Millennials and Gen Z believe the media is responsible for the divisiveness afflicting the country by failing to represent or by misrepresenting people of color, and that the media now has an obligation to help fix the divide, according to study findings released by Fuse Media on Friday.

The newly released findings from Fuse Media’s fifth annual Fuse Multicultural Insider study, entitled “Establishing an Emotional Connection Through Empowerment,” discovered how large a role media plays in the lives of millennials and Gen Z. 82 percent say that media shapes the way the world is viewed, 81 percent feel media shapes the way they view and value themselves and others, and 73 percent believe that media influences how people perceive and treat others.

The study combined in-depth qualitative interviews with 12 thought-leaders along with a comprehensive quantitative online survey that included 1,710 respondents (379 were Generation Z, ages 16-24; 827 Millennials, ages 25-38; and 504 Generation X, ages 39-54).

A lack of representation and misrepresentation in media led to both generational groups feeling disconnected, excluded, insignificant, shameful and disenfranchised, the study noted, adding that these emotions are felt the strongest among the Hispanic community.

When asked how included they feel in American society, slightly less than half of Gen Z and millennials felt included (46 percent). These feelings of not being included increased among the younger ages of both generations, (23 percent of Gen Z vs. 13 percent of millennials and 13 percent of Gen X), and intensified among Black Gen Zers (27 percent). Additionally, 55 percent of respondents who are people of color, feel that even when represented in media, their culture is often or always misrepresented through stereotypical portrayals.

Fuse Media also found in its study that 87 percent of Gen Z and millennials feel that being represented accurately is important. People of color were 15 percent more likely than their white counterparts to feel this sentiment. When accurate representation occurs, Gen Z and millennials alike expressed feelings of happiness, inclusion, acceptance and connection.

Gen Z and millennials agreed that media has a responsibility to unify society and media should be more empowering, with two in three young adults purposefully seeking out empowering content. This sentiment was 13 percent more likely among people of color surveyed.

“While there has been plenty of discussion lately about lack of representation and misrepresentation, rarely has anyone looked underneath the hood to unpack what the impact of not seeing yourself reflected on screen really has on a person,” said Fuse Media Head of Research Michelle Auguste in a statement. “This study shows that the way they are portrayed ̶ or not portrayed – in media can have a harmful effect on young people’s psyches. Not only does it influence how they feel about themselves, but it also plays a role in how others perceive them and their culture. This lack of understanding, empathy and compassion for others is the root for the division in our country.”

70 percent of participants found the most empowering content to be a cast with an even mix of ethnicities and races. A storyline and cast representing underrepresented communities was appealing to 67 percent of study participants, and 65 percent found that a show with a lead character from a marginalized community was empowering. The consensus of those surveyed was that all marginalized groups are underrepresented, with people with disabilities being the top group in need of more representation at 39 percent and white men and women ranking last at 11 percent.

According to the study, both groups will actively support media companies that showcase content that accurately represents and empowers different cultures. 77 percent of Gen Z and millennials surveyed said seeing their culture would cause them to watch a show. However if both groups felt their culture was misrepresented, 63 percent noted they would stop watching and 52 percent would post on social media about issues with the show.

Fuse Media CEO Miguel Roggero said of the study, “As we have done for the past several years, our new thought-leadership studies continue to uncover new insights that inform our overall strategy and provide our brand partners with insights to authentically reach our important audience. From content development to brand partnerships, this study validates our mission and commitment to authentically showcase storytelling that is representative of, and empowers, underserved audiences.”

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