Accent Bias Remains Prevalent in Pop Culture

Edwin J. Viera | Public News Service
According to UCLA's 2022 Hollywood Diversity report, white actors made up the majority of film leads, 61.1%, in 2021. In that same year, Black actors were at 15.5% of all leads, Latino actors were 7.1% of leads, and Asian actors were 5.6% of all film leads. Multiracial actors made up 10.3% of leads, meaning they had the most proportional representation in film. Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

As television and film have become diverse, there are still some areas people feel are not being addressed.

Accent bias is one of them.

Saadia Khan, human rights activist and host of the podcast Immigrantly, grew up in Pakistan and found people belonging to certain socio-economic groups looked at how a person speaks English as a way to separate them from the masses. In the U.S., she observed it is still true.

Khan sees accent bias has permeated pop-culture, with certain accents giving a first impression of who a person might be. One thing she noted is how a hierarchy of accents developed, and the connotation of British accents.

“Pick any TV show, and you’ll see anybody who has a British accent is automatically considered more intelligent, dynamic, worldly of conversation, and smart in many ways,” Khan pointed out.

She added people without a British or French accent, on certain television shows, might seem backward or unintelligent. One show she cited is “Loot” on Apple TV, particularly the character of Jean-Pierre, played by Olivier Martinez.

According to a survey by the language tutor service Preply, British and French accents ranked as the No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, among both men and women as the most attractive accents.

According to a University of California-Los Angeles report, people of color accounted for almost 39% of leads in the top films of 2021. However, it is still disproportionate with how many people of color make up a portion of the U.S. population, which is 42.7%.

Khan believes breaking accent bias would be challenging, since it forces people to unlearn certain beliefs.

“Humans are conditioned to believe in certain things, and we can unlearn a lot of that conditioning, accent bias being one,” Khan contended. “I think the more we hear people with different accents the more normalized it gets.”

Khan added while there are more people from diverse backgrounds appearing in different forms of media, there are not enough of them who are not native English speakers. She would like to see more characters in pop culture and people in different lines of work who have accents, but are not subject to inherent cultural interpretations.