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Nadra Kareem Nittle

Are the Interracial Couples in Movies and TV Shows Realistic?

By March 6, 2011

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The award-winning 2008 film "Rachel Getting Married" features not one, but two interracial couples. Yet, the subject of race never surfaces. Everyone in their Connecticut town simply embraces the mixed-race unions. But is such a portrayal realistic? According to the film's screenwriter Jenny Lumet:

"People don't sit around talking about, we're black people and we're going to talk about the nature of blackness. Or, we're Asian and going to talk about the nature of Asian-ness," she told the Wall Street Journal. "That's just a lie and a myth. Also, I think that it's dishonest to assume that it's always an issue."

But Eric Deggans, a black man married to a white woman for two decades, would disagree with Lumet's assessment. A TV and media critic for the St. Petersburg Times, Deggans recently penned a piece for National Public Radio criticizing how mixed-race couples on TV shows very rarely discuss race or face adversity. These portrayals suggest that we've moved into a post-racial society, when all one has to do is drop by a conservative rally and take in the hateful comments about President Obama to know that race remains a thorny issue in America. So, by featuring interracial couples who don't get stared at in public or have disapproving parents, Deggans posits that network television avoids the subject of race. He uses Crosby and Jasmine, a couple featured on NBC's "Parenthood" made up of a white man and a black woman, as a case in point.

"Crosby and Jasmine don't discuss their racial and cultural differences," Deggans writes. "They go to an awkward premarital counseling session at Jasmine's mom's church that leads to a blowout fight when they get home. We never learn if the church is a black church, or whether Crosby feels uncomfortable there."

Of course, interracial couples discuss their differences. That's a given, especially if one person in the couple has family members who aren't fluent in English or practice customs largely unfamiliar to the other. And in the case of a mixed black-white couple, the subject of hair is likely to come up, as the white partner may have little idea how to style and care for their children's hair.

While racial and cultural differences do come up among interracial couples, just as they do among friends of different races, I disagree that they're at the forefront of such relationships. That's because two people in love likely aren't viewing each other through a constant racial lens. They view each other as individuals--not as "my Jewish girlfriend" or "my Chinese husband," so it makes sense to me that race would play a secondary role in the lives of mixed couples on television. And if such couples have disapproving family members or get strange looks from people on the street on occasion, they don't spend all their time discussing these slights.

Deggans has been in an interracial marriage for almost 20 years, but during that time the number of interracial couples has grown. Today, about 1 in 6 marriages are interracial, the New York Times reports. Perhaps the world is a bit kinder to mixed couples than it was when Deggans wed his white wife. After all, Deggans wonders if Jasmine and Crosby attend a black church or a white church. Did it ever occur to him that they attend a multiethnic church? Such churches have been on the rise since the 1990s, so maybe race really wasn't an issue for the couple during that scene.

I'm not dismissing Deggans entirely. He does have a point. Television shows and movies often portray interracial couples using extremes. Either race is the focal point of a mixed couple's existence or not a factor at all. The reality is somewhere in-between, and it would be nice if popular culture illustrated this from time to time. Why not show a white dad struggling to comb his biracial black daughter's hair or a Latino-Asian couple arguing over the best way to prepare a meal? Race isn't always a scary subject.










Comments

March 7, 2011 at 3:25 pm
(1) Michelle says:

Hmmm this raises the questions that I had about the popular British comedy, Love Actually. While I can say that interracial relationships in reality are not uncommon in the UK I still thought it was very interesting to see relationships between blacks and whites to be so accepting without so much as a word with regard to race. I was also told that this film was the third in a series and that the first two films did not feature much racial diversity in London of all places.
Having said that one of the white female characters who married a black man was often seen wondering about the relationship she could have had with his best friend who happened to be white.
There used to be a time when you only saw that one black couple at the party or whatever and now it’s cool to have the mixed couple but it’s usually white/Asian, white/Hispanic or white/mixed race.

We want to say that everything is cool with relationships between black and white on screen but those relationships tend to be with people who are not main characters. Sometimes what is seen on tv is not as realistic as they may try to convince us. We still have a long way to go.

