Is Seeing Really Believing? The Media’s Failure with the Homelessness Crisis

Hollywood has recently come under fire for their casting choices in movies and television as Cancel Culture has highlighted once loved films that heavily rely on inappropriate castings and portrayals of marginalized groups. Older movies, such as Gone with the Wind and Disney’s Song of the South, have since been banned from public viewings due to their insensitive depictions of race. In fact, Ben Stiller’s own film, Tropic Thunder, has been debated over whether Robert Downey Jr.’s portrayal of a Black man was controversial, despite the satirical intention. Of the many wrongs, one that Cancel Culture seems to have overlooked is portrayals of the unhoused. This stems in part from the representations of homelessness and impoverished characters in film.

According to Micah Bertoli of the organization Invisible People, the film industry often romanticizes stories of unhoused characters who fantastically achieve the “American Dream” as though it fell in their lap. Regardless of whether they are fictional or not, these stories often contain attractive characters who somehow receive aid from a good samaritan — most likely a White person — which allows them to miraculously obtain the success they always longed for. 

What’s worse, movies fail to highlight these inaccurate portrayals. Unfortunately, such stories fail from both the producers and their viewers in recognizing the staunch reality of the situation. Instead, they find themselves too captivated by the actors’ beauty and skills, applauding their abilities to go beyond lives of luxury to “accurately” portray one in hard times. 

These embellished films fail in providing the viewer with a lasting impression or desire to fix the pervasive problem seen. Characters such as Sandra Bullock’s Mrs. Tuohy in The Blind Side serve as the white knight who stepped into a situation they were not obligated to fix but chose to do so, while the disparaged character, Michael Oher (portrayed by Quinton Aaron in the film), receives praise for their unyielding tenacity, as though they had any other choice. 

The media follows this pattern, as well. Meriah Barajas from The Street Spirit argues that the unhoused are depicted through the media as either the quintessential success stories or unfortunate circumstances exacerbated by substances. Viewers are thus forced to see this marginalized group in a dehumanized manner that regards them as a statistic — numbers rather than living beings. 

Just because most unhoused individuals are not as successful as the characters depicted on the silver screen, it does not mean they’ve given up. Unfortunately, technology and sensationalism have formed a destructive pair in skewing public perceptions of the homelessness crisis. Instead of viewing this social issue as something that reflects a lack of internal care for one another, it has manipulated the minds of many into seeing it as a virus in need of cleansing. 

Change is imperative if society is to untrain itself in perceiving a component that has been lacking attention for decades. Systemic changes in social policies may have the greatest impact in legally mandating how the unhoused are treated. However, it is specifically through local communities that genuine improvement can be achieved, as they have the greatest potential to make a difference in how they regard their fellow neighbors on a daily basis. For as long as unhoused citizens or any other marginalized member of society cannot find themselves treated with respect, the “American Dream” will never be truly attainable.


How Homelessness Is Distorted in the Media

Hollywood’s Portrayal of Homelessness: For Better and For Worse

Isn’t it time films about homeless people started showing more compassion?

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