t rely on an ensemble group. White men [and I shouldn’t have to specify that they’re straight and cisgendered] dominate the entertainment industry and, surprise surprise, its audience is so much greater than that.

To return to my question way up there in the first paragraph, the US isn’t responsible for shouldering the burden of pushing minority representation and diversity. What the US is responsible for is, at the very least, creating media that conforms to its own population. No one is asking for more than that. If only that weren’t such a tall order on its own.

6 responses to “What Do We Want From America [In Terms of Diversity]?

  1. Would you say the same is true with shows produced in Canada? Canada is definitely more diverse that America even though she has 1/10 of US when comes to population.

    • Since so many Canadian TV shows take place in Toronto, the most diverse city in North America, that makes sense for the most part. That doesn’t account for stuff like “Little Mosque on the Prairie”, though, so I would say that we’re making more of a conscious decision than America is overall.

  2. I like the focus on equal representation rather than just this vague idea of “diverse enough”. Entertainment should represent natural populations. I find that much more interesting because it actually looks like real people.

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