March 7, 2011 at 3:49 pm
(2) Luna says:

As both a mixed race kid and someone in an interracial relationship, I agree that when you see people in movies sitting around and talking about race that is not very realistic. That is not to say that it doesn’t matter, but my parents had much deeper issues, like the fact that there was a 22 year age difference and the were from different parts of the country.

Race was always more of an issue for my dad’s family than my mom’s because they felt he should not have married a white woman. I would love to see more mixed race couples in movies and TV, and I would also like to see what you suggested; a white father struggling with a curly haired daughter or the like is a great example of how we can learn and grow!

March 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm
(3) Jennifer says:

I think Crosby and Jasmine’s charters on Parenthood are dead on. They did discuss race. It was also discused between Crosby and his parents also. I thought Parenthood showed how mainstream liberal america deals with interracial. Once that grandchild comes into the picture, things always change for the grandparents because they fall in love with the brown version of them. The issue of biracial-vs-black identity has not come up yet. Only time will tell. Parenthood has some great writers, that are very diverse. So I am sure race issues will pop up as series continues. The hair issue is not a factor with boys with short hair. The identity issue comes up at an older age than 6. I grew up in Hyde Park in Chicago which consisted of many mixed families with mixed kids of all ethnic groups. It is not until you move away and go to college do you clearly understand that mixed is not a racial identity. What ever minority mix one is, one should identify as the minority i.e. white+black=Black, white+asian=Asian and Black+Asian=Blasian.

March 7, 2011 at 6:16 pm
(4) MINOGOT says:

I AM A BLACK WOMAN MARRIED TO A WHITE AUSTRALIAN. I FIND MYSELF DEFENSIVE TOWARDS MY RACE MANY TIMES. I ALSO FEEL GUILTY WHEN I MEET MY FELLOW BLACKS, LIKE I BETRAYED MY RACE..WHEN WE GO TO FUNCTIONS I AM USUALLY THE ONLY BLACK THERE AND FEEL A BIT ISOLATED.

March 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(5) Robert says:

Hmmm…. This one got me thinking… As a gay person do I expect my life to be respected by TV producers and writers? As a person who has been in 2 interracial relationships do I expect TV producers and writers to understand and then convey the subtly of dynamics that maybe occurring in my relationships? As a person who has been in relationships with partners from different races, ethnicities, class, religions and regions (I am a new Englander, who lives in Los Angeles CA… and people for the west coast still baffle me… high levels of entitlement, low work ethic, lack of intellectual astuteness or curiosity) … have I ever thought TV shows painted realistic portraits of my life… or of anyone’s life…

Nope. When I was 12-13… I learnt Roman Dictators kept the population happy with “Bread and Circuses”… I also realized TV was our version of the Roman Circus. There to lull the population…. TV Shows and Hollywood Movies are fabricated fantasies designed to… make producers lots and lots of money.

They are not mirrors of my life or of anyone’s life. They are distortions of reality and escapist designed by mainly white men with aspirations of great wealth. They support the current capitalist/consumerism culture. Malcom McSomebody once said the medium is the message. He should have said… those who control the medium… control the message…

March 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm
(6) Robert says:

And in truth… I am beginning to think “race” is a red herring. Like abortion, Gay Marriage and TV itself. These are keeping us distracted while Wall Street, Bankers and power elite have: (1) Re-written all the banking laws to favor the wealthy. (2) Dismantled all the safe guards which were erected after the Depression of 30’s. (3) Shipped all middle class manufacturing jobs over seas. (4) Keep the tax laws written in such a way that the largest corporation pay the least in taxes (while getting government subsidies and tax payer bail outs.

On TV detective shows… don’t they usually say something like, “Follow the money”

Maybe that is what we as the American middle: black, white, Asian, Jew, christian, straight, gay, whatever… maybe we all need to follow the money… cause in the end… it sort of looks like we all are getting screwed.

