2018 in Representation

While the dust settles on another New Years’ celebration and New Years’ resolutions are made, broken, rekindled, and given up on, most everyone is eager for change and ready to file the last year away and forget about it. Before 2018 is pushed aside to make way for all that 2019 will bring, it seems important to note that pop culture in 2018 was extremely diverse. It was an extremely refreshing year for film, music, television, and literature. It feels only right, before laying 2018 to rest, for some of the best pieces of 2018’s pop culture to be highlighted and recognized.


This diversity can be seen in On My Block, a Netflix original television show about a group of young friends starting high school in the inner city of Los Angeles. Along with the usual high school drama, they also learn to navigate around gang members and neighborhood crime. This show tackles topics such as racism, poverty, and immigration so gracefully. In addition to casting almost entirely people of color, there are also several scenes written into the show where these problems are directly addressed. On My Block manages to address these issues so well and at the same time maintaining the lighthearted and, at times, playful feeling of a teenage drama.



Moving away from television, another place that made strides in representation in 2018 was the music industry. We saw young artists like Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, and Halsey singing so candidly about their sexuality, creating a sense of normalcy for other LGBT+ artists. Their songs don’t give way to the taboo trends that usually arise when mainstream pop attempts to mix with the LGBT+ community. They make love songs, longing ballads, breakup anthems and everything in between. Their voices as members of the LGBT+ community are so important to be heard, and it’s so refreshing that they were played so loudly in 2018.


Ariana Grande also began to speak up about her struggles with depression and anxiety in 2018. Shortly after the release of her latest album, Sweetner, she pleaded with listeners on Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio with Ebro Darden to be nicer and to pay more attention to mental health, both their own and the people around them. After the bombing of her concert in Manchester, the death of her ex-boyfriend, Mac Miller, and her public breakup with ex- fiancé, Pete Davidson, she’s made such a point to prioritize her own mental health as well as advocate for awareness and resources for others. This kind of message from someone who is arguably the biggest name in pop music right now is an incredibly powerful message reaching audiences far and wide and will surely not go unnoticed.



Finally, I want to turn this discussion’s attention to the representation that appeared in films in 2018. It was a monumental year in terms of getting people of color on the silver screen. Without a doubt, the most notable of these was Black Panther, a perfect example of representation done right. With the combination of stunning visuals, impeccable casting, and a spot-on soundtrack, it’s no wonder that Black Panther was received so well. It allowed African-Americans to be the starring roles and the supporting roles; no longer were they simply a sidekick who served to further another person’s plot, they were heroes, scientists, decorated generals, villains, and spies. They were diverse people with different talents and skills, intertwining storylines, and unique personalities, just like they are in real life. Black Panther was destined to be a hit from Marvel, and if they continue to produce movies with characters like these, I can only foresee good things for them.


An amazingly diverse cast was presented in Crazy Rich Asians as well. This movie was so important because, for so long, white people have been cast to play Asian parts rather than giving Asian actors a chance at telling their own story. Crazy Rich Asians was so refreshing, not only because of the casting, but also because of the ways that the movie so gracefully addressed different Asian traditions and habits, from the deep family values to the tendency toward gossiping. As a person with Asian heritage, I can say that these inclusions didn’t feel stereotypical, they felt strangely heartwarming; I was able to see parts of myself and the background I grew up with inside these characters and their stories.


In addition to seeing this diversity on the screen, it was amazing to be able to watch the responses that they received, particularly the extreme joy that so many felt as they watched their stories being told. These movies were an event; people set things aside to go support these movies, saw them multiple times, and told their friends to go watch them, and it shows. Crazy Rich Asians grossed $238.5 million worldwide and Black Panther grossed $1 billion in sales in just 26 days of being out in theaters. These movies are a big deal, especially for those who are able to identify with their respective communities.


It wasn’t only audiences who loved these movies; since the movies have begun to climb, actors from these movies have been popping up on magazine stands, talk shows, and other cast lists for upcoming movies. Entertainment Weekly named the women from both Crazy Rich Asians and Black Panther as their Entertainers of the Year and Awkwafina, an actress from Crazy Rich Asians excitedly announced her participation in the upcoming sequel to the reboot of Jumanji. These actors and actresses are poised to take over the world; all they needed was the chance. Now that they’ve gotten it, I’m so excited to follow each and every one of them on their journey to the top.


2018 was an incredible year for pop culture and the purpose of writing this article was to give credit where it was due. The art that was created in 2018 provided role models and new stories, but more importantly it set a standard. It set a standard that mental health can be talked about, sexuality should be embraced, and that people of color are not to be ignored. These standards are changing everything.