Too many times I see and hear people complain about diversity within a show, movie, or book. Often times it goes something like this: “I don’t have a problem with (insert minority here), but I hate how (minority group) makes such a big deal about it” or “It’s fine if you’re (insert minority here), but I don’t get why it has to be in every single (movie, show, book) now days”. Well, I’ll tell you why, and the answer really is quite simple: representation matters.
If you’re a minority, chances are you don’t see yourself represented a lot in movies, shows, books, video games, etc. And being represented accurately or in a non harmful way is even rarer. So for minorities, seeing themselves represented accurately in their favourite show is a big deal.
And it’s especially important for children (minorities or not) to see all kinds of diversity on the screen from a young age. A child who grows up watching shows with many different kinds of diversity is more likely to be more tolerant and understanding. But the children it impacts the most are the ones who belong to minority groups. A gay child watching a show with LGBT+ characters is taught that there’s nothing shameful about being gay. A black child watching a show with POC characters is inspired to become whatever they want to be. A young girl watching a show with female characters is strengthened and empowered.
For adult minorities it’s a bit different. Often times seeing representation on television is a great reminder that there’s no reason to be ashamed of who you are. Some groups of adult minorities though have never or very rarely see their respective group portrayed on television, so when a character does represent them it can be shocking and emotive. For the first time, they finally see someone like them in their favourite show, book, movie, or video game.
If you still don’t understand why representation is so important, try thinking about it this way. Think of the colour of your hair. I’ll use brown as the example. Imagine that only one or two of your friends have brown hair, maybe none of them do. You hear and see a lot of comments that people with brown hair are mean, they say that people with brown hair are stuck up and only care about themselves. Some people even say that people with brown hair don’t exist because they’ve never seen a brown-haired person. But you know that’s not true. At least you think so. You’re not mean or stuck up, right? You did stand up for yourself the other day, but that wasn’t being mean, right? Maybe it was. Maybe you are as stuck up as people say. But you do exist. When you think about yourself you think about your brown hair. It’s really there, right? Or maybe you’re just pretending to have brown hair. Did something happen when you were younger that turned your hair brown? Are you sure you aren’t mistaking your brown hair for black hair? You probably just want to feel special so you say you have brown hair, but you really don’t.
Then, one day while you’re watching your favourite show, a brown-haired character is suddenly introduced. And you’re in shock because that character is like you. And they aren’t mean and they aren’t stuck up, and they aren’t faking having brown hair. Can you imagine how happy you’d feel to finally see someone like you on tv, especially after hearing and seeing so many comments stereotyping who you are? This character finally shows what it’s like to be a brown-haired person. This character reminds you that you aren’t alone.
This is what it feels like for many minorities to see themselves represented on the screen. Hopefully you can imagine what a big deal this would be and why minorities demand that they see more of themselves on television.
Lastly, diversity isn’t just about minorities. Television shows, books, and movies that showcase minority groups help raise awareness among majorities. For example, searches on Google that contained the word “asexuality” spiked to the highest it’s ever been after Todd from BoJack Horseman came out as asexual in September 2017. Because BoJack Horseman decided to feature a minority many more people are now aware of a term they probably didn’t know before. Like the asexual community, many other minority groups benefit from people actually knowing who they are and that they exist. And all groups of minorities benefit greatly when a character representing them is not shown in a negative and harmful light.
In conclusion, representation matters. Minority groups get so worked up because they often don’t have good representation to be satisfied with all the time. What makes them a minority also makes them who they are. It’s a lot easier to feel good about yourself when you’re given good representation.