Representation on The Big Screen


Jacqueline Caraballo, Editor

For years, people have sought out some form of entertainment. Whether it was a play, television show, or movie, there has always been one major problem: that problem, is that there was not much diversity in actors and actresses portraying the characters. Luckily, society has changed over time and in more recent years we have seen an immense change in the actors and actresses. As the years go on, the representation and diversity of ethnicity, LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities will only increase and appear on screen more and more with time.

Within recent years, major production companies have started to incorporate characters from diverse ethnic backgrounds into their television shows and movies. The diversity splits into different ethnicities, such as African American, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Middle Eastern, Native American, and mixed race. However, Caucasian people still remain the more dominant race in having more screen time. It does not take much to realize that the vast majority of films and television series now have at least one different ethnicity other than Caucasian. Viewers no longer have to struggle to find a character they can relate to since many actors and actresses are starting to get bigger roles in the industry and it will only improve over time. This improvement of representation is a major milestone considering the fact that society used to segregate people for their physical appearances.

Although seeing different ethnicities being portrayed was a major problem in the past, the concept of homosexuality caused a lot of controversy. Luckily, the representation of this community has started to appear more on the big screen; out of 110 films that were released just last year, approximately 18.2% of the characters were gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer, or transgender. Along with more portrayal, screentime has improved for LGBTQ characters. For example, 20th Century Fox made a movie titled, “Love Simon” in 2018. The whole story focused on a young gay man coming to terms with his sexuality and trying to find love in high school. Having that representation appeals to viewers, especially those of LGBTQ audiences, as they are 22% more likely to see a movie more than once in theatres. So far, only 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Warner Bros, and Paramount have had some sort of LGBTQ characters in their films. 

Lastly, disability has had the least amount of representation on screen before. However, on television screens, there are 12.6% of actors and actresses that are disabled and play a disabled character (Ruiz-Grossman). Some shows involving a disabled character are “Sesame Street”, “Breaking Bad”, and “911” along with many more. “Sesame Street” had a huge milestone when introducing Julia, the first puppet to have autism in 2017. With an audience of a younger age, it is wonderful to have the puppet Julia on the show to help little kids understand that it is acceptable to be different.

“Breaking Bad” brings awareness to those with disabilities through the actor, Roy Frank “RJ” Mitte III. Roy Frank is well known for his congenital disorder, cerebral palsy. He also plays the main character, Walter White Sr.’s son, Walter “Flynn” White Jr. on “Breaking Bad.” 

Moving away from the small screen to the big screen, there have been 2.7% of characters with disabilities portrayed in the highest-earning movies of 2016 (Ruiz-Grossman). One of the more recent films that portrays a disability is Lantern Entertainment’s “The Upside.” This film stars Kevin Hart who plays the caregiver to Phillip Lacasse, a quadriplegic man. Lantern Entertainment made the portrayal of this disability very realistic and made fans believe that the actor of Phillip Lacasse, accurately represented a person with this disability. It is important for these studios to continue increasing the portrayal of disabilities through the big screen and the small screen. 

The representation and diversity of ethnicity, the LGBTQ community, and people with disabilities will only increase and appear on screen more and more with time. As there have already been steps taken by studios to have some sort of representation, there are also many people of different ethnicities showing up on screen. This includes having characters portray different members of the LGBTQ community. Even though a small amount of people with disabilities are being portrayed on screen, those portrayals are still important as it is a major step in the right direction of making representation a common thing. People look to the screen for a sense of entertainment and being able to relate to a character makes shows or movies even more enjoyable.