And why if Obama supporting dismantling getting rid of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac… which is the institutions that provided millions of American families with low cost 30 year mortgages… black, white, asian, jewish, hispanic, families… all got them… there was a problem… but getting rid of Freddie and Fanny sounds to me like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

March 10, 2011 at 1:20 pm
(7) Fairuza M. says:

I think there are too many storylines that feature women of colour linked romantically with whites. I am not opposed to IR relationships as I am in one but it would be nice to see same race non-white relationships that are portrayed in a positive light. You can best believe that if there is an attractive woman of colour in a storyline she will not be with a man of her race. What I tend to see are black, Hispanic and Asian women paired with white men or when they want to spark up a storyline they put her with a white woman. Suddenly the woman of colour becomes confused about her sexual identity. It’s as if the love can not be there unless it’s with someone who is white.
Another thing that I have seen with IR couples is that the person of colour is usually someone who does not identify with their own culture until the storyline calls for racial tension. For example you can have an Asian person in the story whose whole identity is white in every way and then comes a bigot who says or does something that makes that person question, “is it because I am Asian (black, Hispanic, Middle-Eastern). This person lived in a fantasy world until the wrong person came along to make them question who or what they were.
So yes I do believe that a lot of IR couples in film/televison are unrealistic. It’s good to see more IR couples in storylines but some realism could be there and especially in this country.

March 21, 2011 at 3:51 pm
(8) David Fredericks says:

Most people no longer consider a alchemy or a flat earth to be realities of life. How long are we going to talk about “race” as though it represents reality? Among hominids, there is but one species: “Homo Sapiens.” Skin color or national origin does not constitutute a unique genotype.

Race refers to a social construct, not a human classification.

March 22, 2011 at 10:10 pm
(9) sarah says:

Its so important to see white men in love with black women because it was the start of our society in the south. Most importantly why just because there is finally a relationship with a black woman and a white guy did white women get upset and demand that on the same show of Parenthood there is now a white girl with a black guy. We always see white girls with with black men. Lets see the more realistic in trend relationship of black women being loved by white men.

March 27, 2011 at 7:24 pm
(10) Jasmine says:

The two main “problems” I have found with this subject is that it’s always, or most of the time, a black man and a white woman, even in news team-ups, commercials, ect, and when it is introduced it’s never challenged or even a problem with others in the show/movie. In real life it is. Not just on a ‘racist’ view either. Most African/american women are sick of it as well. “A black woman couldn’t be in that role?” African American women are protrayed as bitches, loud and unruly. Hollywood really needs to get off this fetish of theirs because we are starting to turn these shows off. Black men with black women. It would seem the only ones enjoying watching these are black men. I assure you me and my friends, many who are white women, are tired of it.

May 22, 2011 at 7:57 pm
(11) Nava says:

I want to see interracial relationships portrayed realistically which means you have to talk about race.

The film, Something New is a great guide to how interracial relationships should be portrayed.

The only reason so far I haven’t seen a tv show not really go in depth with it is because the show isn’t about those characters and the IR couple are so minor to the storyline that no one even notices.

But sometimes, rarely, a tv show will briefly touch upon the subject such as in ER, when Benton had trouble telling his family about Corday and his family were kinda shocked when they found out. In fact, because the producers didn’t portray it any more realistic other than that, Eriq La Salle asked for the writers to end the character’s relationship because they weren’t making it real enough.

As a child who is half black and half white, and interested in white men, I think its important to admit the reality that race still matters and that people do stare. The fact that most of these comments were white washing the real world indicates to me that they are victims of what the tv tells them and so far, the tv makes things out to be better than the real world.

The fact that none of you see the importance race plays in a relationship is a sign that we need to insert more situations of race issues to remind the viewer that IR relationships are not easy and require extra work.

Now, does race define the relationship? No, well, depending on where you live. There are other problems, but every now and then there will be a white person that will see a black and a white holding hands and give a dirty look. There will be a black guy that shouts out to the black woman “race traitor”.

It doesn’t have to be overt or a major race discussion type episode. It just has to be subtle.

