Pushing For More (Accurate) Representation in Media

In 2018, it’s no secret that representation in media is important for all people. Proper media representation means that children of all shades, size, shapes and sexual orientations can see all the opportunities available to them. It means they won’t grow up thinking that they should look, speak or act a certain way to be successful.

However, representation can only mean these things when it is rooted in speaking the truth for everyone, not just a few. While it is a huge accomplishment to get POC, trans or disabled characters on screen, it’s not necessarily enough. The characters have to be as multi-dimensional and complex as the real people they are meant to represent.

Since 2017, Netflix has released a campaign called, “First Time I Saw Me.” In multiple, short online videos, Netflix representatives sat down with actors and directors of all races, genders, sexual orientations, shapes and sizes to ask them when they first saw themselves in an on-screen character. Netflix sat down with Black Girl Nerds; directors like Ava Duvernay and Spike Lee; and stars of Netflix originals like “Dear White People” and “Orange Is the New Black.” This June, the streaming service also created a YouTube playlist in collaboration with GLAAD for trans voices in honor of Pride month.

For actresses Selenis Leyva and Logan Browning, they saw themselves in Lauren Vélez’ character on “New York Undercover” and the Mowry twins on “Sister, Sister,” respectively. Comedian Marlon Wayans said he saw himself in his older brothers and Eddie Murphy. Early representation for them was crucial and made a difference.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone. In one video, Duvernay explains that although several characters from “The Cosby Show” were the same hue as her, she couldn’t relate to them because her parents weren’t a doctor and lawyer. Several of the trans people, including Jamie Clayton of “Sense8,” noted that they didn’t see themselves in on-screen characters, even the ones meant to represent them.

Proper representation in media is not just what characters look like. It’s more than that. Representation encompasses where they are from, how they think, what culture or subcultures they participate in. It’s about the entire characterization being presented. It’s important to have characters who are diverse in outward appearance, thought, action, etc.

Personally, the first time I saw me represented in media was Raven Baxter from “That’s So Raven.” I related to Raven for more than just her skin complexion. I appreciated the way her character was written and how she interacted with her family and best friends. For the first time, I saw a character that I actually wanted to be like. At seven years old, I didn’t realize how rare that feeling would be.

My freshman year of college, I began watching “A Different World” and found two characters that I love and relate to: Whitley Gilbert & Winifred “Freddie” Brooks. Now, I didn’t grow up watching “The Cosby Show” so I had no way of knowing about this spin-off. However, I gave it a try and was instantly hooked.

I identify with both Freddie and Whitley for a few reasons. For one, I have a big curly afro like Freddie and a part of me loves the activist in her. She’s literally always down for the cause. Whitley, as spoiled and bougie as she may be, wanted nothing but to work hard and be her own person. Okay, she really wanted a husband but that isn’t the point. The point is I identified with Freddie’s optimism and Whitley’s work ethic, even when they both did things I disagreed with. I don’t look exactly like either one, but that’s what real representation does. It goes deeper than the surface.

Today, there are shows like “Blackish,” “Fresh Off The Boat,” “Orange Is The New Black” and so many others that are taking steps toward diversity in its many forms, but there is still a lot of work to be done. It’s not enough to feature characters of color who are also LGBT+. Their storylines have to be about more than just the color of their skin or who they love.

No show on TV is a perfect representation of any group of people. From shows like “Empire” and they fit into a much bigger problem, to the ongoing need for representation of LGBT characters who aren’t white men, there is still a lot of work to do. The point isn’t that a character that represents an entire group of people. That leans toward impossible. The ultimate goal is to create a multitude of diverse, complex characters, so that everyone has someone they can relate to.

Sources:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-76RIIUuOwM(Black Girl Nerds)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhk6QJDMIDo&list=PLvahqwMqN4M2t9ZybbvJxnlkR5k97Txox(Playlist)

http://ew.com/tv/2017/08/01/netflix-first-time-i-saw-me-campaign/?utm_campaign=entertainmentweekly&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&xid=entertainment-weekly_socialflow_twitter(Campaign)

https://theblackdetour.com/stereotypes-black-people-media/(Representation of Black characters)

https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ne3kdk/lgbtq-representation-on-tv-still-sucks(LGBT representation)

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Amani Allen-Beale

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