Media portrayals of racial and cultural diversity - Overview

Media speaks volumes about what is important in a society. What we see in media can have an impact on how we see other groups[1] and how we see ourselves.[2]

According to Dr. Amanpreet Brar of the University of Toronto, “[there]…is a lack of ethnic and linguistic diversity on mainstream media. This is why multicultural and ethnic media is a much-needed voice for minority communities across Canada. Along with providing language and culturally sensitive critical health information and public communication, these mediums foster a sense of culture, and community for the minority and immigrant Canadians.”[3] Since media representations grant legitimacy to certain populations by including them and treating them respectfully, fair and equal representation is critical for building a healthy multicultural society.

While there is growing demand for more and better diversity in media,[4] with figures such as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for “more representation in the stories on our screens,”[5] North American entertainment and news media are not balanced in their portrayal of racial and cultural diversity. Portrayals of racialized groups are often inadequate or non-existent and when they are portrayed, these portrayals are often stereotyped and demeaning. At the same time, Whiteness is privileged by being portrayed as the default or “mainstream”: “One distinctive feature of whiteness as ideology is that it can make itself invisible and thereby make its operations more lethal and harder to challenge.”[6]

The tendency of media to misrepresent racialized groups is particularly problematic in a culturally diverse country like Canada. While the number of racialized characters in Canadian children’s TV[7] roughly matches the percentage of what Statistics Canada calls “visible minorities,”[8] as does the number of racialized people working in the Canadian news industry,[9] these numbers can conceal the lack of authentic representation, behind-the-scenes participation and decision-making authority. Moreover, a focus on Canadian-made media can be misleading, since so many young people in Canada consume largely American media content. As a results, when we do see diversity in media, it tends to reflect American demographics, with the largest groups – South Asians and Chinese-Canadians[10] – particularly under-represented.

This section explores media representation of racialized groups and outlines common stereotypes these groups face. It also examines the barriers and obstacles encountered by racialized groups ‘behind the scenes’ in news and entertainment media, and provides a glimpse into diverse media production. Finally, Canadian media diversity policies are outlined and potential next steps for balanced and more realistic media portrayals of racialized groups are identified.


[1] Schmader, T., Block, K., & Lickel, B. (2015). Social identity threat in response to stereotypic film portrayals: Effects on self‐conscious emotion and implicit ingroup attitudes. Journal of Social Issues, 71(1), 54-72.

[2] Ward, L. M. (2004). Wading through the stereotypes: positive and negative associations between media use and black adolescents' conceptions of self. Developmental Psychology, 40(2), 284.

[3] Brar, A (2021). As Canadians we’re proud of diversity, so why is multicultural media being left in the dark about COVID-19. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from

[4] (2021) Representation in Action Trend Report. YPulse.

[5] Trudeau, J. [@JustinTrudeau] (2021, April 13). For years, @KimsConvenience  has celebrated diversity and championed inclusion. Although the show ends tonight, and we have to say “okay, see you” to @SimuLiu and the entire Kim family one last time, let’s continue to #SeekMore representation in the stories on our screens [Tweet]. Twitter.   

[6] Gopal, Priyamvada. (2020) “We can’t talk about racism without understanding whiteness.” The Guardian. Retrieved from

[7] Lemish, D., & Russo Johnson, C. (2019) The Landscape of Children’s Television in the US & Canada. Center for Scholars & Storytellers

[8] (2016) Immigrant population in Canada, 2016 Census of Population. Statistics Canada. Retrieved from

[9] (2021) Canadian Newsroom Diversity Survey. Canadian Association of Journalists. Retrieved from

[10] Statistics Canada. (n.d.) Visible Minority, Gneeration Status, Age and Sex for the Population in Private Households in Canada, Provinces and Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas and Census Agglomerations, 2016 Census. Retrieved from