What is Tokenism?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines tokenism as something that a person or organization does that seems to support or help a group of people who are treated unfairly in society, such as giving a member of that group an important or public position, but which is not meant to make changes that would help that group of people in a lasting way; the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines it as the policy or practice of making only a symbolic effort (as to desegregate); and the Collins Dictionary defines it as the practice of making only a token effort or doing no more than the minimum, especially in order to comply with a law


In contemporary words, tokenism is when someone or an institution is trying hard to seem “woke” and inclusive, yet that is nothing more than a façade to avoid getting #CANCELLED. Why would anyone get cancelled because of it? Well, if you haven’t been living under a rock since 2016, you might be aware that society has realized the constant white representation in several industries, especially the entertainment industry. These last seven years have been absolute chaos in social media with people arguing about what is appropriate and what isn’t. Not only that, but what is politically correct and what is unacceptable. While some social justice warriors may seem crazy or might be portrayed in the media as irrational, some socially aware gen-zers might be on to something. Think about it, yes, the film industry began in France and other than Bollywood, European countries and the US continue to lead the film industry and since it began, most actors are Caucasian, but not every character is. 


As viewers have an increasing demand for inclusivity with speeches about why representation matters, many productions have felt forced to appear inclusive, even when they couldn’t care any less about change. Therefore, netizens began questioning such practices and opened dialogue about tokenism. Personally, as much as I want to see accurate inclusion and representation in the film industry, I want it to be genuine and so do other millennial or gen-z viewers. 


Nonetheless, what is the problem with tokenism anyway? I would argue modern day consumers hate to be lied to for so long, now they can’t stand fake people. It looks like nowadays people expect celebrities and creators to be #REAL. Watchers are uncomfortable when the film industry apparently includes people of all backgrounds no matter their race, gender, sexual preference, economic status, or religious believes; when, in fact, this inclusion vacancy is only open to one or two characters/performers. 


Productions use these people as a symbol of non-discrimination. However, the institution is not doing anything to change the status of disregarded minorities into a more accepting industry with opportunities for all. A perfect example is Natalie Portman, who continuously whines about award ceremonies discriminating against female directors and the film industry’s lack of opportunities for women in directing or producing roles, yet she owns a production company called, Handsomecharlie Films, where all film directors are men. 

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