Here’s Why Representation In The Entertainment Industry Is So Important
Representation. It’s a word that’s been thrown around a lot recently, especially when it comes to the entertainment industry – and especially when it comes to women. So why is the representation of not just women, but also ethnic minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, in movies and TV shows so important?
For one thing, it’s important to show that the world isn’t the white-washed, heteronormative society that Hollywood likes to portray it as. If all we see is one type of person, then we can end up feeling that everything else is outside of the norm, or even wrong.
While there are many famous actresses, there is still a lack of leading roles for women. Too often female actors are relegated to supporting roles or simply cast as the romantic love interests, or even simply given no roles at all – especially for women over forty. There is a need for female characters who are strong, independent women who weren’t created for the sole reason of propping up male leads.
The 2017 female-directed film Wonder Woman proved that little girls want someone exactly like that to look up to and Gal Gadot’s ‘Diana Prince’ was that someone. For once it wasn’t just boys saving the world, it was a strong, athletic woman who wasn’t a simpering damsel-in-distress waiting for a man to rescue her. This is what Hollywood needs to realise, people want women on their screens and they want female writers and female directors.
Reese Witherspoon, who is at the forefront of women creating their own opportunities in Hollywood, running her own production company which produced critically acclaimed female-led films such as Gone Girl and Wild. She also both stars in and produces the Emmy and Golden Globe winning mini-series Big Little Lies, saying it best in a 2017 Glamour article: “What would happen if we encouraged all women to be a little more ambitious? I think the world would change.”
(Read her whole essay at: https://www.glamour.com/story/reese-witherspoon-october-2017-cover-interview)
When it comes to whitewashing, this is equally as – if not more – harmful. Hollywood can often give the impression that the only people in the world are white, with a token person of ethnic origin thrown in as a sidekick. What does this sort of portrayal say to anyone who isn’t the Hollywood ideal?
Similarly, one can and should question why Asian-American actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park were paid 10-15% less than their white co-stars on Hawaii 5-0 before eventually deciding to leave when their demands for equal pay were not met.
This is just one of many examples of injustice against PoC (People of Colour) in the entertainment industry. A further example of this is the latest scandal Disney are facing in their live-action Aladdin remake, where it was discovered they were “browning up” white people because they purportedly “couldn’t find” any Asian extras. This despite the studio where they are filming being less than an hour from London, where more than 1 million people of Asian heritage live – many of whom would surely have jumped at the opportunity to be a part of the film.
When it comes to the LBGTQ+ community, representation is important for different reasons. Not just because the actors who identify as such should be given equal opportunities, but because even though there have recently been more gay or lesbian characters, there is still a desperate need for characters who are anything other than heterosexual.
If you take the time to think about it, how many characters on TV can you name that identify as bisexual? What about Asexual? Non-binary? Unfortunately, it is next to none – especially in leading roles – and even then, when it comes to the latter two examples, more often than not they’re androids or aliens.
If you’re a young person – or even an adult – struggling with your sexual identity and all the main characters on TV are straight, it is easy to think that there might be something wrong with you, that you aren’t normal. The same goes for if the portrayal is problematic, i.e. if the character isn’t human as stated earlier, or if the character is a walking stereotype full of negative clichés. This can have a devastating effect on the way a young person views themselves.
Thankfully, some shows, and films do end up getting it right and are leading by example. The TV programme Brooklyn Nine-Nine features an ethnically diverse cast with many strong female characters. In addition to this, one of the main characters is a gay, African-American man who is a high-ranking police officer, and another of the leads is a Latina woman who (Spoiler Alert!) came out as bisexual in the most recent season and is played by the actress Stephanie Beatriz who identifies as bisexual. Others, like Netflix’s Jane the Virgin, have never had a problem portraying members of the LGBTQ+ community, in addition to having a strong Latinx cast and even shows that take place in seemingly traditional settings such as Nashville have LGBTQ+ characters, and the show is led by female characters, proving that it really isn’t that hard to be inclusive. When it comes to movies, the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther is hugely anticipated and features many PoC, as well as many women such as Lupita Nyong’o and Dania Gurira.
While media such as TV shows and films are undoubtedly there to entertain, they are also a commentary on the world around us and they can’t do that if they aren’t at all realistic. The world is a hugely diverse place where people of many ethnicities, religions, gender identities and sexual orientations live together, and this needs to be reflected in the media, if only to help normalise what many know is true society, and to give children who are heavily influenced by the media a diverse array of characters to identify with and look up to.