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The Problem With Representation

Eric Duma, XI A

In a melting pot society, everyone wants to feel represented and included by various forms of media. And we have irrefutably made considerable progress in representing minority groups. After all, gone are the days when black characters were played by white actors in blackface. Nevertheless, when trying to make everyone feel represented, are all forms of representation good representation?

Today’s representation is concerned with how different groups of people, usually minorities, are portrayed in the media. The movies or books we read have a tremendous influence on how we see things. Therefore, it is no wonder that the LGBT community or people of colour want to shift the narrative through representation. We are in desperate need of more diversity and nuance other than casting an Asian actor, making them play the model minority who is good at math and has strict parents.

Furthermore, it is also true that some companies don’t know how to execute this properly. Marvel’s movies during the last two years, known as ‘Phase Four’, have become notorious for focusing too much on identity politics rather than fleshing out their characters and story. Movies such as ‘Black Widow’ and ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ feel like a cash-grab only to appeal to the public.

We are told how strong the female leads are, and how smart they are, but this is seldom shown to the audience. The villains are white men who ‘uphold the patriarchy through their evil acts’ and must be defeated by the superhero through rhetoric and their identity. It is ironic that movies that try to promote more diversity and understanding of disenfranchised groups do more harm than good and they resort to turning minorities into caricatures.

Moreover, movies that do represent minority groups as best as they can usually fall flat at the box office due to poor marketing and planning. Disney’s ‘Encanto’ and ‘Raya and The Last Dragon’ are perfect examples of this. They accurately portrayed Latino and South Asian culture but failed to attract people on streaming platforms or at the box office. You would think that more people would be discontent with the status quo, and that the audience would boycott performative studios to not neglect their stories. This is far from the truth…

The audience usually eats everything up, feeling content with any form of representation. Notice how we have come full circle, accepting everything we are being fed? In addition, they tend to rebuke movies which don’t have important characters that are minorities. The production team will certainly be blacklisted from events or other opportunities. And god forbid people try to have intellectual conversations about representation and ‘woke’ politics. Some who have opposing views from ‘the right way of thinking’ have been called racists or homophobic.

For instance, in the live-action adaptation of ‘The Little Mermaid’, Ariel will be played by a black woman. Some have praised this decision, whilst others, particularly black content creators, have pointed out that it feels backhanded. They argued that it is hypocritical to be given a story that isn’t theirs to begin with rather than creating new black stories. This tumultuous conversation ended with the creators being, yet again, criticized and called ‘racists towards their own race’. This is regrettable because it was one of the few instances in which we could have reached a consensus on what good representation actually is.

Overall, in time, people will realize how narrow our mindset is. This has already happened to many. The famous movie franchises that continue to use superficial ‘wokeness’ to attract viewers will slowly but surely disappear. Who knows, maybe in a few years we will have a movie that accurately portrays Romania, instead of laughing whenever we are mentioned in ‘Hotel Transylvania’.

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