What do audiences in Australia think about their portrayal in TV shows and movies?

As part of its Reflecting Me: Global Representation on Screen study, Paramount Insights surveyed 15,000 people aged 13 to 49 in 15 countries around the world – over 1,000 of them in Australia – and asked about representation and diversity.

From this research, here are key findings about Australians’ perceptions of their on-screen representation:

Australians want better representation. In Australia, just 48% of those surveyed were satisfied with their level of representation on screen. There was also an overwhelming desire for greater representation, with 84% demanding more diversity.

Lack of representation is felt more among certain groups. Sadly, almost a quarter of Australians said they felt poorly represented on screen. Of those, 36% attributed it to race and ethnicity. Among First Nations people who feel poorly represented, that number was 69% – and it was higher still among those from an Asian, African, Middle Eastern or Oceanian background (84%).

Some (16%) felt their sexual orientation was poorly represented. This climbed to 56% among Australians who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Gender identity was a reason for 9%; among transgender Australians it was 46%.

About 1 in 4 said their age was a basis for feeling poorly represented, rising to 71% among teens.

Australians are more complex than a checkbox. Because individual lived experiences rarely fit neatly into boxes, the survey was structured to provide a nuanced understanding of misrepresentation. For example, 68% of Australians with a disability who feel poorly represented said it was for a reason other than their disability. They were just as likely to say it was due to their race or ethnicity, their sexual orientation, or even their income level.

Representation can’t be solved with tokenism. While increasing the amount of representation is obviously an important first step, accuracy is crucial. Among Australians who feel poorly represented, more than half believe this must improve, citing errors in accents, income levels, and portrayals of home life.

Appearances matter. This study also looked at attitudes towards appearance. Australian women were twice as likely as men to say they felt poorly represented because of their body type. This can have damaging effects; seven in 10 Australians who feel poorly represented reported that it made them feel unimportant, ignored, or disappointed, half said it impacted their self-esteem and confidence, and one in three felt it has affected their mental or physical health.

Things have gotten worse for the poorly represented. Some may argue things are getting better, but Australians feel otherwise. Among those who feel poorly represented, more think representation has gotten worse (23%) rather than better (15%) in the past year.

Good representation has the power to create positive change. It’s clear that the media industry can do a better job of connecting with all Australians. Outside of personal relationships, this research found media representation to be the next most important influence in ensuring more positive attitudes towards various groups and communities – even more important than what family and friends think. That is an immense responsibility. And a staggeringly important opportunity.