Representation Matters but What Does It Look Like?

In a new era of social justice, actors, musicians, comedians and other big-time entertainment-related career avenues call for the representation of Black, Indigenous and people of colour in movies, music and comedy. They deserve to have their talents recognized at award shows. Even though we have an increasing amount of representation, BIPOC are still placed on the sidelines as supporting characters rather than the lead.

Why is this an issue?

This is an issue in regard to the way that people are represented and interpreted by what’s being shown on the big screen. Representation is a form of empowerment. If you see someone that looks like you in a position of power in a movie or on TV, you feel like your voice, your identity and much more are being recognized or deemed important. This fuels your self-esteem and further instills your place in society. As a person of colour, I can assure you that when I see a woman on screen that looks more like me, I'm less likely to judge myself for the way I look, as well as the way people see me.

Seeing people that look like you casted as a side character or supporting character makes you feel like you're only visible when they want you to be or that you're only valuable when you're told to be. This is damaging to the psyche of Black, Indigenous and people of colour.

In movies like those in the Marvel cinematic universe, people of colour like Tony Stark's best friend, Colonel James Rhodes, is a supporting character. Tessa Thompson, who played the last Valkyrie in Thor: Ragnarök, was a supporting character. Anthony Mackie, who plays the Falcon in Marvel movies, was largely a supporting character up until the point in which the mantle of Captain America was handed to him.

We are yet to see more women play the lead character in hit movies that reach cinema halls. We saw Brie Larson play Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel. However, her performance in the movie was met with much criticism. This criticism was rooted in the so-called arrogance of the character. Many comparisons are drawn between Carol Danvers and Tony Stark and the ways in which the attitudes of both these powerful characters are similar, yet it seems only Carol is worthy of criticism.

As women, we received the message that we will be scrutinized and vilified should we have powerful, non-bullshit tolerating personalities. Again, we see that Carol Danvers is a seemingly heterosexual, cisgender, white woman. I wonder how harsh the scrutiny would be if she was Black, Indigenous or a person of colour.

Of course, there are those who like to bring up the fact that Black Panther was a largely black cast. This singular production is only a stepstone towards the diversity that is much needed in such fields of entertainment, especially in superhero movies. We have yet to see a black woman portray a superhero with a white supporting character who doesn't steal the limelight. We have yet to see a person of colour who is also a part of the LGBTQ+ community play a leading character in a successful and non-stereotypical film.

The issue also arises of these films being directed, produced and casted by heterosexual, cisgender, white men. I don't know about you, but I surely feel that a white man cannot tell the story of a black or brown woman. I feel that they do not know the passion and drive that persuades BIPOC to make the strides that they do.

The entertainment sector and many other prominent parts of society have a responsibility to its consumers. It must not exclude people from being represented accurately, honestly and through similarity. We don’t want white people to portray people of colour. We want authenticity in the content we see. It’s time they hop onto this trend too.