The study from USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project, titled Change the Narrative, Change the World: How immigrant representation on television moves audiences to action, examined depictions of 129 immigrant characters from 97 episodes of 59 scripted narrative TV shows that aired between August 2018 and July 2019 – a time in which several shows, including Orange is the New Black, Madam Secretary and The Conners responded to an increase in deportations and viewer awareness of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) with immigration-based storylines.
The new study assessing the portrayal of immigrants on American television found a continued over-emphasis of criminality for immigrant characters as well as an over-proportionate focus on those who are undocumented.
One-fourth (22%) of immigrant characters on TV were associated with criminality, and 11% with incarceration down from 2018 but still out of step with real-world numbers. Studies by the Cato Institute and the Marshall Project in 2018 found that immigrants, regardless of documentation status, commit less crime than native-born Americans.
Of TV characters with an identified immigration status, 63% were undocumented immigrants or asylum seekers, compared to only 24% of American immigrants at large.