Including creative voices from the community is the best and most precise way to avoid stereotyping, but all people are prone to stereotypes and bias.
Below are questions to act as speed bumps in the storytelling process, to avoid common stereotypes.
For Black characters:
● Are they shown in connection to violence, either as perpetrators or victims, particularly gang violence?
● Are they linked to storylines that focus on drugs and addiction or sexual promiscuity?
● Are they shown as a member of a family unit in ways that do not center on broken homes, single parents, or other aspects of family life that foreground difficulty rather than joy?
● Are they presented in positions that are linked to entertaining others?
● Overall, in your story are they primarily dealing with hardships and difficulties that are linked to their race/ethnicity rather than to the plot?
For Hispanic/Latinx characters:
● If the story is set in the US, are Hispanic/Latinx characters linked to an American identity, or are they framed as “foreigners”?
● Are they presented in relation to illegal activity—particularly undocumented immigration?
● What is their family situation? Are they shown in multigenerational contexts? Are they navigating monolingual or bilingual family settings?
● Are they shown in contexts with violence, especially related to undocumented immigration?
● Are they shown as sneaky, sly, or scheming?
● Are they overly sexualized?
For Asian characters:
● Are men shown in a way that minimizes their sexuality or desirability as a romantic partner? This could include fulfilling the stereotype of a “geek” who is primarily interested in technology, math, or sciences.
● Are they depicted as predominantly “foreign” versus as American? Consider expectations around Asian characters speaking with accents.
● Are women depicted as naïve, vulnerable, or silenced? In contrast, are they shown in a provocative light?
● Are they (particularly those who are shown affiliated with foreign countries) shown as dangerous, evil, or threatening to others?
For Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) characters:
● Are they shown in violent situations, especially when linked to terrorism or religious extremism?
● Are they shown at the extremes of wealth, either as royalty, sheiks, or business tycoons, or at the other end of the spectrum in roles associated with poverty or as refugees?
● Are women associated with sexual repression or men shown as predatory in nature?
● Are they shown as “good” for their work to assist law enforcement or sympathize with American/Western values?
For Native or Indigenous characters:
● Do they portray historical tropes of Native or Indigenous characters as violent or antagonistic?
● Are they given mystical or supernatural abilities regarding nature or natural knowledge simply due to their identity (rather than as a result of study or developed insight)?
● Is their existence on-screen one-dimensional and solely to drive a plot related to cowboys, or white characters?
Representation Based on Location
The location or time period of a story can affect how inclusive it is. The setting may be used to constrain choices about who can be part of the story (sometimes legitimately, other times as an excuse). Consider two things when developing the setting of your story:
● For modern or contemporary stories, consider the location where your story is set. Make sure that the characters written into the story mirror the demographics of the location (at a minimum).
● If your story is set in a metro US area, reflect US Census data for that area. For example, more than 70% of US states feature a higher percentage of Hispanic/Latinx residents than appear in popular films. The most populous counties in the US also have more Latinos than the typical feature film. For US data, this Census table may be helpful. Keep in mind that younger populations (millennial and Gen Z) are increasingly more diverse than the general population.
● If your story is set outside of the US, reflect the demographics of that location. Use data to make decisions or inform your choices.
● For stories set in the past, check your assumptions about the demographic reality of the location. Consult historians and demographic experts to understand who lived in the time and place your story is set.
● Story descriptions also do not have to adhere strictly to the views many hold about the past. Examples of casting that has countered normative historical views include David Copperfield (Dev Patel), Anne Boleyn (Jodie Turner-Smith), Cinderella (Brandy as Cinderella, Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother), Bridgerton, and others. These stories included actors from a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds, counter to what audience members might assume was the norm for the time.