Radio-television-film associate professor discusses racial diversity in media

Selah Maya Zighelboim

The recent emphasis on multiculturalism in mainstream media is a marketing strategy to bring in diverse audiences, said radio-television-film associate professor Madhavi Mallapragada. 

Mallapragada said at an Asian-American studies luncheon on Friday that the mainstream media began targeting racial and ethnic minorities in the 1980s to create more audiences for media consumption.

“That is very much part of the way corporations are operating with the diversity factor,” Mallapragada said. “Our audiences are very diverse, and we don’t know exactly what it means, but we’re just going to throw in a collage of difference that we hope will reach out to the broadest possible audience.”

Mallapragada began her talk by showing a trailer for a new Netflix series, “Master of None,” which stars Indian-American comedian Aziz Ansari as a young adult navigating work and relationships in New York City. 

“Just because Aziz Ansari is on TV and on Netflix, and just because Priyanka Chopra is on ‘Quantico,’and et cetera, et cetera, it doesn’t mean that we don’t have any critiques left or that we can’t launch a critique,” Mallapragada said. “Our critiques need to be in tandem with the new realities that are coming about.” 

Mallapragada pointed out the series “Homeland” as an example of how issues with diversity remain problematic in television. Although “Homeland”’s protagonist is a woman, its cast is mostly white, even though much of it takes place in the Middle East and deals with problems in the Middle East. At the same time, all of its writers are white men, according to Mallapragada. 

Radio-television-film graduate student Rebecca Jackson said she appreciated that Mallagrapada talked about the business motivations behind representing diversity.

“It was great to see that she was going past just ideas of representation and what do we see and into the industry and what are the business interests behind certain representations,” Jackson said. 

Biochemistry senior Joshua Nguyen said he has been especially interested in the topic of diversity in media recently because of recent television shows such as “Empire,” “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Master of None.” 

“She brought up a lot about multiculturalism and what it means now, if this onslaught of new shows is progress or just the starting point,” Nguyen said. “I think I agree that it’s just the starting point. We‘re making our place now, and we need to push it even further in the media.”