July 28, 2011 at 2:33 am
(12) Kiki says:

It might be being overlooked here slightly, but the fact of the matter is that couples (no matter what color they are) either do or don’t have on-screen chemistry. You might like to see more interracial couples who have “realistic” relationships, but guess what, it’s not real it’s fantasy created by writers who had specific ideas about the nature of the relationships they were creating. Maybe you don’t like the portrayal of black/white couples on Parenthood as much as you did in Something New because you think the script wrote in some dialogue or events that were “proof” enough for you to believe the viability of such a relationship in real life. In fact, it’s more the duty of the directors and actors to make you believe in the story than the screenwriters. If the screenwriters write a script that’s one sentence long such as, “A black woman and a white man fall in love.” Is it unrealistic just because it doesn’t also say, “The white man’s mother disapproved”?

Many contemporary television shows and feature films have “issues” such as race, sexuality, ability, morality, etc… And just as everyone has their own unique opinion what the “right” answer is for those issues, everyone will also have their own opinion on what is the “right” way to display those issues on screen. Whatever the “right” answer is, I can assure you it’s got a much more complicated solution than having a white parent struggle to do their multiracial child’s hair.

July 29, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(13) LaRhue says:

Any efforts to explain an interracial couple’s relationship lends credence to the avid racist. Explanations aren’t needed if the couple love one another. I argue that love should supercede archaic racist viewpoints. American society is painfully trying to move forward on the racial issue, however the lingering minority of racist white males contiunes to slow the progress down. I suggest a show on the history of the unsolved murders of black males in the U.S. with particular attention paid to the carnival atmosphere that existed during the time of the lynchings. Examine some of the myths that racist white males perpetuated, develop stories about the barbaric mutilation practices done by racist whites in the united states. The latter of the aforementioned options stems from historical fact. The grandchildren of these racist whites are still alive today. Interview them and let them explain the racist family dynamic that existed during their coming of age.

September 23, 2011 at 2:06 pm
(14) Renee says:

Being that I am a bw married to a wm
I say who gives a flying crap what people think
If two people love one another there’s nothing more to be said
Many people that have their block head views on this probably wwant to ask a bw or wm or whatever the race may be but
Don’t have the guts to do it…my husband and I were introduced by a mutual friend and since that first date well
Over ten years ago now….we haven’t been apart since
Its just that four letter word just four little letters and that
Word is. Love

December 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm
(15) CS says:

I’ve been in an interracial relationship for almost a decade. In addition to that we both are foreign born and immigrated to the US but maintain our first language and culture. I don’t really notice it as it feels natural to my boyfriend and I. We rarely discuss race, aside from perhaps me joking that I can’t drive because I’m an Asian female when I want him to drive instead. I think racism and IR issues will only continue to be a problem if people keep focusing on race and insisting that it’s an issue. For example, I don’t understand why conservatives criticising Obama is automatically racist. Are liberals criticizing Bush racist as well? I was raised conservative but am now more socially liberal – the conservative dislike for Obama has nothing to do with race, but those who consistently play the race card will inevitably make it so at least in their minds. Not every like or dislike issue boils down to race as some race card players would like to have people think. Every race receives its share of racism, I grew up in the inner city where children would try to speak to me in “Ching Chang Chong” and I would be called white washed if I were to date a white man – as if there’s something wrong with white men. I didn’t let it affect me though as race doesn’t define me – it’s a minor aspect of me. I’m a human who happened to be born in Asia. If someone has a problem with that, it’s their issue not mine.

February 28, 2012 at 4:47 pm
(16) Staal says:

My opinion may come as a surprise to some people. I am young, under 21 just so that you know I am one of the new generation, and not an “old fart” as some people will want to cast me as. I am not religious either. But I am both shocked and horrified by the false and undesirable presentation popular media is foisting on us about interracial relationships.

I harbour no ill-feeling to non-whites but I cringe whenever I see a mixed-race couple. Especially if there are children. I love myself, my fair skin, hair and eyes. I want my group to prosper and survive. Widespread interracial relationships is literally genocide to such a desire.

