24 Nov CAN YOU HEAR ME?
The way minorities are represented in the media is something that’s never quite sat right with me. In many of the shows and movies that I’ve seen, Hollywood either doesn’t do representation at all, or does it poorly– which is often even more harmful.
Given my feelings of frustration with poor representation in the media, I am always enthused to find positive representations– which is why I fell in love with To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. I was enamored with this movie for so many reasons; the soundtrack, the outfits, and my guilty pleasure– the fake-dating trope. All of these features I love about the movie– or combinations of them– can be found in countless other teen romcoms. What set To All the Boys apart for me, and for a lot of other people, was that Lara Jean is an Asian girl.
Lara Jean celebrates Korean new year, has Korean snacks, but doesn’t speak Korean and at times feels disconnected from the entire culture itself. The film speaks to the identity crisis that so many second-generation immigrants face. You’re still in touch with several aspects of the culture of your birth country, but there’s a ceiling to your knowledge of and familiarity with the culture from not being raised there. This can be a source of sadness and shame for second-generation immigrants. It is a theme that mainstream media rarely covers, but To All the Boys voices impeccably.
With that being said, these aspects of Lara Jean’s Korean culture and her crises related to it are so seamlessly integrated into the film such that it is still relatable to all audiences– regardless of who you are, or where you’re from.
I was taken by The Queen’s Gambit’s Beth Harmon for similar reasons. The Queen’s Gambit follows Harmon’s incredible success within the male-dominated field of competitive chess in the 1960s. I remember watching the show and feeling completely moved. Throughout the show’s entirety, men underestimate Beth’s talent due to her womanhood– a theme that is universally relatable for so many women– but it never shakes Beth’s confidence in herself and her skill.
What made Beth even more empowering was the multidimensionality of her character and story. While trying to navigate the chess scene, she was simultaneously navigating a journey of self-actualization. Beth’s character was shaped by so many influences including love and sex, the formation of friendships with people from youth to adolescence, and professional relationships too. The show also follows her struggle with substance abuse and losses within her family.
When people of colour or minority groups in general are cast as leads of shows and movies, a lot of these stories are heavily skewed by their positionality. This creates unidimensional depictions of minorities on screen, and limits the scope of the stories minority groups are cast into. Many of these roles focus on racialized identities through a lens of oppression rather than expanding into other lived experiences..
Don’t get me wrong– it’s important to tell stories about minorities, the struggles we face, our fascinating cultures. But when there are significantly more stories about minority groups than stories about individual people within minority groups, this perpetuates otherness. The struggles and personality traits of minorities are absolutely influenced by the fact we are minorities, but they don’t purely stem from that fact. There are so many stories we need to tell that have not yet been said. It is not enough to be represented in the media that we consume. We want to feel seen.
Being a minority group is undeniably a part of who we are, but it is not all that we are. Multidimensional portrayals of racialized and queer people in media are possible– we just need those same people behind the screen advocating for and telling these stories. Support for media produced by minorities and resistance to poor representations on the screen are essential.
Diversity can no longer just be a quota Hollywood checks off their list when producing films and shows. We need to increase the representation of minorities in the media, and we need to do it right.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: MADDIE YULE