There is a lot of controversy about this year’s Academy Awards; it has been noted that all the major nominees are white and, except where the category is limited to females, men. Others, apparently, need not apply. This undoubtedly reflects the double whammy of Hollywood bias – it is difficult for non-whites to get lead roles in movies or women to get to direct major films and, when they do, it is difficult to get recognized for their achievements. It has been pointed out that the majority of the Academy are white men over the age of 50, so there may be some bias built in.
People like to see themselves represented in the films they watch so the Academy has a preference for white men while audiences may prefer a more diverse world reflective of their own realities.
As a white male over the age of 50, you might think I am perfectly happy with the reflection of my life in film and television. Quite apart from being a hyper-liberal (and damn proud of it too) who prefers to see reality reflected in my viewing, I also sometimes feel excluded especially from mainstream media from America.
I am an atheist and, while some atheists do get portrayed on television – Sheldon Cooper for example or Temperance Brennan on Bones – they are often portrayed as socially inept geeks, necessary to do geeky things but constantly challenged in their world views. Even in science fiction, atheism is portrayed as aberrant of not abhorrent. Yet, atheism is the second largest response to “what is your religion?” in Canada. At 16% we outnumber every denomination but Catholic. And most of the atheists of my acquaintance are more than ept socially. And they aren’t all rocket scientists either.
Yet, the pressure is always on the producers and directors of TV and movies to show us as emotionally broken or sometimes just downright scummy. I agree that some atheists are scummy but surely we are also just regular people living regular lives. Lives where religion is actually not our obsession and where we don’t go out of our way to pick fights with believers – no matter what their belief system is. Most of us aren’t like Dawkins and Hitchens – driven to a frenzy by their dislike of faith. Most of us don’t give it a second thought – until our lack of faith is used to accuse us of being immoral and less than full members of society.
Bias exists through the world – we know that is true for women and blacks and Hindus and gays and all types of people who don’t conform to the central narrative. And that includes atheist.
But that’s ten minutes.