Arafeh Reflects on Gang Depictions in Pop Culture

by Alia Arafeh

Culture Editor

During the quarantine, I have watched many shows with varying plots and protagonists, one of which was Peaky Blinders. This Netflix original, which glorifies an Irish gang and depicts its members as the “good guys,” quickly became one of my favorite shows. However, after becoming more aware of racial disparities and diverse representation in media, I now realize that casting a positive light on white gangsters while demonizing African American, Latino, Chinese, or any other gangsters demonstrates a form of racism that the media embeds in American thought. 

The media constantly idolizes and romanticizes white gangs. For example, many movies depict the notorious gangster Al Capone as a classy gang boss. These movies portray the gang lifestyle as desirable; the members are rich and present themselves with confident elegance. In some cases, such as in Peaky Blinders, the gang actually helps the community. It is a Robin Hood-type story in which gang members steal from the rich to help the poor. In all of these positive portrayals, the gangs are overwhelmingly white. Even I will admit that I enjoy watching these sort of shows. They take a stand against the government and the police and they show how the “bad guys” aren’t always that bad. 

Still, the problem is not that the media praises bad behavior, but that the media only praises it when those who behave badly are white. There are many that, rather than glorify them, they demonize gangs and illustrate them as dangers to society. Often the bad guys in spy movies or in many popular TV shows are African American or Chinese gangs. The protagonists defeat the gang leader and bring the other members to justice. This applies not just to gangs, but also to villains in general. They are very often Middle Eastern, Black, or Chinese. These stereotypes appear frequently in the media, and they are very harmful to the way society perceives people of color. When the only representation is negative, the idea that people of color are the “bad guys” in real life, as well as in movies and shows, is perpetuated. It is especially bad because of how movies show that white gangs are good and any other gangs are evil.

The way that the media represents people of color has an impact on the way people perceive them in real life. It would be great to see a show similar to Peaky Blinders that has a more diverse cast rather than one that consists of mainly white people. Hollywood needs to do better at representing many colors and cultures, but gang representation is one step that directors and producers can take to promote a more positive portrayal for people of color.

(Source: Netflix)

Categories: Opinion, Web Exclusive

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