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Viewers of shows featuring immigrants who live or return are more likely to comment on immigrant life, see important differences in society and feel more comfortable enrolling children in immigrant-majority schools, a newly released report found.

“Television can do that to audiences, affecting how they interact with their neighbors in real life,” said Sarah Lowe, director of research and analysis for Define American, a Los Angeles-based organization that promotes fair representation of immigrants in the entertainment industry.

But despite the progress in the last two years in how and how often the characters of foreigners are shown, this study found that problematic trends continue, especially the representation of actors who seem to be involved in crime and the lack of representation of other people in comparison to their real life.

“When actors and communities are underrepresented, it can make their real counterparts invisible in the community and diminish their self-esteem,” the authors concluded. “And when these characters and communities are represented, it can put their real counterparts under unfair pressure and give society false information about immigrants.”

The 2022 report, “Change the Conversation, Change the World: The Power of Alien Representation on Television,” is the third such study from Define American in collaboration with the Norman Lear Center Media Impact Project at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

“What people see on screen directly affects how our community is treated in real life,” said Brenda Victoria Castillo, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, citing what she described as the negative portrayal of immigrants from gang members. to the maids. “These findings reinforce negative perceptions that can undermine discriminatory policies, particularly immigration, border security and racial injustice.”

‘They feel like friends’

Researchers reported that they studied the portrayal of 167 immigrants at 75 shows that aired between July 2020 and June 2022 and surveyed viewers of four shows featuring immigrant stories about their attitudes toward actual immigrants.

The shows – “Bob Hearts Abishola” (CBS), “I’ve Never Been” (Netflix), “Roswell, New Mexico” (CW) and “The Cleaning Lady” (FOX) – were chosen because of what Lowe said was real. a reflection on the lives of foreigners, driven by creators and writers who share the lived experience.

“We fall in love with actors because of the experience, and if you look at the four shows they are rich with information about the immigration experience that evokes what immigrants feel, see and do in real life,” Lowe said.

In addition to analyzing 1,272 viewers of the shows, researchers who analyzed viewers who had never seen the shows, found that the actors can affect people’s views about immigrants and immigration laws.

For example, viewers of “Roswell, New Mexico” – about a foodie in poor health who kept his undocumented status hidden for years – were more likely to be compared to blind people to report a greater knowledge of migration issues and an understanding of the sacrifices people make to migrate.

And viewers of “Bob Hearts Abishola,” a sitcom about a Detroit man who suffers from a heart attack and falls for his Nigerian immigrant nurse, feel love for Abishola as part of what researchers call a parasocial interaction.

“They feel like they’re friends,” said Lowe. “When the audience sees actors from other countries on TV, they can develop relationships. That’s why we always see things – love someone, or lean on them when the player is in trouble. “

Such results differ slightly among those with different political leanings, Lowe said, citing “The Cleaning Woman,” a crime drama whose lead is an undocumented woman.

“Not everyone progresses through watching these shows and sings the chorus in the steps they do after watching these shows,” said Lowe. “These shows are meeting people in politics where they have good television. Authors cannot do anything else, or they will be cancelled. “

Overreliance on stereotypes of criminals

Among the positive findings of the study is that the representation of black and Asian immigrants has doubled since 2020. The share of Asian immigrants has risen from 12% to 27%, closely mirroring the real-life immigrant population (28%).

Black immigrant characters rose to 16th from 7% in 2020, with “Bob Hearts Abishola” accounting for four in ten of all black immigrants. However, even without that indicator, Blacks comprised 10% of all players from other countries in 2022 – a true representative of the group.

“We’ve seen some big ones,” Lowe said.

However, crime and behavior indicators showed six times more immigrants in 2022 than in 2020, with the proportion of immigrants identified as perpetrators or victims doubling to 42% from 22%. In 2018, the number was 34%.

“This is at an all-time high,” Lowe said. “This is perpetuating the idea that people from other countries are involved in crime.”

For example, while Middle East and North Africa (MENA) immigrants made up 9% of immigrants – compared to 3% in real life – most of them relied on harmful substances, the report said. For example, in an episode of CBS’s “FBI: Most Wanted,” he said that while two Middle Eastern suspects were not terrorists, “it’s not a good representation.”

Louise Cainkar, a sociology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who has studied MENA representation, is not surprised.

“Given the US population’s perception of MENA people as terrorists and the large government defense dollars spent there, we should expect higher representation, but it’s worse,” Cainkar said. “And this is what the research shows.”

It calls out some different, more complex characters

Meanwhile, the study found that the percentage of Latino characters dropped significantly, from 50% in 2020 to 34% this year, following the percentage of 44% real-life. Half of those players were from Mexico.

“This is more evidence that groups like the National Hispanic Media Coalition need to keep stepping on the gas and continue the conversation about what representation in the media can be,” said Castillo. “We need more stories rooted in truth that show our commitment to this country.”

And despite the many findings in the paintings of Asian immigrants, the researchers found that the colors of the Pacific Islander, or Pasifika, were completely absent.

Define American hopes that its research will enable TV writers to avoid stereotypes while telling real-life stories with different colors and experiences, calling other actors from other countries in recurring roles and characters that show more overlap – for example, transgender immigrants or those with disabilities.

“We’re seeing colors that are still very high-note,” Lowe said. “The more we dig deeper into the reality and the lives of immigrants, the more we uncover rich information that is missing from our news. In the end, we fall in love with characters and rich experiences that we have never heard of, but that we know in our guts come from a place of truth.”

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