In this guest blog, Shelley Patterson, an Action for Race Equality volunteer currently supporting our Routes2Success programme, writes about the state of race and representation in the film and media industry, and the impact of seeing your reality reflected in what you consume.
The media, film and entertainment industry too often tends to marginalise Black, Asian, Mixed and minority ethnic people, and this is a real problem. There should be a promotion of inclusion not exclusion in the industry. What we watch must be a fair and accurate representation of the society we live in today. We have to appreciate that the world is full of difference and that difference should be reflected on our screens.
But, representation for those of us from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds has been practically non-existent or negative, with the media historically depicting stereotypical representations – prominent biases that have shown us as criminals, terrorists, uneducated or sexualised by film and media.
The impact of this is that it creates unconscious biases in the minds of viewers reinforcing negative stereotypes about different ethnic groups.
In the hours that young people spend consuming media, there is a power to shape what they imagine possible for people that look like them or come from where they come from.
It is, therefore, so important for young people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to see people who look like them in the things they watch. But it can be empowering for everyone – even for adults who as kids didn’t see themselves on their TVs – to see someone they can identify with. This shapes the expectations individuals have for themselves.
There have been major steps taken for ethnic representation in 2022 and in recent years, compared to the media’s previous poor track record.
I acknowledge the strides taken by many filmmakers – some filmmakers from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds themselves – in putting diversity onto our screens, creating not just great movies but creating representation.
Woman King directed by Gina Prince Bythewood, is an amazing example of Black women being portrayed in an empowering and positive light. The film is beautiful and inspiring. Movies like Black Panther directed by Ryan Coogler, another Black director, and Shang Chi with Marvel’s first Asian superhero have been historic moments, especially for young people and older generations allowing them to recognise the importance of seeing a superhero from a Black or Asian background on screen for the first time.
From my own experiences, I know how important representation is. Being a Black woman, it was surprising to watch Princess and the Frog for the first-time and seeing Disney’s first Black princess. I don’t think I realised until much later that the reason I loved the film so much was because Princess Tianna looked just like me. The progress made has been remarkable, however there is still significant room for improvement.
Everyone has a story like mine of when a character finally resonated with them. This is why representation matters. It is unquestionable that diversity in TV and film is vital: these mediums play a prominent and influential role in today’s culture. There is no better way than watching a film and seeing people we relate to and that we can recognise ourselves in, to have our experiences and place in the world seen, heard and validated.
Author: Shelley Patterson
King’s College London, and volunteer at Action for Race Equality