Why Demanding More Representation Is Not Privileged Whining

Mason Rath, Staff Writer

When talking about the media, representation can be defined in many ways. IHS freshman Greyson Stauch feels that it is “what a person, place, or thing could represent.” While senior Marisa Takeuchi says it is “being able to see and hear from people that look like you and look like other people.” This sentiment seems to be the consensus for many. However, junior Roshan Rajesh thinks that “representation is your values, your background, what really what makes you who you are, being broadcasted in a positive light.” The media has historically not been the best about representation. Daily Campus informs that “UCLA’s 2021 diversity report states that only in 2020 did people of color and women nearly reach proportionate representation among film leads when compared to their white male counterparts.” A lot of people like to think that modern America is a place of perfect equality for everyone, but clearly this is not true. Hollywood Reporter adds that “only half of people globally are satisfied with the level of representation they see in TV shows and movies, and 79 percent say more diversity is needed on screens.” 

Clearly, we do not yet have enough representation, but why exactly does the media need to put representation in their work; after all, they are just trying to entertain and, at the end of the day, make money. Sophomore Alicia Nam feels that representation is necessary because, “it shows different perspectives and ideas, and it brings individuality to the world.” Takeuchi on the other hand, has personal experience with the issue, testifying that she believes representation is important because she says, “I am obviously Asian-American, and I feel like for the majority of my life in mainstream media, specifically Disney Channel and that sort of thing, I never really saw people that I felt looked like me and acted like me and did not give into a sort of stereotype.” For many people that struggle with a lack of representation it can feel like they are unseen or unheard. If they cannot see people who are like them, it is like they are expected or wanted to be just like those who they see on TV Hollywood reporter contends that according to the same Viacom CBS study, “more than 80 percent of people said more needs to be done to ensure that TV shows and movies represent different groups and identities in front of and behind the camera… And 85 percent of respondents agreed that representation has an impact on the real world by influencing people’s perceptions.” 

While it is often difficult to make large media corporations change for the better, Takeuchi says that a crucial step is to give writers and directors creative choices around representation and to have more diverse staff members in general, even if they are not the ones making it on screen. Rajesh on the other hand feels that giving these underrepresented groups more representation starts with, “not seeing the world and you as a human being through your race. With women as an example, when women are given roles in movies, I would say they are given the role due to them being a woman and not because they are the best person for this job, and their lines and their stature are reflective of this.” When people are put into a movie because they fit the checklist the crew needs to fill out it leads to one dimensional characters that are chosen, like Rajesh said, not because they are a good person to play their character but because they are a woman or person of color. 

However, while it may be important for the media to continue to fill their work with more representation, not all representation can accurately reflect the people they are trying to represent. Additionally, many companies try to put representation in their work just for the sake of having it, as it will make them look good in the public eye. Rajesh says, “I see representation in a positive light, but people could also define representation as just being there, I will use Baljeet [from Phineas and Ferb] as an example again. It is portraying Indians in a negative light, nerdy Indians, not funny, focused on school, stuff like that, I guess representation could be seen in a negative light too.” When a specific character is inserted into a show simply for the sake of either adding representation or for a joke, it can often inaccurately represent those people, leading to stereotypes that usually are incomplete, giving these characters a bad look. Additionally, Variety says that a study called #RepresentationMatters found that out of everyone polled, 66 percent thought that the media currently continues to enforce negative perceptions of African Americans. 83 percent of African Americans agreed with this sentiment.” When someone turns on their TV and they see someone who looks like them they should not have to see someone who represents a negative assumption many make about them just because of their race. It can make them feel stuck where they are and like they will never be seen as anything except for what they are on TV Takeuchi adds, “Especially in the early 2000s and 2010s if you saw characters who were white straight and cis, and it is not the fault of them it is just in term of how their media has been portrayed. I feel like those characters were given a lot of depth outside of their race, sexuality, and gender where I feel if you are in the marginalized categories, those become your identity even though we are made of a lot more than that.”  

Many examples of negative representation have one thing in common–they enforce stereotypes. Stereotypes are generally considered to be harmful, but in some cases, they are used for the purpose of comedy. Nam and Rajesh agree that stereotypes can be funny when used correctly but that it is important to tread the fine line between good hearted humor and being harmful. Takeuchi agrees and says, “There is a show I love called fresh off the boat that is written by Chinese Americans for Chinese Americans that does a really go job of playing off those stereotypes because the truth is that many of these stereotypes have accuracy in them but just thinking that it is the only thing certain people can be is where the issue is.”  

In today’s world where the media plays such a significant role in our lives every day, it is important for everyone to be able to see themselves in it. If you are unable to see people like you that can accomplish things, then it will be hard for you to imagine accomplishing anything yourself.