Religious Americans Think Media Can Do a Better Job of Representing Their Religions
How do religious Americans feel about the way their religion is represented in media?
This was a key question in our latest study, Reflecting Me: Religious Representation in Media, which is part of our Content for Change initiative. This research is based on a quantitative online survey of a core representative sample of almost 3,200 TV content consumers in the US aged 13 to 64, with an additional oversample of over 3,000 respondents in key religious segments.
This study is part of an overall body of work called “Reflecting Me.” In partnership with Paramount’s Office of Global Inclusion and Content for Change, these projects explore the state of representation in TV and film and behind the camera, and the impact it has on our audiences.
Here’s some of what we learned:
Religious Americans want to see their religion portrayed in media – but many are dissatisfied with what they’ve seen. In the US, most religious people (57%) feel it’s important to see their religion represented in the entertainment they watch. However, 52% of them think their religion is represented poorly. Of those who have seen their religion represented in media, over half (54%) believe that TV shows and movies have a bias against their religion. In general, religious people are twice as likely to say that media representation of their religion has gotten worse over the last 5 years (30%) rather than better (15%).
Many religious Americans would like to improve the quality and quantity of their religion’s representation in media. Close to half of religious Americans (47%) feel their religion is not represented enough in TV shows and movies and 42% feel their religion is often represented inaccurately. The way those who have seen their religion in TV shows or movies use a range of attributes to describe its portrayal – old-fashioned (27%), friendly (25%), conservative (24%), judgmental (24%), and calm (22%).
TV shows and movies are more successful at portraying what religions looks like from the outside than at capturing their diversity and nuances. Religious Americans who have seen their religion represented in TV shows or movies believe these aspects are portrayed well – their places of worship (53%), the ways their homes are decorated for holidays (52%), the way they pray (49%), and the way they celebrate religious rituals (47%). The aspects of their religion that they consider to be poorly portrayed are its racial diversity (30%), showing people in realistic/non-stereotypical ways (29%), and the political viewpoints that people tend to have (28%).
For better and for worse, religious representation impacts how religious Americans feel. When seeing their religion represented on screen, religious Americans feel positive emotions (58%) as well as negative ones (50%). The most common positive emotions are happy, proud, inspired, loved, and confident. The most common negative emotions are disappointed, frustrated, uncertain, sad, and embarrassed.
Poor representation affects the way religious Americans live their lives. Almost half of religious people in the US who have seen their religion represented poorly in TV shows or movies (46%) feel that the way their religion is portrayed in TV shows/movies often makes them feel embarrassed to admit their religion. Overall, 80% of this group feels that some aspect of their life is affected by how their religion is represented in TV shows and movies – with the most common aspects being their willingness to outwardly identify with their religion (36%), their mental or physical health (28%), their self-esteem (28%), and the media they choose to consume (23%).
Good representation makes religious Americans feel more confident and healthier. Among religious people in the US who have seen their religion well-represented on screen, 75% feel that some aspect of their life is affected by how their religion is represented in tv shows and movies – with the main aspects being their self-esteem (35%), willingness to outwardly identify with their religion (32%), mental or physical health (28%), and relationships (21%).