Diversity in Television: Where We’re Winning and Where We’re Lagging

Demi Lovato on Her LGBTQ Advocacy
"It doesn't matter what gender you are — love is love."

A new report on visibility in television conducted by GLAAD reveals the weak spots in the entertainment industry.

GLAAD released its annual Where We Are on TV report, which forecasts the expected presence of LGBTQ, female, black, Latinx (people from or whose ancestors are from Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean living in the United States), and disabled characters in the 2016-2017 television season between June 1, 2016 and May 31, 2017. The good news is that there was a general increase of LGBTQ characters on cable, from 92 to 94, and racial diversity has improved with 20% of regular characters being black — the highest percentage since GLAAD initiated the Where We Are on TV report 21 years ago. There is an expected one percent increase of regular female characters and the representation of bisexual persons increased from 30%, up by 10 percentage points from last year. The number of characters with disabilities has also increased from 0.9% to 1.7%, which is the highest rate of visibility that this category has seen since the organization started tracking disability statistics in 2010.

However, while we praise industry leaders in representation, including Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project), Aziz Ansari (Master of None), Lee Daniels (Empire), and Jill Soloway (Transparent, I Love Dick), we still have a way to go, as evidenced by the #OscarsSoWhite rally in film, Matt Damon’s Project Greenlight blunder, CBS’s pale and male fall lineup, and GLAAD’s research. According to the report, black women are still underrepresented, as they account for only 38% of black regular characters. With 71-72% of LGBTQ characters being white, GLAAD also calls for racially-diverse characters who identify as such. There was also an unprecedented amount of fatalities for queer female characters this year, which decreased the number of lesbian and bisexual women from last year’s report. To better understand where else improvement can be made, let’s take a look at the highlights and lowlights from each observed category, as noted by GLAAD.

 

Cable vs. Streaming

Improvements to be praised:

  • Freeform (ABC Family) is the most LGBTQ-inclusive network on cable
  • Streaming services lead the way for transgender representation in their series’ characters, with a four percentage point increase from last year

Changes to be made:

  • GLAAD would like to see more trans men in addition to trans women
  • The killing of LGBTQ characters for the plot advancement of cisgender characters perpetuates harmful tropes of the minority group

 

Gender

Improvements to be praised:

  • FOX wins with 48% of its series regulars being female. “The upward trend from year to year in the number of women as regular characters in primetime programming — especially for black women and Latinas —is good news,” said Julie Burton, President of the Women’s Media Center. “The numbers, however, still fall short in representing the voices, talents and stories of women — who are 51 percent of the population.”

Changes to be made:

  • Broadcast television needs to up its game entirely, having the lowest number of lesbian and bisexual female characters in GLAAD’s report

 

Race

Improvements to be praised:

  • FOX wins the broadcast category again, with 42% of its regular characters being people of color, which is 36% more than last year

Changes to be made:

  • CBS and The CW were tied in last place at 31%, though they did show an increase of regular characters that are POC

 

Black Characters

Improvements to be praised:

  • The number of black series regulars continued to increase to reach a record 20% of black series regular characters thanks to shows such as Empire, How to Get Away with Murder, and Black-ish

Changes to be made:

  • Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson said, “Continuing to push for greater representation that includes the diversity of our lives and experience from stories about black women, immigrants, workers, LGBTQ people and more is at the heart of our work.”
  • GLAAD suggests that more black women are needed behind the camera as well

 

Latinx Characters

Improvements to be praised:

  • The percentage of Latinx characters rose by one percentage point
  • FOX and NBC are tied for having the most Latinx characters, with 16 each
  • The CW’s Jane the Virgin is the frontrunning series for Latinx inclusion

Changes to be made:

  • “Latinx people are 17 percent of the U.S. population and yet only make up eight percent of series regulars on television,” said Alex Nogales, President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition. “There is much work left to be done on the part of the networks to ensure a parity of roles for Latinx people in television.”

 

Asian-Pacific Islander Characters

Improvements to be praised:

  • The number of Asian-Pacific Islanders is stagnant at 6%. “We are happy to see the ‘normalization’ of Asian American families in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat and Dr. Ken, and hope other networks create more shows centered on Asian families,” said Guy Aoki, Asian Pacific American Media Coalition’s Founding Member and Founding President of Media Action Network for Asian Americans.

Changes to be made:

  • The percentage of API LGBTQ characters is barely significant and could use improvement, like all other categories

Characters with Disabilities

Improvements to be praised:

  • FOX with the hat trick, leading the way with the most characters living with disabilities on Empire, Rosewood, and Legacy

Changes to be made:

  • The 1.7% percentage point is the highest percentage of the inclusion of disabled persons since GLAAD began their reports. I repeat, 1.7% is considered a high.

 

Bisexual and B+ Characters

Improvements to be praised:

  • 30% of characters across scripted broadcast, cable, and streaming programming are identified as bisexual

Changes to be made:

  • GLAAD’s Senior Strategist, Global and U.S. South Alexandra Bolles noted, “Creators overwhelmingly choose to portray bisexuality as a villainous trait rather than a lived identity. This trend of inaccurate portrayals undermines how people understand bisexuality, which has real life consequences for bi people and their wellbeing.”
  • GLAAD suggests that there needs to be a wider variety of bisexual+ (pansexual, fluid, and queer) characters.

 

Transgender Characters

Improvements to be praised:

  • There was a significant increase in featured transgender characters from last year’s report

Changes to be made:

  • “GLAAD really wants to see those characters become an integral part of the shows they’re on, with storylines that go beyond focusing on their trans identity and instead portray transgender people who are part of the fabric of everyday life,” said Nick Adams, the Director of GLAAD’s Transgender Media Program.

 

Read the full Where We Are on TV report over on GLAAD and listen to our Celebuzz’d podcast about the #OscarsSoWhite outrage in the player below.