There is power in a story — and how it’s told matters.
Fiction isn’t about how things happened nor is it about how things will happen — it’s about how things could happen. A story can become a frame of reference offering perspective, possibility and sometimes even hope.
When it comes to representation on the big and small screen, audiences need a range of races and sexuality to understand issues and situations beyond the limitations of social circles dictated by primary agents that may deprive folks of vantage points.
For some, this may test comfort levels. But sometimes it’s about stepping out of those easy spaces to promote understanding and encourage acceptance.
Let’s talk racial representation in film
While romantic comedies have had a history of performing well at the box office, diversity is something that is certainly lacking in this genre. With movies such as highest grossing rom com My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) raking in $241,438,208, 90’s gem Pretty Woman (1990) generating a lifetime gross of $178,406,268 and more recent Silver Linings Playbook (2012) bringing in $132,092,958 — it’s clear there’s an audience that’s interested in watching two people fall in love.
But it’s not just two people falling in love: it’s a male and female, from their respective heteronormative white backgrounds falling in love and getting their happy endings. According to Box Office Mojo’s top grossing romantic comedy list, there is one black lead represented, Queen Latifah (Bringing Down The House), in the top 20.
Back in 2014, the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Journalism put out a report that sniffed out the racial representation of 3,932 speaking characters from top grossing films at the US box office between 2007-2013. In six years, the report showed 74% of the total characters were white — meaning just over a quarter (25.9%) of these films featured underrepresented racial groups. Less than 4.5% were Asian.
Recently, Humans’ Gemma Chan told The Telegraph that there had been many auditions that were cancelled because the casting demand was for white people. The UK actress went on to discuss industry issues about gender imbalance and the race thing.
“The statistics are really depressing,” Chan told the publication, “I remember reading some that made me think, ‘Oh, you’re more likely to see an alien in a Hollywood film than an Asian woman.”
The Emmy’s 2015 got it — change is starting to happen slowly
But this year, Viola Davis made history at 2015’s Emmy’s when she became the first black woman to take home Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Her speech was both on point and elicited all the feels.
“The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is simply opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there,” the How To Get Away With Murder actress said. “So here’s to all the writers, the awesome people — people who have redefined what it means to be beautiful, to be sexy, to be a leading woman, to be black.”
Though this year’s Emmy drew in the smallest audience on record of 11.9 million viewers, Sept. 20’s telecast of the event was possibly the most political and important. The Emmy’s were on point with their politics, raised visibility for people of colour and promoted equality for trans folks.
Fictional characters on television are being written with more depth, are being given more racially diverse backgrounds and more complex sexualities. There are more queer characters on television than ever before — though how they’re being written can still be criticized.
What we’re watching and taking in from popular culture is important — who tells it, how it’s told and who shows us what it’s all about is also significant. Understanding can inspire change — as diversity and representation grows in value, audiences are offered richer perspectives. It’s those details of differences that are necessary to aid the accuracy of a story. Our stories.
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