On Representation in Media

For the UAS Whalesong

Television, movies, and all other forms of mass media hold a tremendous amount of inspiration for people, as well as a template for some to see themselves in. This template is typically only for a specific type of person. It’s not often that all people of all backgrounds are given equal opportunity within these realms. While complaints are loud and clear, often they are shouted down by media producers. To see people of color and those of LGBTQ+ backgrounds is a scarcity that we should be making strides to fill out.

Sometimes, when minorities are cast, it is as stereotypical role, or never fully addressed until long after the show or book has stopped being produced. This is a sad reality that is slowly being amended by people taking media into their own hands. Slowly but surely, with certain projects, people are taking stories and making accurate representations for those who struggle.

For instance, there is Hamilton, the Broadway show where all of the founding fathers are played by men of color. Giving a different look into the story of our nation as well as the men who helped build it, many people are seeing themselves finally being represented. Lin Manuel-Miranda, who wrote the musical, has said that he hopes young people will see the show, and will further constitute a more realistic amount of representation within mass media as they grow up. This is important, because when you grow up with musicals like Hamilton, where a majority of the cast is people of color, what are you, in turn, going to produce? Hopefully, more shows like this. Hamilton has been extremely successful, being consistently sold out, and being seen by many celebrities, and shows no sign of slowing.

There is also a growing representation of strong female characters, who are changing what strong female characters mean, and how we can view those who identify as such. Mad Max: Fury Road, has a main cast that is predominantly female, and shows variations of what strength means. They include women of color, pregnant women, elderly women, and women who have survived sexual assault. Many of these women are not often shown as strong in a lot of media, usually only there to play second fiddle to a male character. This takes away from their own actual personality and character arc. Sometimes, they are even background characters merely to accelerate the male lead’s character arc. Mad Max: Fury Road, instead shows an equality between the male and female leads, never seeming to fall into cliché. And the film did well in the box office, gaining a cult following for its surprising feminist aspect. The director felt that feminism was not only an important aspect, but easy to portray. While it isn’t the only film to do so, this particular film may help start what could be a new wave of females in media because of its scale and popularity.

Unfortunately, for those of the LGBTQ+ community, there is a greater struggle to have accurate representation. This is because often times, the choice is made to have someone who is heterosexual playing a gay character, or having someone who is cisgender playing a transgender character. This is a major problem for those who would have wanted to see a person like themselves in TV shows or movies, instead of watching a cis man play a trans woman because it was easier to cast. Complaints are often met with excuses of why the choice was made, citing that the production is set before the character transitioned or that there weren’t enough people of the community auditioning. Filmmakers often exacerbate the issue by saying the LGBTQ+ Community should be happy that it is getting any representation at all. While steps are being taken for some groups, there are still struggles for others. Hopefully, with the growing movements to include all people, we can begin to see a better representation in media of our overall culture.

Representation is important, especially in media that is consumed by so many people at once. We see ourselves in characters and when there is an alarming lack of diversity, people feel a sense of being invisible. We forget that there are people beyond ourselves, and with the above examples, hopefully we can begin thinking beyond what we are used to, or even begin really remembering the world around us.

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