Li Lai wanted a resource to suss out media, but it didn’t exist. So she made it.
Master of None scored an A- on Mediaversity. Image: Netflix
When it comes to movie reviews, there are plenty of resources that can tell you the most critically-acclaimed films and popular flicks. But what about when it comes to how woke they are?
Enter Mediaversity, a website that reviews TV and movies based on how well they represent diverse gender, race, and LGBTQ characters and stories, created by Li Lai, a graphic designer from New York.
"What really solidified this idea for me was last year when I was watching Oscar nominees and critically-acclaimed TV shows," Lai told me over the phone. "Right in a row I watched Narcos, Game of Thrones, and The Revenant. All of them had awful portrayals of women."
She was surprised that all of these highly-praised works were so tone deaf. Lai hopped online to look up reviews that might elucidate this aspect of media, as well as diverse representations of race and LGBTQ characters and stories. But she realized there was a dearth of information. There are plenty of resources if you want to know how entertaining a movie is, or how artistic, or how clever the dialogue is. But it's a lot harder to find out whether or not the only time women appear onscreen is in rape scenes.
So, nine months ago, Lai decided to create Mediaversity, a labor of love which she said she currently has no plans to monetize. Though, like all reviews, the ratings are subjective, Mediaversity has a guideline for how Lai and her fellow reviewers—a diverse team of friends and bloggers—measure a show's representation success, and uses a letter grading system from A+ to F.
Each review takes into account quality and representations of gender, race, and LGBTQ characters and stories, and adds bonus points when warranted. For example, Master of None, Aziz Ansari's Emmy-winning Netflix series, scored an A- overall. The reviewer gave it a 5/5 in the race category for its diverse casting and storytelling, but a 4/5 in gender since some of Dev's love interests are pretty two-dimensional.
"It's a soft science, I would say," Lai told me. "That's also why I like to include emojis [representing] the reviewer. It's just as important to say who is reviewing this to know where they're coming from."
Lai also likes to do more data-fueled analyses, like her comparison of representation on The Daily Show when hosted by Trevor Noah versus Jon Stewart. Though she's able to get access to some publically available data, Lai told me she also gathers date herself by watching shows, timing speakers, and noting guests.
There's a growing public awareness about the lack of diverse representation in media, and the whitewashing of popular culture. Despite this, studies have shown Hollywood hasn't been quick to expand its horizons (even though it's been shown that diverse casting increases box office potential). That's why having one voice in the oversaturated review space focus specifically on this aspect is a useful tool.
But Lai told me the point is not to discourage viewers from watching any particular show. In fact, one of her favorite shows—HBO's Silicon Valley—scored a D. She just wants viewers to have more information at their fingertips when making decisions about what to consume.
"The point is not to denigrate, but to be a resource because I have my own ideas about what would add value to the cultural landscape, and this is one of those things," Lai said. "Sometimes I love a show but they really suck at this."
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