Today we are going to be talking about different ways that representation matters. As any good feminist knows, intersectionality is key to hopefully overcoming many of the obstacles we face as women. Ultimately the point is that there are different types of oppression and we all experience them differently. I as a white female, experience different types of oppression as a woman who is gay, or who is black, for example. This blog is focused on the representation of young women in the media and it would not be a very progressive blog if all I did was focus on people who look like me. This post is going to be focused on ways I have noticed television and movies changing to allow for more representation, but also I will discuss the importance of outside of fiction, how important discussing these issues are. We are blessed to have so many smart and talented young women speaking up about these issues currently.
Let’s talk about a few things I’ve already discussed on the blog to start with. YouTube and Shadowhunters. First and foremost, YouTube, because of the nature of its content has almost anything you could ask for on it. Which means that there are successful and interesting vloggers for almost anyone. The girls I recommended last Saturday are only a handful of the wonderful women who represent different types of people and support and further social causes. Shadowhunters, additionally, is hands down one of the most diverse casts I have seen in years. Numerous cast members have mentioned that despite the source material and scripts originally written as white characters, they were cast because of their talent and chemistry with the other actors. With the addition of a canonical gay relationship as one of the driving forces behind the story, these casting choices speak volumes. The only thing I could complain about in terms of the casting is that the show hasn’t adjusted the scripts or background information as of yet so some things are up in the air. Alec and Izzy’s parents are of different races, so the two children taking after one of the parents more than the other makes sense (Matthew Daddario and Emeraude Toubia do have similar features but also it is clear that where Emeraude is Latina Matthew is clearly pretty white), their younger brother Max being cast as a blonde haired blue-eyed 8 year old isn’t the greatest thing ever.
What would be amazing is if this show got picked up for season 2, we saw more interaction with the siblings and their parents and more integration of Spanish into their conversations. So far Izzy has dropped quite a few Spanish words and phrases into her interactions with people and I think it would take it to another level of awesome if we had background information on the how the language is important to the Lightwoods. Despite the minor faux pas in some of the casting however, Shadowhunters has honestly set the bar really high for fantasy television. It is crucial and important that our television takes similar stances, especially ones marketed towards young people. This show has not once made me uncomfortable with overused tropes that disenfranchise people, it has never made an uncomfortable joke at the expense of oppressed people, and unlike the books, it is grounding itself in ideas of healthy female friendships. That is nuts.
This probably has much to do with its network, Freeform. Freeform is home to many shows that have broken molds like Shadowhunters is. The Fosters, a show about a lesbian couple and their adopted and foster children has week after week in the shows three seasons, tackled current social issues head on with grace. Freeform is also the home of Switched at Birth which features a young deaf girl as one of the main characters. Sadly though, some teen shows don’t reach the same level of representation. The 100 has attempted to do similar things to the sci-fi dystopian genre aimed at young people but it hasn’t worked. The show, that (sadly for them) is full of exceptionally talented actors, consistently relies on racist and xenophobic stereotypes to drive its story forward while insisting that the universe the show exists in is some sort of sexuality utopia where there aren’t the same social issues surrounding sexuality. But they just killed a lesbian character minutes after the shows only same sex love scene in one of the most overused and boring ways possible… Anyway…. that was a tangent. Back to it!
These ways that television is changing are significant I think is rooted in the fact that the audience is young people. Network shows like How to Get Away with Murder (and all of Shonda Rhimes’ shows), Supergirl, Quantico, Fresh Off the Boat, Crazy Ex Girfriend, Jane the Virgin, Blackish, that are marketed to an older age group are also continuing this trend of taking issues of diversity and making it an important part of casting and storytelling. Netflix, HBO, Showtime, etc. have been and currently are doing very similar things in terms of representation. Sense8 (sidebar: everyone should be watching this show), Jessica Jones, Orange is the New Black, and many many other cable/online shows are naturally probably the most successful at this because they have the most freedom in terms of the content they produce. Another way we need to look at this issue of representation is in who is being given what jobs. If a variety of people are not being hired, then is it surprising we are seeing the same stories being told over and over again? No. The people producing the content also needs to see a shift in order to tell different and compelling stories.
Let’s stick to media marketed towards young people though. As important as it is to mention the shows and movies that young people are inundated with and the ways they are breaking molds and boundaries (Zootopia, Inside Out, Big Hero 6 are some of the greatest animated movies I have ever seen and I think they are crucial for young people, even especially boys, to watch because of their messages about acceptance), I think it is also important to talk about the actors and their voices. This year has been one where we’ve seen an influx of girls speaking their minds and use their voices to help these discussions come to light. Specifically, two young women and the way they speak about feminism, intersectionality and racial issues.
Rowan Blanchard the star of Girl Meets World, and Amandla Stenberg best known for Rue from The Hunger Games (a role that as a child she received hate for because fans thought a black girl couldn’t play an innocent child even though the character was black in the books…) have both taken to the internet to challenge the ways our society and media think about these social issues. Amandla, 17, has repeatedly brought to light issues of cultural appropriation and wholeheartedly embraces the role of an activist. Rowan, 14, also has taken to the internet to discuss feminism, and specifically intersectionality in an essay she wrote. These young people (they are SOOO young) are already a million times smarter than me and most people I know and I for one, especially am excited for these new socially aware young people using their space in the world to help others.
Ultimately the point of this post, like all of my posts, is to think about the media we consume. It’s easy to passively watch things, and honestly we can still do that sometimes too. But it is hard for my English major self to not think about these types of things, so I’m constantly analyzing how the things I’m interacting with are being presented to me. I’ve been speaking so far about how things are changing, and they are, especially for young people I think. But ultimately it is not only about young girls. It’s about all of us, and about representing the ways that everyone is multi faceted and nuanced. It’s all about allowing all of us to see different parts of humanity on screen. We’ve seen so many horrible tropes, and so many shows sadly still doing it (most recently and annoyingly with The 100. Can you tell I’m furious about it?). What I want from my television, movies, music, online content, is good representation. It’s easy to cast a whack of different people in order to get a bit of praise in terms of casting choices, then perpetually have your narrative based in racist, sexist or homophobic ideologies. I would like human stories, about humans. I think we’re getting there, don’t you?
Wednesday: Shadowhunters 1×10! Alternate Universes, demons and law breaking!
Saturday: We’re going to dive into the world of the ladies of Stars Hollow and have a little chat about Gilmore Girls.