Lack of representation in media for marginalized communities has been a largely contested issue over the years. Mainstream media is infamously known for excluding oppressed groups from their narratives in exchange for heteronormative, white, cisgendered ones. But, over the years, the media has made strides to become more inclusive.
But I cannot help but wonder how entirely positive certain aspects of this increased inclusivity have been. While I agree progress has been made, progress is not linear and still deserves critique. With this being said, inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake can have unforeseen consequences when executed poorly in the media.
Careless inclusivity is a largely overlooked issue that, some may argue, is bigger than a general lack of representation at all. Careless inclusivity can result in misrepresentation of already misunderstood groups, giving the public stereotypical, sometimes dangerous outlooks on these groups. Or, oftentimes, these communities will appear within the media in ways that make you wonder whether they were ever really wanted there in the first place.
Writer Julian Vel speculated that “diverse representations is not achieved simply by including POC in a film or tv show.” Instead, I would argue, diverse representation is achieved when you develop and dive deeply into POC and queer characters in meaningful ways. This should not mean that these narratives are defined by these characters’ identities, but instead enhanced by them.
But often this is not the case. Instead we get underdeveloped, shallow characters that seem to be there so the creators can pat themselves on the back and tick off their boxes.
Some dangerous aspects of misrepresentation include the exotification of Black and Brown people, ‘quirky’ non-White characters who become the butt of every joke, the fetishization of members of the LGBTQ+ communities and an overall reinforcement of stereotypes already largely believed by the general public.
One example of this is pointed out by Vel in the very successful “Game of Thrones” television series. There are only two characters of color in the show, and they both seem to have very underdeveloped stories and come across as very one dimensional.
They are also, as Vel points out, inevitably put in a relationship with one another. While there isn’t a problem with this, pairing the only two black characters together is a pretty predictable outcome for mainstream media.
Another example that comes to mind is the famous Disney film, “Princess and the Frog.” It doesn’t take a whole lot of meaningful analysis to come to the conclusion that the only Black Disney princess being a frog for 90% of the film is definitely a miss on Disney’s part. In this way, it seems that diversity was simply a requirement the creators of the film had to complete.
A Disney film that came out recently that I think did a great job with meaningful representation was “Strange World.” It is a comedic adventure story that deals with family dynamics and the importance of helping the environment. One of its main characters is a young, Black teen who struggles with a crush he has on another guy he’s close friends with. This enhances the story and allows us to dig deeper into his character without misrepresenting him or primarily focusing the plot on this part of him.
This is not all to say that all diversity in media is bad or that including marginalized groups in media should be a perfectly tailored process. Instead, this is a call for POC, queer characters that are allowed to have just as much meaning as any other character and not treated as a slot to be filled in.