Society has debated repeatedly about the importance of representation, especially in light of the recent all-female Ghostbusters remake. Some people don’t see the necessity of it, while others hold it in the highest value. I’m just one opinion, and my views aren’t necessarily universal or completely accurate. But the issue of representation is an intensely personal and individual one, so I wanted to offer my own personal thoughts.
In the grand scheme of things, media representation is not life-or-death. And in a truly life-or-death struggle for equality, such as the Black Lives Matter or the LGBTQ+ rights movement, it can be dismissed as insignificant. The goal, first and foremost, must always be to ensure safety for all members of a group. After that, though, accurate and inclusive cultural representation is vital to securing complete equality and justice. It is ridiculous how few movies and TV shows fully include characters of color, women, or people with different sexual orientations. Without dimensional characters that represent many different groups, countless children grow up lacking role models that are like them. People aren’t exposed to different cultures, lifestyles, or ways of thinking. And inaccurate, flat characters cause dangerous stereotypes to be formed in the public opinion: think racial profiling of black men that leads to police brutality or the “evil Muslim” archetype that threatens the security of all Middle Eastern people.
I recently started noticing just how important representation is to me on a personal level. I’ve always been angered by the lack of well-rounded female characters in entertainment; the Bechdel test is so important and still, sadly, a rarity. And I can’t speak to the experiences of people of color, who are underrepresented in a way that is illogical and infuriating. But I finally realized that I was bisexual a little under a year ago, after living as a straight girl for 15 years. Since then, it has become glaringly obvious just how few gay and lesbian (and even fewer bisexual) characters are written into movies, TV shows, and music. I can count on my fingers the number of gay romance movies that have been in theaters during the past few years. When I’m listening to a love song sung by a woman, it is almost never addressed to another woman. While I knew about this lack of representation before I had figured out my sexuality, I never realized how much it would emotionally affect me. I still get SO EXCITED just seeing a gay couple holding hands in public. Watching a movie that honestly and subtly portrays a lesbian relationship, I feel validated and affirmed in a way that I get almost nowhere else. I can’t really put it into words, but when I see characters like me, with emotional experiences like mine, something reaches out from the screen and touches something inside of me. It’s a really big, somehow important feeling. Isn’t that the point of art, after all? To reach inside of people, to reflect life honestly, to move people by making them feel seen? So why is so much art representative of only one sector of the population?
We are definitely making progress. The Academy is undergoing a diversity overhaul, pop culture is focusing more on marginalized stories, and audiences are demanding better representation from all media. We have such a long way to go, though. And it’s a wonderfully important journey to take. I just want everyone to get to experience that feeling when you look into the screen and someone like you looks back.