Define American has released “Telling Authentic Immigrant Stories: A Reference Guide for the Entertainment Industry,” a best practices’ guide in telling immigrant stories, with a focus on film and television.
The guide is aimed at individual content creators, as well as production companies and studios at large, and it features detailed descriptions, definitions, historical timelines and dates, and other resources about specific communities. There is an emphasis on such still-evolving topics as DACA and, in partnership with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and International Refugee Assistance Project, global climate displacement.
“Our research shows that immigrants continue to be underrepresented on screen. As such, Hollywood has a unique opportunity, a unique power, and a unique responsibility to meet the moment and make meaningful cultural change by authentically and accurately telling the disparate stories of our country,” said Jose Antonio Vargas, founder, Define American. “We are making great strides forward with more diverse and equitable hiring in front of and behind the camera, more inclusive stories, more immigrant writers, but we still have much work to do. We encourage content creators at every level to use this guide as a starting point in that journey.”
The new guide centers six key things for those creating and/or greenlighting new content to consider. First among them is hiring more immigrants in the writers’ room and on the crew and casting them too so their perspectives can be heard and considered for the storytelling. Additionally, the guide suggests engaging with immigrant communities to get an even wider and deeper range of perspectives, seeking expert opinions, focusing stories on universal themes, being sensitive to risk and privacy and empowering immigrant characters to control their own narratives (rather than telling tales of white saviorism, for example).
The new guide also points out that not all immigrants are Latine, incorporating data and key findings from the organization’s 2020 television impact study, titled “Change the Narrative, Change the World” and published with USC Annenberg’s Norman Lear Center, to support this point. Through new partnerships with Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) and The UndocuBlack Network, the guide puts a spotlight on AAPI and Black immigrants, noting they are still grossly underrepresented on TV at the moment. AAPI immigrants, for example, comprise 12% of immigrants on TV even though the study shows they represent 26% of the U.S. immigrant population.
It also dives into preferred terms, such as “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant” and offers arguments for moving away from stereotypes such as “the good immigrant,” “the marriage miracle” or only telling fear-based stories (such as immigrant characters worrying they will be deported). The guide includes a timeline of immigration law’s history and some other government and geography-based facts important pieces of the immigration narrative.
Define American is a media advocacy and culture change organization that has consulted on more than 100 film and television projects, including ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” the CW’s “Roswell, New Mexico” and the former NBC sitcom “Superstore.” The organization releases studies and guides periodically and also provides grants that prioritize undocumented and formerly undocumented artists.