Stereotypes in the film reflect and shape popular prejudices. Asians are seen as nerdy, black men are portrayed as threatening, and Latinas are portrayed as fiery. So, how does Hollywood depict different ethnic groups?
In recent years, there has been more focus on racism and sexism in Hollywood films, which can be seen in who stars in front of the camera, who directs behind the camera, and how people are portrayed on-screen – and often all three. We looked at tropes used in over 6,000 Oscar-eligible films since 1928 to see how stereotypes have evolved in Hollywood.
There are several examples of racial caricatures in Hollywood history. People of colour, particularly African-Americans and Asians, have been repeatedly targeted. Take, for example, the bucktoothed Mr. Yunioshi in Audrey Hepburn’s 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, whose stereotypical “Engrish” dialect was meant to insult Japanese people. He is well-known, and there are numerous such examples.
From racist caricatures to persisting misconceptions, there’s a lot to think about.
This was formerly a widespread practice in Hollywood. Production companies were hesitant to hire minorities of any kind, preferring instead to use white actors in their place. This practice has become self-replicating: sociologists have discovered that preconceptions break down when people of different ethnic groups have more interaction with one another.
However, Asian groups in the United States have a long history of being neglected. “Even now, most portrayals of Asians and Asian Americans on screen were generated by people who didn’t know anything about them,” says Kent Ono of the University of Utah, who studies media representations of race. “For those who have never met an Asian or an Asian American, this produces a bizarre perception of who Asians and Asian Americans are. Also, because Asians and Asian Americans can’t fully relate with this odd depiction of themselves, it creates a very conflicted and distant relationship between them and Hollywood.”
For example, in 2012, the film Cloud Atlas garnered criticism for portraying several non-Asian actors as Asian characters for a portion of the film. Many critics stated that white actors should not be hired in Asian parts because there are already so few jobs for Asian actors, let alone roles that aren’t stereotypes. Scarlett Johansson starred in the live-action adaptation of the renowned Japanese manga series Ghost in the Shell, and Tilda Swinton played a character that was originally Asian in Doctor Strange. The list goes on and on.
The “Mighty Whitey, Mellow Yellow” dynamic, as described by TVTropes, is a cliche that began to emerge more regularly in the 1960s and 1970s: a powerful white main character with a subservient Asian love interest.
Minorities are underrepresented in the workforce.
The percentage of films with nonstereotypical nonwhite characters is not included in this study. These aren’t usually included in the TVTropes wiki. In general, it’s impossible to say whether there are fewer stereotyped depictions now than there used to be on a big scale.
However, scholars keep track of the number of nonwhite performers cast and the number of nonwhite directors and writers who have their films produced. “The more diverse the roles, the less likely people are to believe that a group is merely one of these representations,” Ono explained. Individual characters, on the other hand, carry even greater weight for communities that are rarely represented on-screen.
Characters of color are the first to perish.
In the early days of Hollywood, black roles were not always played by black people, just as Asian characters were not always played by Asians. They didn’t show up at all, save as caricatures performed by white actors in blackface. This practice has its roots in the American theatre tradition of minstrelsy, which featured a lot of racist stereotypes about black people.
However, as Hollywood has included more black characters and cast more black performers, other stereotypes have become more prominent. To this day, black men are frequently shown as intimidating or hostile, while black women are frequently depicted as loudmouthed and sassy. The black best friend is almost always the token black character in a film.
If Africa is mentioned, it is portrayed as dangerous and undeveloped.
The stereotyped portrayals of black people in Hollywood usually refer to black Americans. African-themed tropes are more uncommon, mainly due to the fact that few Hollywood films include African characters. The most popular trope regarding Africa, according to TVTropes users, is “Darkest Africa,” which depicts the continent as a strange and deadly isolated region with only sporadic ties to “modern” society. However, that portrayal is becoming less popular.
The sex appeal of Latino characters defines them.
Latinos make up the largest ethnic minority in the United States, accounting for roughly 18% of the population. A review of 2,682 films released since 2000 reveals that the most common stereotype about Latino characters is their sex appeal. For women, this corresponds to the “Spicy Latina” trope: a fiery temptress who can hold her own while maintaining an attractive appearance.
Men are cast in the attractive “Latin Lover” character, which is frequently a fling for a white lady. Furthermore, films frequently overlook the richness of Latino cultures across the Americas: The appearance of all Latinos is defined by a specific brown-skinned, black-haired look.
In movies, Germans are still frequently depicted as Nazis.
Since the year 2000, the most popular cliché about Germans in films has been that they are all Nazis. This is closely followed by the character of the German scientist, who is listed on TVTropes as “Herr Doctor.” The latter was most likely influenced by real-life scientists who escaped to the United States under the Nazi era, most notably Albert Einstein, a German-born scientist.
A British accent is a warning sign of impending doom.
Surprisingly, the most prevalent prejudice about the British is not the typical aristocratic accent or the reputation of uptightness, despite the fact that both are there. No, it appears that British characters are the most popular villains. This is so widespread that Ben Kingsley, Mark Strong, and other British actors have spoken out about it.
Russians are tough, rough, and played by non-Russians.
Finally, Cold War-era imagery in Hollywood continues to characterize Russians in films. According to the TVTropes entry, the most common stereotype is the “hard-fightin’, heavy-drinking, masculine, vulgar” character. Throughout the film, these characters often face the brunt of the pain, becoming injured or leading difficult lifestyles. Surprisingly, non-Russians frequently play Russians in films.
It would be in Hollywood’s best interests to shift gears: According to the survey, films and television shows with a diverse cast earn more money at the box office and receive higher audience ratings. Hollywood, on the other hand, is still a long way from depicting the world’s — or even the United States’ — diversity. White people continue to be disproportionately represented in front of and behind the camera. That fact has an impact on how preconceptions are reinforced as well.
A few incidents in recent years have sparked hope that this may be changing. In 2017, she earned an Academy Award for her performance in Fences, for which she won an Oscar. With her two Tony Awards for theatrical work and the 2015 Emmy for her performance in How to Get Away With Murder, Viola Davis became the first black woman to achieve the acting triple crown in her career. Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy starring an all-Asian cast, was a box office blockbuster in 2018. Lana Condor, a Vietnamese-American actress, plays the lead in Netflix’s hit teen romance To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.