Evaluating Media for Bias

A checklist for teachers when using media in the classroom

1.  Examine the characters:

What images and messages do they send concerning race and gender?  Make comparisons of racial portrayals in the media to people you know in your own life.  What kind of similarities and differences exist?  Notice the voices of characters.  Do “bad” or evil characters have accents?  What kind of accents do the “good” characters have?

What kinds of relationships are portrayed between characters?  Observe the existence of healthy, stable relationships versus unstable, unhealthy relationships.  Are there any connections between these relationships and issues of race or gender? Look at the roles of Caucasian men.  Do they own the power, take the leadership positions, and make the important decisions?  Are females, people of color, lesbians, gays, elderly, or people with disabilities depicted as basically supporting, passive characters?

Who are the heroes/heroines of the selected media and whose interest is the hero/heroine benefiting? Ideally, heroines and heroes should be identified according to the beliefs of and strife for justice appropriate to their group; pay close attention if the character is from a parallel culture and is considered a hero or heroine simply because they have benefited the dominant, white culture.   

2.  Plot:

Notice the setting.  Are the geographical locations representative of the cultures that live there?  Are portrayals of certain cultures realistic representations of that setting?

What kinds of conflict exist in the movie, and how are problems solved? Are the problems that people of color face socially constructed?  Is an unjust society to blame for the circumstances affecting oppressed groups?  Are conflicts resolved for people of color through the generous interference of a white, middle-class male?  Does the story line encourage passive acceptance or active resistance of problems faced by people of color? 

What defines success?  Do white male behavior standards determine what it takes for a person of color or female to succeed?  Is succeeding in the dominant white society projected as the only ideal?  To gain recognition and admiration, do people of color and females have to demonstrate extraordinary qualities? 

3.  Accuracy:

Check for accuracy and authenticity in the portrayal of cultures and lifestyles.  Do the depictions offer genuine insight into the culture of the character?  Be critical of unintelligent, oversimplified or exotic depictions.  Be aware of cultures being portrayed as a novelty.  For example, are all Italian characters shown as having involvement in or connections to organized crime?  

4.  How could a child’s self-image be affected?

Could harm be done to a child’s self-concept by presentation of out of reach or impractical standards?  For example, are women depicted as underweight or objects of desire?  Are people who are overweight portrayed in negative ways?  Are people of the dominant culture portrayed as being better than or superior to people of other cultures? Every person from every culture should be portrayed as an individual with unique strengths, weaknesses, interests, lifestyles, and beliefs.

5.  Language:

Contemplate the language used in the selected media.  Examples of offensive terms include: savage, primitive, retard, Jew em down, Welsh on a bet, conniving, lazy, backward, squaw, papoose, and Indian givers.  Pay attention to sexist language that excludes or in any way degrades females.  Some words used for females that are considered derogatory are: broad, chick, and babe.  The general use of the words “man” and “he” were accepted in the past but their use today is outdated; for example: using the word firemen instead of firefighters. 

6.  The Year the Chosen Media was Made:

A recent copyright date is no guarantee of the movie’s authenticity, but movies on minority themes created in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s were usually written and directed by white males.  They often reflect a white, middle-class, mainstream point of view.