“Representation Matters.” Two words that are so simple and yet people still do not understand why it does matter or why it’s a issue that has to be repeated over and over again. Now, I am not going to be talking about the Oscars or how Whitewashing is still a thing in the 21st century(those are posts for another day.) I’m here to talk about how representation isn’t simply the quantity of people of color in media, it’s about the quality of the part as well.
To all of those who believe that we have either achieved equal or close to equal representation for all races, gender, sexual orientation–you are wrong. It is a not a racial quota that must be met, this is not Noah’s Arc, where having one character be a person of color means you have done all that you could possibly do, and even the numbers prove it.
In a report done by USC it is shown that:
” in 2015, 73.7% of characters were White, 12.2% Black, 5.3% Latino, 3.9% Asian, <1% Middle Eastern, <1% American Indian/Alaskan Native, <1% Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and 3.6% Other or “mixed race.” Together, a total of 26.3% of all speaking characters were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. There was no change in the percentage of White, Black, Hispanic/Latino, Asian or Other races/ethnicities from 2007 to 2015. Only 14 of the movies depicted an underrepresented lead or co lead. Nine of the leads/co leads were Black, one Latino, and four were mixed race. Not one lead or co lead was played by an Asian actor. “
The numbers are shocking at first, but then you really think about it it just proves what we see and I see no Asians on the screen with leading roles and it’s just as straight forward as that. That’s almost a decade worth of movies, and sure 2016, we have seen some great movies come out with a diverse cast such as Moonlight, Rogue One, and Hidden Figures, but those are rare because the vast majority have main cast that are all white.
Now, this is not even touching the fact that if people of color are casted, they are usually stereotyped or exorcized, this is just showing the numbers of how many characters in movies are actually white compared to those that are people of color. If you want to get uncomfortable, read (or watch someone read) the casting calls for some of the roles that people of color have to audition for because they are the only roles available.
The arguments (or the comments made on an article ) that are against those statistics regarding the inequality within movies are that it is these numbers are “proportional” to the population in America, so there are equal representation in movies. Or that this movie was about historical events that took place in Europe so it wouldn’t be right to rewrite history simply to put a few minorities in. And when I first read these comments, I didn’t think much about them except that they were simply trolls on the internet, but then I had a conversation with a classmate who brought up these exact same arguments when we were talking about the Oscars.
It takes an incredibly privileged mindset and position to be able to believe in these arguments because they’ve always seen themselves on screen and to see one less, already seems like too much change. It takes someone who is blind to not see that most of the roles that people of color get are to be seen and not heard and if heard, maybe it’s five lines that they have to wait in line to get while a white actor wouldn’t. And it’s not something that we’ve gone past and that movies are more diverse now and we should get over it and stop demanding for more minorities to have more speaking roles, because representation is still not equal. The concept that historical dramas can only have a white cast is ridiculous. That rewriting history takes away from the message and story of the figurehead is also disproven by the critically acclaimed musical Hamilton. Claiming this just tells a story about how the world is full of white people rather than the beautiful diverse and rich cultures that populate our world. It is silencing and shoving aside the majority of our planet simply to suit an aesthetic that is archaic.
If this was any other industry, this sort of lack of representation would be looked down upon and would be considered racial discrimination and yet, entertainment gets a pass. Why? It doesn’t help the story because just having a white actor doesn’t automatically make a story better . White actors are not the only capable actors out there in the world. And if it is about being able to relate to a character, as a person of color, I relate more to a person of color than someone who is white.
Now beyond the fact that representation matters cause to say otherwise is incredibly privileged and entitled and frankly racist, simply look at what representation does to the audience that they are suppose to cater, look at how good representation affects those who are a minority.
Take the story of a Brazilian child choosing a doll that looks just like him and to top it off, it wasn’t some generic black Ken doll, it was the Stars Wars character Finn, played by John Boyega. This one little boy who found one toy, was able to see himself be strong, be brave, and be a character that is crucial to the plot of the story. And this isn’t a rare occurrence when Hollywood does show representation. Being represented makes people jump up with joy and feel cared about, they feel as if they are being heard. Representation has the power to make a child feel important, it allows someone to see themselves on the screen, rather than pushed aside as a side character or even a plot device. Representation has the power to foster a generation of children who feel important and that they can do anything that they want. That being an actor or a singer or anyone that is the face of anything, is only for those with a certain skin tone and race.
Representation has so much power and it is more than just a number. To say it is just a quota to have certain races on screen is to demean the human quality that movies are driven to produce. To say that representation is just a number, truly means that anyone who has been marginalized whether that be race or sexuality or gender, are simply side characters who are unimportant in real life and that the only ones that do matter are white cis-male straight men.
If you do believe that, then say it out loud and publicly and look around you and see the reactions that follow. The looks that people will give you and ask yourself are you truly proud of what you just said by making everyone else feel like they are beneath you. If you are unable to say it out loud to someone, tell yourself why is it so difficult for you to ask of the same from the media that holds so much influence. Why is it so difficult for us to see representation and not see it as simply a number but rather something that should be natural because the world is diverse and different and to say otherwise is ignorant.