Why Representation in the Media Matters

In the age of social media, where everyone and anyone has an opinion in the matter in question, it’s extremely difficult to plead ignorance that representation matters when arguments are being waged with facts, figures and anecdotes about the fact of the matter.

Since overtaking some corners of social media, children have more access to media content than ever before. The expression, “kids are like sponges”, is extremely applicable here. Social media has created a lens around the idea of a perfect human- only the happy, unrealistic details are shared by people who are paid to promote everything and anything. While young children are getting their daily dose of fantasy, they are creating unrealistic expectations in their minds, inadvertently of course, that they need to change who they are in order to fit into the mold that they are seeing all over the internet. This is where the media comes in.

Recently, there has been an uprising of sorts in popular culture where many are questioning the typically male, white centric image that kids shows are creating. With movies like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel coming into the spotlight and grinding the Glass Ceiling into a fine powder, there is hope for a small portion of those who would typically struggle to find inspirational, diverse media content to shape their mindset about the world.

This movement has alleviated some discourse, but what is there to say about making this an intersectional movement? Some content creators and authors have latched onto the movement and began working to actively do this, but many fail to recognize the racial and socioeconomic aspect of the movement.

It’s completely unrealistic to ignore this aspect of the problem at hand. Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s completely unrealistic.

The world is full of life- people have developed intensely unique ways of living and only highlighting a choice few of them does not showcase how beautiful humanity really is. It fails to showcase just how creative and thoughtful humans can actually be, which in and of itself is an injustice.

2. It gives kids positive role models that they can easily relate to.

As an avid movie-goer, the feeling of watching a movie like Wonder Woman brought literal tears to my eyes. It’s a lifechanging experience to see yourself on screen in a real way- where women aren’t stick thin and have muscles and flaws and aren’t afraid to cry in an ugly way (no one throws themselves onto a bed and cries as daintily as a Disney princess). Diana Prince and Patti Jenkins ground the glass ceiling into a fine powder and added it to their morning bowl of cereal.

I remember helping out with a Trunk or Treat event in middle school the year that Princess and the Frog came out. The amount of Princess Tiana costumes I saw that year was absolutely mind blowing. Looking back on it, it makes perfect sense. The effects of finally being able to see yourself represented positively, realistically, and not as a stereotype is one of the greatest feelings in the world. Seeing those little girls in their princess dresses and feeling truly themselves is what the world deserves. It’s what the world is truly like. 

Love, Simon is another example of this. I went to see this movie with my dad, who is one of the most open minded people I know. My favorite thing to do at the movies is to glance around while scenes I love are happening to watch other people’s reactions- most of the time it’s blank stares, but sometimes you see the gears start to move in someone’s head. I don’t think he realized he was doing this at the time, but my dad was staring so intently at the scene with Simon’s mother’s speech, I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on in his head. I asked him afterward what he thought of the movie and he told me that it was good, which was surprising to me because he normally watches action and adventure movies. A romcom was rather far off from that, and though I, of course, heard the typical, “ah, it was too cheesy,” I sometimes wonder if the experience of being able to see the struggle of coming out in a (mostly) realistic way helped him to understand something.

Instances like these are the first steps towards an age of media where we don’t have to beg Hollywood superpowers to include realistic versions of the world and we don’t feel inclined to call movies like Black Panther and Get Out “trail-blazers” and simply good movies that tell realistic stories about the nature of our world. 

3. It allows people to have the evidence and materials to address important issues in a respectful and powerful way.

This goes back to the idea of “trail-blazers”. There are still people in the world who are filled with hatred that having any semblance of conversation with them makes you want to rip your hair out. Telling realistic, relatable stories will, in time, help to alleviate this by pushing people like your weird racist uncle who you dread having Thanksgiving dinner with by the wayside by physically removing any possible point they can make from existence. Having an excess of media material will make certain you have the tools necessary to stand up for those whose voices cannot be heard.