Representation Matters: Why Is It So Important To See Minorities On Media?

How many times have we seen a movie or a TV show where the protagonist didn’t correspond to the standards we’re used to? We can’t deny that over the past few years, the scenario has been changing in the film industry, but that’s the result of a rising demand for representation.

The lack of diversity can have a huge influence over how people perceive their own identity and self-esteem. It also perpetuates a discriminatory mentality. The term representation doesn’t mean casting actors from minority groups just to show you support diversity. It means giving them relevant roles, allowing them to play characters with depth, that don’t transmit stereotypical conceptions. And that should be reflected in front and behind the cameras. Besides actors, we need to see more writers and directors who are part of these groups and want to tell their narratives to the world.

To show the importance of representation, we’ve talked to five women, who told us a little about their stories and how media representation has affected their lives.

 

  1. 1. Camilla Nakhle

    “I’ve already identified with characters and stories, for being different from what’s considered “normal”, and also for having a personality similar to mine. But when it comes to my Arab background, I’ve never felt completely represented. When I was younger, I would end up connecting to Indian culture, especially because of the soap opera Caminho das Índias.

    Not seeing other people like me made me be ashamed of having a lot of body hair, thick eyebrows and an aquiline nose. But after a while, I noticed that all my family looked like that, and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed of who I am. Because of the love I have for my family, I noticed that being proud of my traits is being proud of my ancestors and those who came before me. So I started building my self-image through my family.

    But the lack of representation has affected my life in other ways. I believe that it brings some sort of ignorance. When people don’t see different cultures and backgrounds, they stick to their prejudice and think they’re the owner of the truth. Most people don’t know what’s actually happening in Syria, for example, and associate every arab person to a terrorist, an extremist. Plus, there’s the strong stigma that arab women are inferior. Once, someone even asked me: ‘Why are you giving your opinion if the place you come from doesn’t allow women to speak? Why do you want to have a voice here?’

    The film industry should open its eyes for diversity and really dive into it. Little do people  actually know about our culture, and that leaves a breach for stereotypes. It’s important to look at our reality and study our History before creating narratives about us. It has to be something true to who we are, something that we feel represented by."

  2. 2. Ji Choi

    “I’ve never felt 100% represented by an Asian character, and I miss that. Not seeing Asian characters in almost every movie and TV shows I watch makes me think that I don’t belong anywhere, I feel left out. The lack of representation has impacted my self-esteem in many ways. Media often portrays us as if we had no feelings, the weird kid that’s always alone. When I was in middle school, I even thought no one liked me because of my ethnicity. 

    But there are large Asian communities in Brazil and in the USA, so I wonder: why is it so hard to find Asian actors on media? The numbers don’t match! Most of the times, Asians play secondary roles, or aren’t even casted. I believe one of the reasons is the strong influence of predominantly white narratives that Hollywood produces. In most cases, when a person of color is a protagonist, or doesn’t fit stereotypes, it’s because there are non-white directors and producers behind the cameras, and we need more of that.

    It’s still very hard to find Asian characters that aren’t inside the little box they put us in. Each of us has a different story, personality and traits, just like any other person in the world. But I think we’re on the right direction. Each movie or series that brings an Asian actor with an original storyline is a huge step. That’s why I get so happy when I find characters like Ellie Chu, from The Half of It and Lara Jean, from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before."

  3. 3. Karen Oliveira

    “The portrayal of bisexual women on movies has always impacted me in a negative way. During my teenage years, when I was looking for narratives I identified with, most movies showed the story of a married woman, who cheats on her husband with a lesbian who comes into her life out of nowhere.

    The first time I ever felt truly represented was watching The Bold Type, when I was 16. One of the protagonists was Kat (Aisha Dee), a black bisexual woman. I saw myself on her  watching her self-discovery journey, having the same dilemmas I had. She was really meaningful to me, for treating bisexuality as something fluid and different for each person. Also, her relationship with Adena (Nikohl Boosheri), a muslim lesbian woman, was treated in a beautiful respectful way. I would rewatch the scenes they were together over and over, because it would bring me a comforting sense of belonging. I felt like that could be me someday with another woman.

    When I realized I wasn’t straight, I closed myself off to this. But it was with these TV characters and couples that I found some refuge, and saw that it’s okay to be yourself, and it’s a good thing to tell your story with everything that makes you who you are. The representation of bisexual women is something very important to me, and I’m happy for the next generations that are growing up surrounded by an industry that, even though still carries prejudice, is taking a path towards more authentic diversity. I feel that if I’d had this kind of representation when I was younger, I would’ve accepted myself more easily."

  4. 4. Maria Augusta Nascimento

    “The first time I remember feeling represented was with The Princess and the Frog. I was crazy about the Disney princesses, and it was the first time I saw an animated character who looked like me. I also enjoy watching soap operas, and I really admire Taís Araújo, so I wanted to watch every show she was in, just because of her.

    The lack of representation has had a huge impact on my self-esteem growing up, especially with my hair. I would never wear an afro, my hair was always braided or tied, because I didn’t see other girls with the same hair as mine, neither within my social circle or on media. I believe that if there were more black people celebrating their hair, celebrating their culture, I would have started appreciating my traits earlier in my life.

    There are many shows and movies with an all-black cast, that speak directly to this culture and community, and this is really valuable. But I think we also need more general productions, with a black character as the protagonist. It’s important to cast these people on media not just as a secondary role or as a token for representation.

    Nowadays, I feel represented by media, because there are many movements that stand for diversity, and people have been addressing this issue. We see singers, animations, books that bring out representation, and this is a huge step. However, it’s something that should be treated as something natural, not as an exception. I want representation to be common and familiar to everyone."

  5. 5. Mariana Rezk

    “Minority groups are always cast to play the part of minority groups (sometimes not even that, right, Hollywood?), when they are completely able to play a role where weight, race and sexuality are not a determining factor. I miss being portrayed as a normal person, you know? Not every fat person is depressive, just like we don’t have a high self-esteem all the time. We’re just like anybody else. I’m not a “poor thing”, not even a comedic relief, and I don’t need anyone telling me I have to embrace myself. I need media to speak to others and show that this is normal.

    Every single comedy production has a negative approach over fat people, except for Trainwreck. This movie treats a person who doesn’t fit standards in a natural way, and it was pleasing to watch. It didn’t involve extreme makeovers, straightening the hair or a scene at the gym. Even though we’re not seen as a joke as much as it used to be, every time a fat woman is on screen, the intention is to show an inspiring story about self-development and acceptance. But we can talk about other issues.

    For many years, I followed crazy diets and mutilated my body to fit in a “desirable” standard. I went through an abusive relationship, where he would tell me that I had to lose weight, and I felt like he was the only one who could put up with me because I wasn’t worthy.  All of this for thinking that being fat was the worst thing in the world. It was laughable, just like the movies and series showed us by then.

    It took me a while to comprehend fatphobia. The first time I understood the feeling of a character about this topic, I could only cry, because I couldn’t believe it was possible to go through something like this.”

The article above was edited by Gabriela Girardi

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