Film and television have long had an equal representation problem, and a new website is here to address the issue. The site, called Mediaversity, reviews films and TV shows and measures the quality of the writing as well as how well people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and women are represented.
Mediaversity was launched this past April as a passion project by Li Lai, a New York-based visual designer, who originally posted her reviews to Tumblr in December 2016. The site’s contributors review popular film and TV around 80 percent of the time, and lesser-known indie shows around 20 percent of the time. Lai, whose family is from Taiwan, tells The Verge that her social awareness is a result of “simply being alive for 32 years in this world as a woman of color and growing up with LGBTQ friends.”
The site’s grading is evidence-based but often subjective, just as film and TV reviews are. Contributors assign numerical scores on a 5-point scale to various categories like writing quality, gender, race, and LGBTQ representation. A 3 out of 5 score means that while underrepresented minorities were portrayed respectfully, they still had less screen time and complexity than their non-minority counterparts. Then, the numerical scores are averaged to give each series an overall letter score from A through F.
Lai admits that the site is often dependent on the reviewer’s perspective. She encourages readers to formulate their own scores, saying, “Since we want to empower our readers to deploy this mental framework themselves, stats like demographics, dialogue share times, and real-life comparisons are all pieces of information they can find and use themselves.”
Sometimes, Mediaversity’s scores are surprising: shows like Atlanta (B+) and Master of None (A-), that have been lauded for their representation, receive less-than-perfect scores. Li’s not afraid to call out even the best that television and film have to offer for their flaws and momentary lapses.
For instance, Wonder Woman didn’t score an A for diversity simply because it shows strong women living in an Amazonian society. Li Lai takes the all-white male team of writers to task for barely naming any of the women of color in the mythical paradise island of Themyscira and leaving out Wonder Woman’s bisexuality. As Lai puts it, Wonder Woman, as portrayed by Gal Gadot, is too perfect, and this serves to undermine real women: “It isn’t enough for me just to see a badass woman anymore—I want to see complex ones, as flawed and relatable as male superheroes are allowed to be.”
Westworld gets the site’s one and only F. I have never watched Westworld, but having seen Jeffrey Wright in trailers and promotional material, I was baffled by the score. Lai explained that even though Westworld had characters of color, she believed Westworld’s depiction of people of color getting killed and raped only encourages dangerous, negative stereotypes, which weren’t progressive at all. “Erasure is insidious, yes. But we see violence manifest against black communities every day and I think reinforced stereotyping we see on shows like Westworld contribute to that.” she said.
Although not everyone will agree with the scoring of Westworld, it’s important to note that Mediaversity is one of the only sites willing to call out a popular show that had more viewers in its first season than the first seasons of The Walking Dead or Games of Thrones.
While some may find the scoring divisive, it’s still an important tool for sparking a conversation. Every viewer should be invested in improving the film and TV landscapes, and it’s difficult to do that without some criticism. Mediaversity seems prepared to take the heat for that.