Film Forward

One Unique Review Site Can Help You Find The Most Inclusive Shows To Watch This Fall

"If I can challenge one person to think differently about the show they're watching, then I will consider this project a success."

Before you watch a new movie or TV series, you're likely to look up a few reviews, to find out what critics and fellow viewers are saying. Those reviews may give grades or star values to the titles based on the quality of their story, acting, and style. But what about how a show or film fares in terms of diversity?

As reports continue to emerge about the disappointing state of racial and gender equality in Hollywood, many viewers wish to show their support for media that tells diverse stories. It's useful, then, to have a place where that diversity is analyzed on an individual basis.

That's where Mediaversity Reviews comes in. The site was founded last year by New York-based "visual designer and data nerd" Li Lai. Along with contributors Mimi Wong and Monique Jones, Lai reviews current media according to how inclusive it is for women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and more.

"Like many people, I was always a heavy consumer of media growing up," Lai told A Plus. "But as a woman of color, I didn't get to see myself on screen very much and never felt my story being told."

Lai says it was her viewing of several "poorly written rape scenes" in Game of Thrones, Narcos, and The Revenant — all in a short period of time — which sparked the idea for the site. 

"The scenes culminated in an adverse reaction from me, and more than anything, I wanted a one-stop resource where I could look up media before watching in order to see how they fare on the treatment of underrepresented people," she said. "It didn't exist, so I started Mediaversity after that."

Mediaversity Reviews considers everything from women's screen time to how proportionate a work's ethnic and LGBTQ representation is to the real world. The site also points out how inclusive a show or movie's creators are while giving bonus points for positive depictions of age, disability, or body image. There's also a section for quality, which considers the consensus on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic for a "less biased rating." The site even made diversity-focused picks for this year's Emmy Awards.

Lai says she wants the reviews to be "nutritional facts for media," encouraging viewers to consider the film and television they consume in the same way they might shop for groceries — by making conscious choices and recognizing when something isn't so good for them (or the culture at large).

"You check to see if it's organic or locally sourced and your purchases are, in effect, votes for better food industry practices. Or sometimes you just really want fast food and don't care if the hamburger patties are made of pink slime," Lai told A Plus. "At Mediaversity, we're trying to bring the same level of awareness to TV and film. I might hope that viewers vote with their wallets for better writing or more diverse hiring practices, but it's enough for me if I can at least help people understand when they're eating pink slime."

And if your favorite show just so happens to be deemed "pink slime" by the site, with a D or even F rating, you're welcome to share your disagreement by tweeting at Mediaversity Reviews and starting a respectful dialogue. However, Lai encourages viewers to take the site's ratings into consideration as they continue to watch.

"I ask that readers pause for a moment, quell that defensive gut feeling, and remember that while we do account for quality in our reviews, our metrics are heavily weighted so that a low grade means the show has failed to reflect the diversity of its real world setting, either erasing or misrepresenting certain groups of people," she said. "At that point, ask yourself if you agree with our assessment and if you do, watch more proactively and notice where your favorite shows can be improved."

With the fall television season starting up, you might want to take these issues into consideration when choosing what to watch. Mediaversity Reviews has examined several returning network shows, from This Is Us to Modern Family.

Many are disappointed by the current state of diversity on television, thanks to everything from CBS' all-male leads to the cancellation of more inclusive network shows such as Pitch and Still Star-Crossed, as well as cable and streaming titles like The Get Down and Sense8. Lai, however, sees it as "part of a longer-term process" that will happen in "fits and starts."

"The fall TV season reflects how difficult it can be to try and fit an increasingly fragmented society into one business model," Lai told A Plus, adding that shows will improve when creators realize "that humans generally respond to the same emotional impulses and desires, especially when consuming media."

"I'm not worried about the cancellations of inclusive shows in one fall season of television," she said. "There are just as many shows that are finding audiences, that are getting critical acclaim. So I'm more focused on building up Mediaversity during this period of fluctuation and providing a resource in media criticism that is progressive, yes, but that also values evidence over how loudly we can all shout at each other."

Check out what the site had to say about a few of the highest-rated returning shows below:

1. The Good Place, A-

This Kristen Bell afterlife comedy, which just returned to NBC for a second season, receives high marks for its depiction of female friendship and a diverse cast — not to mention how funny it is.

"The writers of The Good Place prove that you can create ridiculous, exaggerated characters without ever having to reach for flat characterizations or stereotype," Lai writes in her review, praising the show's depiction of "everyday realities that seldom make their way to mainstream sitcoms."

2. Black-ish, A-

Lai praises this ABC comedy, which returns October 3, for its truthful depiction of a central Black family — while at the same time questioning why there isn't more diversity outside the main characters. It also gets bonus points for its refreshing portrayal of older characters, through grandparents played by Laurence Fishburne and Jenifer Lewis.

"Black-ish is modern television, easy as that," Lai writes. "By bringing people of color to the creators' table, we benefit from fun, untold stories that come from a place of clear authenticity with nuances that ring like a bell."

3. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, A

Lai calls this CW musical-comedy — returning October 13 — "intersectionality in action," praising its depiction of flawed female characters, interracial relationships, and bisexuality. It also gets bonus points for tackling mental health issues.

"The driving impetus behind Crazy Ex-Girlfriend seems to be the embracing of imperfection in all human beings, and it's so cathartic to watch," Lai writes, adding, "Lord knows this is the time to recognize our human commonalities and flaws, and to find some empathy in between the labels."

You might be wondering how running a site devoted to examining diversity in media has affected Lai's outlook on the state of entertainment. She admitted to A Plus that she expected the project to be "a soul-sucking endeavor," but she has instead "been invigorated by what I've found."

"Thanks to new distribution models and the dissolving borders of video-on-demand, revelations like Get Out, Master of None, or Moonlight are reaching audiences hungry for more nourishing entertainment," Lai said. "Mainstream blockbusters are getting a breath of fresh air with female-led films like Hidden Figures or Wonder Woman. We're seeing some of the most inclusive media entertainment we've ever had, and it's exhilarating to watch firsthand."

A site like Mediaversity Reviews can be extremely useful in making sure such media continues to be created, not only by guiding socially conscious viewers to the best material, but also by changing the way people think about what they're already watching.

"My goal is simple: If I can challenge one person to think differently about the show they're watching, then I will consider this project a success," Lai said. "The more conscious we become as consumers, the more likely we are to recognize what an entrenched bias is, how they happen in reality, and why we should ask for something better. When we vote with our wallets in accordance with that awareness, entertainment media will follow."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

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