The Importance of Representation

When the independent film Moonlight was released in 2016 it was met with great critical acclaim. The film won Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, and it also landed Mahershala Ali with his very first Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. Ali also became the first Muslim actor to win an Academy Award.

Moonlight is amazing, and has easily become one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s about an African-American boy named Chiron living in the ghetto of Miami during the late 80s and early 90s. The film follows him from adolescence to adulthood and chronicles his experience being black, gay and poor.

Moonlight was the first film with an all-black cast to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, which is so amazing. From the writing to the cinematography to the impeccable acting it’s very easy to say this film deserved that win.

It’s very important to note, though, that this year’s Academy Awards was very, very different from the one’s held in 2015 and 2016. In both of those years only white actors were nominated, but in 2017 seven non-white actors were nominated, a dramatic (but necessary) shift from the past couple years.

Here are all of the people of color nominated for acting in 2017:

  • Mahershala Ali – Best Supporting Actor for Moonlight (winner)
  • Naomie Harris – Best Supporting Actress for Moonlight
  • Viola Davis – Best Supporting Actress for Fences (winner)
  • Denzel Washington – Best Actor for Fences
  • Octavia Spencer – Best Supporting Actress for Hidden Figures
  • Ruth Negga – Best Actress for Loving
  • Dev Patel – Best Supporting Actor for Lion

It’s great to see so much diversity after two very disappointing years at the Oscars, but representation in the media still needs a lot of work. There is a long history of marginalized groups being poorly and inaccurately represented in the media.

Minorities comprised nearly 40% of the U.S. population, but film and television failed to reflect that. Statistics show that in 2015 5.3% of characters in film were Latino, 12.2% were black and 3.9% were Asian. Women, people of color and people in the LGBT community aren’t given enough speaking roles, either. It seems that if you are not white, able-bodied or male very little of you is going to be seen in the media. Their wasn't much of a difference for roles behind the camera either.

 This is very problematic because not seeing yourself on screen sends a message that your voice, journey and existence don’t matter. It can also send a harmful message to our youth that there is no space for them in in film and telvision, in front of or behind the camera. As disappointing as these statistics are, films like Moonlight give me a lot of hope and make me – more so than ever – want to change the narrative regarding an industry lacking so much diversity.

What I really hope to see is more writers, creators and producers pitching their ideas and telling their stories from their unique point-of-view. I hope more people are encouraged to listen to stories that are too often not told and that more room is created for everyone, not just a few. At the end of the day everyone’s voice is important, and everyone’s voice deserves to be heard.