Why Is Representation Important?

What is representation?

Representation is how media deals with and presents gender, age, ethnicity, national and regional identity, social issues, and events to an audience (BBC). For the longest time representation was not something that was considered important in the media, the fashion industry, or even the government. But in the past few years representing minorities has become essential. It helps movies, shows or companies show they are aware of the world we currently live in. To say it in simple terms, “representation sells” and thanks to the success of movies like Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians, representation is everywhere and has become a requirement in the media.  

The world we live in is a world where everyone is different, and those differences have not always been and continue to wrongly be represented and celebrated. I grew up in Canada and heavily consumed Canadian, American, and French media but there was never anyone who looked like me. Black girls always had lighter skin and straight hair and they were never the main character. So, I grew up thinking the way I looked was not the way people wanted me to look, or that I would never be worthy because of how I looked. What I saw on the television was not representative of the society in which I lived and the characters were mainly White except for the occasional Black comic relief or the smart Asian. Even when there is representation, it is always very stereotypical and influenced the way those ethnic minorities are seen to this day.

They made minorities one-dimensional and if you happen to like something which does not fit the image that was given to your minority you are whitewashed, and God knows how many times I heard that I was whitewashed because of my interests.

Racial minorities are not the only ones who have suffered from being under and wrongly represented, sexual minorities do too. To this day they are still underrepresented and when there is some kind of representation the relationship they are in doesn’t work, or they die. There is a trope called Bury Your Gays and in this trope, queer characters are more likely to die than their heterosexual counterparts. There are a lot of examples of this trope in television shows, for example, in Arrow or in The 100 (I’m not going to give details, so I don’t spoil it for anyone).

You might be thinking “from what I’m reading minorities are represented, so what is the issue?” The issue is the way they are represented as not every representation is good, and sometimes representation is only on the surface. Not all movies or shows where the main characters are minorities are made by minorities or have enough minorities working on the movie or the show.

“Accurate” and “good” representation is something that takes into account the demographic of the country and it should be realistic. All of Canada’s population is not white and cisgender so movies and shows should represent that but not it in a way that is exaggerated or will perpetuate stereotypes.

The reasons why Black Panther or Crazy Rich Asians were so successful were because they were directed by a Black man for the former and an Asian man for the latter (would’ve been better if one was directed by a woman but that’s a whole other story). Two people who understand the minorities best and are not trying to make some sort of political statement about how “woke” they are.  

Seeing representation will help young kids feel like they matter and learn that their worth is not based on their gender, skin colour, or sexual orientation. Not only representation in the movie industry, but also in the fashion industry and sports. Representation needs to exist at every level, from what is shown to the public to what happens behind the scenes. I know that this is something I would’ve needed when I was younger and as a young black woman who wants to work in fashion or motorsport, two industries where people like me are very rare, I have to work hard to make sure that there is representation.