The worst is that the Left of the political spectrum can utilise every ounce of media muscle to brainwash young people into believing that there is no intrinsic value in their unique and precious identity and that interracial dating/mating is morally superior than preserving what you are, your unique identity. All the while any opposing opinion is ruthlessly suppressed in the political and public sphere as “bigoted”, “racist” etc. I just want to see my group survive but supposedly that is evil.

It is a sad day indeed when a race loses its desire to live and disappears with a whimper.

June 13, 2013 at 3:08 pm
(17) Lily says:

I completely disagree with someone like Staal. I do see people like him cringing at my marriage as I walk by him in the store or at the airport though. It infuriates me.

I think there is no merit in being proud of what color you were born as. That doesn’t have anything to do with what food you like or what your culture is. I have no desire in the world for white people to prosper above other races. I think that is clearly racist.

It is not genocide to white race anymore than any other race. Race itself is used to divide us so we can allow ourselves to not give a rat’s ass about each other, and I would be fine if we were all the same color. I do not prefer the company of someone who shares my race, though I do notice when I am treated differently because of my race or my husband’s race. I’d like for that to not be an issue.

This generation will never have an issue with finding someone of their own race. The next generation will likely not have that issue either as only 1/6 couples are mixed race by statics.

But the good thing is by the time the majority of the word’s people are open to racial mixing, the new generation will mostly be over their “I’m proud of my fair skin, and that’s my precious identity right there” as that will be a dated concept. And if they really want to find other white people, they can do so in less diverse areas that choose to segregate themselves. I know as my family immigrated here, they were able to find other Swedish people to marry. They had their segregated neighborhoods and didn’t worry about what other people were doing with people of other races.

There is nothing wrong with my marriage and there is nothing wrong with us having kids. People like Keanu Reeves, Alicia Keys, President Obama, Halle Berry, Dwayne Johnson, Cameron Diaz, Lenny Kravitz, Rashida Jones, Tiger Woods, Mariah Carey, and Vin Diesel are doing just fine as mixed race humans.

June 13, 2013 at 3:09 pm
(18) Lily says:

But regarding the the realistic dynamics of mixed race relationships… it’s typically only an issue because other people do things that stir up anger in us. When a few white guys threaten my husband because they don’t like seeing us together, that makes me angry. When an old asian lady stares at us at the airport, it makes me angry. When someone comments about my yellow fever and calls it a fad, I get angry. Otherwise, any couple can have parents who don’t speak a lot of English or whatever, and that isn’t about race. I could speak Chinese, you don’t know. They could speak English very well, you don’t know.

If you don’t know how to style hair of your mixed race kid, oh well… youtube has plenty of videos to help with that. Nobody is born with the knowledge of hair styling. I personally still don’t know how to manage my own hair “correctly”. I didn’t come with a handbook on course thick curly hair. That knowledge does not come with the racial identity. Many black women have hairdressers deal with their hair, or they shave it off. My mom never knew how to style my hair right either, and just because she was also white didn’t mean we had the same type of hair. She had straight thick course hair and my father had curly soft hair, so my hair is in between those hair types.

And most of my friends are open to dating outside their race, so it’s not a huge issue in our circle of people. The issue is that I am in a diverse area, and even in that case, some strangers still feel the need to now and then make it clear to me that they don’t approve. Well, screw you bigots. And you can say you are not a bigot, but since you think race matters so much, I say you are. Get over it. You may think I am purely white, but I did a genetics test that shows that I am actually 16% middle eastern on my Swedish side. Most people could learn a lot of about their multiracial heritage if they opened their eyes.

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March 28, 2014 at 8:30 am
(20) Michael says:

Statistics show that black/white couples make up only 1% of the population. 75% of those marriages end in divorce. Yet, every Hollywood program seems to have at least one black/white couple in it’s mix. Why does Hollywood have to perpetuate a myth that everyone knows and is friends with a mixed race couple. I don’t really care. Except, blacks only make up 13% of the population of the US, Latinos make up over 14%, and black/white couples make up 1%. Why the push?

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