For people of color (POC) and other marginalized groups, representation in the media can often follow stereotypes and perpetuate harmful ideas. In a society that is increasingly attempting to increase representation in the media, we need to distinguish between accurate and harmful representation.
POC and other marginalized groups, such as queer or disabled people, shouldn’t be used by media companies for surface-level media representation to satisfy the public in promoting diversity and inclusivity. This representation can potentially cause more harm than good since it can influence the public’s perception of certain groups of people differently and negatively. Instead, the media should portray the meaningful and genuine experiences of these marginalized groups.
There’s a line that needs to be drawn between proper, accurate representation versus representation that is harmful and inaccurate. Accurate representation portrays communities in a positive light, focusing on experiences that can be relatable for that community, without reducing it to something easily explainable to an audience who may not be familiar with the community. Movies like “The Farewell” and “Crazy Rich Asians” have received praise for providing an accurate representation of Asian American communities.
In contrast, inaccurate representation typically focuses on stereotypes — specifically ones that the community involved has distanced themselves from. This type of representation is also surface-level, focusing on details that a typical watcher may be familiar with instead of digging deeper into the culture or community involved, and it can often have harmful effects on the community being represented. While the show “Euphoria” is widely acclaimed for its accurate portrayal of drug abuse, many fans claim the show doesn’t have enough POC representation and the representation it does have is based on stereotypes or lacks meaning. For example, the characters of McKay and Kat follow stereotypes based on their identities, with McKay being portrayed as hyper-athletic and Kat as an insecure, self-hating fat woman. To add on, both of these characters are cast aside in the second season as their storylines become diluted, showing how their representation didn’t provide anything meaningful for the communities they represented.
There’s a difference between the presence of people of color and the accurate representation of them. If people of color are solely chosen to fill a quota in a movie or make a company seem diverse and inclusive but are not given real character development further than perpetuating harmful stereotypes, their “representation” is redundant and serves no meaningful purpose for the community the character is supposed to be representing. One example is the show “Riverdale,” which recently came under fire for merely including POC characters without furthering the character’s development. The mere presence of an individual doesn’t connote representation; representation requires a deeper level of understanding of how one’s culture or experiences contributes to their identity.
Media companies along with those who work in the media need to realize the difference between presence and representation. While their intentions mean well, their execution isn’t efficient and places the work disproportionately on people of color. Oftentimes, people of color are tasked with taking on diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on top of their current jobs without being adequately compensated. Promoting diversity in media companies takes time and requires a lot of learning and dedication for all workers involved, not just the people of color who are tasked with promoting it.
For media companies to follow through in promoting diversity, it’s important for them to increase representation in the workplace too, such as hiring production teams and directors that share the same experiences of the communities they wish to represent more accurately.
We as consumers can also push our favorite media companies, shows and movies to include more accurate representation rather than ones that are riddled with stereotypes. By avoiding media consumption from companies that don’t do it right and vocalizing our thoughts either on social media or online, consumers can rally supporters to influence media companies to make changes. It’s also valuable to support the franchises that are already doing this, especially with how rare this can be in the media industry.
Representation in the media is so incredibly important for individuals to see themselves on screen; however, it should reflect their genuine experiences instead of their mere presence.
Camelia Heins is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.