Ethnic Images in American Film and Television

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8 August 2015

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This literature review seeks to examine ways in which gender ethnic stereotypes in the media have been reviewed and the conclusions that have been observed regarding the negative continuance of gender ethnic stereotypes in the media. In addition, this paper includes research on the influence the media has to shape women’s attitudes through numerous resources of gender stereotyped images and language use.

The term media in this research paper will be used very loosely, allowing me to cover areas in which gender ethnic stereotypes occur. The most common stereotypes are from film, television, internet and print media’s. With all the media outlets, viewers are noticeable to portrayal of what and how people of certain ethnicities act. The cultures I decided to focus on are African- Americans, European Americans and Hispanics. These ethnic groups tend to be in the lime-light for numerous accounts whether it’s positive recognition or backlash. Most often in film African- Americans characters are stereotyped as being the slaves “Djanjo and 12 Years a slave”, or being a Brash woman. European Americans on television tend to be inferior, and have leading roles, money, guns and the hot men. Lastly, Hispanics are stereotyped as Spanish speakers, and are typically the ones cleaning houses in the movies.

Stereotyping occurs any time there is a need to generalize a particular group of people order to make an otherwise complex environment easy to understand (Lester, P., M., and Susan D. R., p12). A particular trait is used as the basis for stereotyping. In essence, society stereotypes humanity by race or gender. Some groups are associated with some unique traits that the society uses to generally define it. It does not matter that individuals in that group are unique and do not subscribe to the label given to them. When it comes to stereotyping, every individual in that particular group is made equal. From the ethnicity point of view, some ethnic groups are given so much value whereas others are devalued (Lester, P., M., and Susan D. R., p22). This is because of the hierarchy that the society creates to define races and ethnic groups.

Stereotyping can be positive or negative. When it is positive, the stereotyped group feels good. When it is negative, the stereotyped group feels offended and may even go to an extent of retaliating. It is also important to note that repetition in the stereotyping leads to normalization of the same, because when stereotypes are repeated, they become perpetuated and ultimately validated. Stereotypes are taken to be truths because they have a connotation of some truth about the members of that particular group in general. The most dangerous form of stereotyping is negative racial stereotyping. It leads to strife and war. Gender stereotyping is also very explicit. Media has not been left behind in propagating stereotype. The media use stereotypes to define people from different backgrounds. It generalizes the complex nature of people to a one general bracket so that it is easy to understand that particular group of people. It also has helped propagate gender stereotyping. Given the coverage of the media in the society, it can be said that stereotyping has taken another level where every person is aware of it unlike in the past.

Various illustrations of how the media influences gender and ethnic stereotyping

              Television has become the key propagator of ethnic stereotyping. According to Srividya R. and Saunders, M. S., (p1), African-Americans and Latino-Americans are always undermined; underrepresented, demeaned and marginalized when it comes to the mainstream media. All this happens in the lines of stereotyping. For instance, African-Americans are portrayed in such a manner that demeans them completely. They are represented as big, mean and big-mouthed. In addition, they are portrayed as lazy and unreliable. They assume the roles that demonstrate ruthlessness to stereotype them as so. Moreover, they are represented as unintelligent and loyal slaves who submit stupidly.

With regard to the Latino-Americans, the media as portrayed them with derision. They are portrayed as lazy people who are unintelligent. In addition, they are taken to be oversexed and extremely promiscuous. They are stereotyped to be very violent and always being associated with criminal activities. They assume the roles that pertain to breaking laws. The media portrays these minor groups in America so negatively. The audience is left with the impression that that is how every African-American or Latino-American. Furthermore, Srividya, R., and Saunders, M. S., (p1) explain how the news stories are covered in the America. They cut out groups ethnically against the backdrop of ethnic stereotyping. When watching news over the television, it is easy to observe how stories relating to social class are framed. The minority groups take blames for their assumed laziness and criminal activities. The Blacks and the Latinos are viewed as non-contributors in the nation economy. Television entertaining programs are also based on the stereotyping. The minority groups are used to represent the unwise characters in the name of entertaining the audience. Crime dramas also represent the Blacks and Latinos as law-breakers.

The media has been so keen on recording and televising issues that pertain to the aspects of stereotyping when dealing with the African-Americans and Latino-Americans. According to Lee, M.J et al., (p4), journalists pay little attention on the problems that affect these people. They do not highlight their plight. Instead they run after them whenever issues that concern such things as drug abuse and criminal activities have been mentioned. They put keen interest to the conflicts that touch on the racial aspects as well as the surrounding controversies. They make these the breaking news and literally ignore the true nature of the lives of these people. The audience is left wondering who the Blacks and Latinos are. For the majority, the impression that they make about these minority group of people in America is that they are drug barons and criminals.

