Opinion | Diversity in media originates at local level
April 16, 2021
Recently, there has been an extensive conversation over greater diversity and representation in media. It is good that, as a society, there has been a greater emphasis on making sure that all members feel represented in popular culture. After all, we are all part of that culture.
However, this is often viewed with a “top-down” approach. As in: when major film publishers and TV networks have more diverse casts, this is a victory for depicting inclusivity in entertainment. While this is on its face a good thing, there is much greater potential for representation in media, and perhaps more importantly, media production.
The internet has globalized culture to a degree that before seemed impossible, and this has simultaneously allowed for greater diversification of individual creators but has also delocalized content creation. Subsequently, many local creators exist who are unable to reach much of their community.
One way to approach and improve this would be to increase funding and visibility for local access television networks. As traditional broadcast TV is in decline, this is an avenue for local creators to reach their community.
If these networks were made more accessible to minority communities, there would be an increase in unique and diverse content coming from people of many different walks of life.
During the New Deal in the late 1930s, the United States commissioned the Federal Art Project, along with a few other nationally subsidized creative projects. Over 10,000 artists were employed during the duration of the project.
These programs provided a stipend for artists to create content for museums, sculpture exhibits and murals, among other artworks. If a similar program was implemented today in an era of increased visual media, this program could extend to television as well.
Simple one-off pilots and short works by many artists could be displayed locally, with the artists compensated by a stipend based on the amount of time the slot fills. Blocks of time could be devoted exclusively to minority content creators to give a wider voice to America’s diverse and often underrepresented communities.
As the diversity at the local level of media and content creation increases, this would become a ripple effect that would eventually reach the very top of the media industry. Producers, directors and writers on the production team would, moreover, be made more diverse through the implementation of such a program.
Additionally, this would lead to not only more diversity of the individual people who produce and are featured in these programs but often the ideas as well. Short films, animations, music videos and interviews are just a few things that would be available to institute local artists and creators.
Countless people want more diversity in popular culture, but this is a difficult task to approach. To simply cast a few lead roles in major films with greater diversity is — while a good start — a largely symbolic gesture. To truly allow American artists of all backgrounds a greater voice, media should be reformed from the ground up and made more available to working-class communities.
Dylan is a senior in Media.