LOS ANGELES — Minimizing the role of equality in television and film is harming minority viewers, according to a report from the UCLA Center for Scholars and Storytellers that analyzed the top 10 TV shows teenagers watch.
As the lead researcher, Dr. Yalda T. Uhls says the idea is to teach writers at all of the major studios how to better represent real life in these story lines played out on TV.
What You Need To Know
- Minimizing the role of equality in TV and film is harming minority viewers, according to a report
- The UCLA Center for Scholars and Storytellers analyzed the top 10 TV shows that teenagers watch
- The lead researcher says the idea is to teach writers at all of the major studios how to better represent real life in the story lines
- The recent study shows that one of the key misrepresentations in popular TV shows is the American dream
For Aidan Maldonado, writing is therapy. The teenager has big dreams that the script he’s working on could be picked up one day by a major TV studio.
"It’s kind of an isolation piece, almost, of them dealing with themselves. They don't have work. School's online." Maldonado explained.
It’s the kind of non-fiction Aidan is drawn to. He says the market is saturated with shows that aren’t accurate representations of real life, and as a Mexican American, Aidan feels there are many over exaggerated stereotypes for minorities on TV.
"The stereotype is always, 'Oh, your mom is undocumented, so is your grandma, they’re going to get taken away, how are you gonna skirt past this?'" he said.
It’s why Uhls, a former filmmaker and studio executive, says she opened the UCLA Center for Scholars and Storytellers — to bring TV writers in the entertainment industry together with scholars who study youth, in an effort to make the content created for teens more positive and accurate.
“I care passionately about helping the next generation see themselves authentic in ways that feel like they’re seen," Dr. Uhls said.
From her recent study, Uhls showed that one of the key misrepresentations in popular TV shows they found is the American dream. Characters of color are twice as likely to achieve the American dream in TV shows as their white counterparts. It’s a discouraging narrative that she says can hurt low-income teens pushing towards upward mobility.
"If you’re going to portray a person of color achieving the American dream, also portray the systemic injustices. Portray that grit, the grit that it takes them to go beyond that," she said.
The organization also found that despite one in five children living in poverty in real life, only two percent of main characters in shows are lower-class, and even then, they’re often portrayed inaccurately.
"Which is not always dire, which is not always all about violence and poverty," said Uhls.
It’s where Aidan hopes to one day make a difference in this industry, flipping to the show "This Is Us" as the best representation he can think of a balanced, connected storyline.
"It was a good example of not having somebody’s race be their whole identity and issue in media," he said.
The study also found that 61% of the characters on shows achieve that American dream because of their personality, morality and work ethic, which Dr. Uhls says could become dangerous if teens watching feel that they themselves are to blame if they struggle to achieve it.