Like millions of children across the world, my childhood was ruled by an unhealthy obsession with Disney; in particular, its princesses. I enjoyed dressing up in various costumes and parading my dolls around my bedroom, having declared Cinderella as my favourite princess of them all. I had never really noticed the lack of diversity that encompassed these Disney icons and continued to remain invested in their narratives, yet, as the years passed, I became increasingly conscious that there did not seem to exist a princess who looked like me. To grow up in an age of digital media that was still failing to create new stories and represent a plethora of rich cultures and heritages served as the driving force for my desire to become a screenwriter and ultimately tell the stories that other young South Asian people wanted to hear.
As an Indian woman, to constantly be reminded that we had Princess Jasmine as a form of Disney representation became extremely tiring – Disney lacked effort to even try and establish whether Jasmine was of Arabian or Indian descent, almost promoting the notion that two very different ethnicities could be viewed as exchangeable through the eyes of westernised society. Having personally experienced this form of interchangeability during my school years, I felt as though my ethnicity and culture was constantly diminished by certain peers whom appeared disappointed that I did not associate with the culture that they had carelessly bestowed upon me.
This is why I had not truly comprehended how Disney’s dismissive nature would inevitably manifest itself as a skewed layer of my own self-identity, eventually changing my relationship with Disney forever. Lacking the desired media representation that I and my fellow South Asian community deserved meant that I could never experience the pure joy of seeing myself on TV. The endless exposure to female characters with pale skin, blonde hair or blue eyes seemed to exist as the antithesis of my genetic makeup. I believed that I was simply not good enough to be represented – purely because upper-class white men with CEO status decided that the stories of my ancestors and our cultural heritage were not valuable enough to be told.
Whilst it is undeniable that South Asian media representation continues to grow in 2023, the sluggish pace at which this occurs remains difficult for me to embrace. Shows such as Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” and Disney-Marvel’s “Ms Marvel” seek to encapsulate the cultural experiences of young South Asian women in a modern world, however, I still have my reservations. Is it possible to leave the depiction of South Asian experiences in the hands of the predominately white hegemony that powers the film and television industries? As we begin to prepare for a new year, perhaps Hollywood will look to the future as a prime opportunity to tell the stories of those whom have yet to be heard; and create characters for a new generation of South Asian children whom may finally see themselves on the TV.