Bob Hearts Abishola, follows the story of Bob, a middle-aged compression sock businessman from Detroit, who falls for his cardiac nurse, Abishola, while he’s recovering from a heart attack. Abishola is kind, hardworking, and… relatable. She just happens to be from Nigeria. Bob pursues Abishola, she’s not really interested, and we can only assume things progress from there.
“We are all the same no matter where you're from, Africa, Europe, Asia … we all want the same things for each other,” Folake Olowofoyeku (who plays Abishola) tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We all want to be happy, and we all want our families to be happy. We want to create a conducive environment for our loved ones. I hope (the show) reminds the audience that no matter how different you look, no matter what languages you speak, everyone, at the end of the day, wants a better life for ourselves.”
Farha Abbasi, MD, an assistant professor of cultural psychiatry at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Entertainment that shows need to “take away the foreignness from immigration. These are not outsiders — they’re Americans. They’re part of our fabric. It’s important to portray them like everyone else.”
This misrepresentation matters.
Immigrants are a diverse group of people, but they’re often plagued by negative stereotypes.
The way immigrants are characterized on TV can have a big influence on how we view them in real life, says Abbasi. “The subtle messages from media play a very important role,” she says. “If you see a positive immigrant character on TV, you feel more safe and trusting of people like that. But if you associate them with danger or another negative stereotype, that clicks in your brain without you even realizing it.” This ends up creating perceptions in your brain that allow people to build up a narrative around an immigrant, even before they meet them, according to Abbasi.
Unfortunately, these stereotypes build up over time. “The more consistent the portrayal, the stronger the stereotype formation,” Matthew Grizzard, PhD, an assistant professor of media psychology in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, tells Yahoo Entertainment.
How strong the effects of a TV characterization of immigrants is on real world perceptions ultimately depends on several factors, including whether a person already has a perceived stereotype about immigrants. “Seeing additional information that is consistent with that stereotype can strengthen it,” Grizzard says. For example, if someone is biased against immigrants, seeing negative depictions of immigrants on TV can strengthen their bias.
How much contact a person has with immigrants in real life can also play a role. “If a viewer has constant contact with immigrants in the real world, how immigrants are portrayed on TV is unlikely to have a strong effect on them,” Grizzard says. “On the other hand, if a viewer has almost no contact with immigrants in their real life, then how immigrants are portrayed on TV is very important. In these cases, the only source of information about immigrants is the TV portrayal.”
It’s possible to reverse these stereotypes.
“There is some evidence that TV portrayals can reduce prejudices,” Grizzard says. “Positive portrayals of immigrants can lead to greater acceptance of the group. If TV can also depict immigrants as complex characters who don’t fit any one particular stereotype, the likelihood of a person developing a stereotype about immigrants decreases,” Grizzard adds.
Abbasi agrees. “Just like with any other human character, multidimensional immigrant characters are needed,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re playing into the bias.”
Watch the premiere episode of Bob Hearts Abishola on Sept. 23 8:30 p.m. on CBS.
This article was paid for by CBS and written by Yahoo Entertainment’s branded content team. Our editorial staff did not participate in the creation of this content.