The riots that happened in Los Angeles in 1992 give a vivid illustration of how the media tends to portray the Blacks and the Latinos (Lee, M.J., et al., p 5). While covering the story, the Black community was made to appear as the people responsible for the riots and the subsequent disturbances. Hispanics were also implicated at a greater degree. Most of those arrested came from the minority groups. This is a clear indication that due to failure of the media to give the true background of the conflicts, and hence generalizing the event, led to many Blacks and Hispanic arrests. The negative image painted about these people following that incident was demeaning. In addition, it is important to state here that whenever cases of riots erupt, the culprits are the Blacks, the Latinos and the Hispanics, thanks to the extensive level of media role in stereotyping.

Another illustration is the films such as the “Boys in the Hood” and “Menace II Society”. These films have portrayed young blacks as criminals. As such, they have attracted a lot of audience and consequently, they have sold a lot in America (Saunders, M. S., and Sirvidya, R., p3). The audience has been tuned by the media to believe and like stories that demean the minority groups around America. Whenever a black-American is seen, he is seen as a threat to the security of the society. Considering the case of beating of Rodney King in 1991 (Miller, R.M., p32) the effects of this stereotyping is observed. During the trial, the defense team composed of four police officers said that they decided to beat Rodney because they feared that he could have been harmed. The fear in this sense signifies what every white person feels whenever they encounter a Black in America. The excuse given is the order of the day whenever the whites are defending themselves against the Blacks.

In most movies, male characters have always dominated the female characters (Saunders, M. S. and Srividya, R., p35). This is an extension of gender stereotyping. The society already has a notion that a woman is subject to the man. When the media in the form of movies portray women as inferior to men, then they serve to reinforce that already existing belief. In addition, in most of the American movies where Black females appear as characters, most of the cases the women are made to use vulgar language (Jefferson, S. T., p 3). They are also portrayed as violent. Are the Black women always violent? Is it true that they use vulgar language most of the time? The clear answer is no. the reason they are portrayed as such is to serve the interests of the white audience. The society has been shaped to like stories that negatively impact the Black community at the advantage of their white counterparts. The white audience is happy when they learn that their women, for instance, are more intelligent and better than the Blacks, at least according to the movies and media in general.

Moreover, the Blacks have been used in the movies and film industry to take the roles that pertain to servitude and slavery. For instance, in the movie “12 Years of Slavery” it is a Black young lady who takes the role of the slave (Jefferson, S. T., p6). She serves a white family that often mistreats her. This is not an isolated case. In most other movies, the roles that require a slave character, the directors of the movie will more often than not choose to use a black character than a white character. They back their reasoning by saying that a black person portrays the role well. Why? It is because the audience feels more satisfied by a black slave than a white slave. Even crime scenes in the movies are taken up by the black characters most of the times.

The print media has also been implicated in the propagation of the stereotyping. According to Lester P.M and Susan D. R., (p65), in the advertising segment, the Blacks are portrayed as unintelligent as compared to the white counterparts. The Hispanics are used to represent comic characters in their role. The Latinos are used mostly in cases of promiscuity. The White Americans are used when referring to the wise community, and often associated with status of affluence. The minority groups are portrayed as people who are poor and uneducated. The newspapers also portray the Blacks, Hispanics and Latinos as criminals when covering acts of crime. The bias created goes a long way to victimizing innocent people on the grounds of false beliefs created by the stereotypes.

The media has portrayed African-Americans, Latino-Americans and Hispanics very negatively. It is not that all African-Americans are criminals. In fact, most of them are law-abiding citizens in America. It is not true that all Blacks in America are uneducated. As a matter of fact, there are blacks in America who are highly educated compared to the white Americans. Also, contrary to the way media depicts Blacks as poor people, there are Blacks that live affluent lives with every luxury that a White person can wish for. The same truth applies to the Latinos and Hispanics as well. Therefore, the media does not give the true picture of the minority communities. In essence, the media highlights the aspects that they think will raise the eyebrows of the audience who are the whites. Since the media in America seeks to serve the white audience at the expense of other communities living in America, stereotyping forms a part in racism. The overall result is racial discrimination that has penetrated even in the job markets so that members of the minority group are not getting employments. For the audience, it is important to realize that not all that is portrayed by the media about others is truth.


Jefferson, Shani T. “Occupational role portrayals of African-American women on prime-time television.” Ethnicity in America 2.1 (2005): 1-7. Print.

Lee, Moon J., Shannon L. Bichard, Meagan S. Irey, Heather M. Walt, and Alana J. Carlson. “Television Viewing and Ethnic Stereotypes: Do College Students Form Stereotypical Perceptions of Ethnic Groups as a Result of Heavy Television Consumption?” Howard Journal of Communications 4.3 (2009): 3-6. Print.

Lester, Paul M, and Susan D. Ross. Images That Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 2003. Print.

Miller, Randall M. Ethnic Images in American Film and Television. Philadelphia, U.S.A: Balch Institute, 1978. Print.

Sanders, Meghan S., and Srividya Ramasubramanian. “An Examination of African Americans’ Stereotyped Perceptions of Fictional Media Characters.” Howard Journal of Communications 6.3 (2012): 4-8. Print.

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"Ethnic Images in American Film and Television" StudyScroll, Aug 8, 2015.

"Ethnic Images in American Film and Television" StudyScroll, 8-Aug-2015. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 4-Oct-2022]

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