Monday, June 6, 2016

Overly Demonstrative Roles for POC in Media - What's the issue?


Do you ever notice how people are typecast in TV shows or advertisements? I’ve always wanted to bring up this issue of over demonstrative roles/characters because I think it’s such an unspoken problem in our society. 

If there’s a nerd on the show, he’s probably asian. If the show involves Indians, they probably have an accent. If an advertisement/tv show depicts a poor person or a terrorist, that person will more than likely be of colour. If a company is trying to portray a certain product as “tribal” they’ll probably use a black/indian girl. (Or worse, they won’t - but that’s a whole different argument). 

This had always dawned on me in acting. There were rarely people of colour on TV growing up, but when there were they seemed to fit a certain stereotype. Funny black guy, nerdy asian kid, fobby indian friend. There wasn’t much in between. 

But why is this a problem? I mean POC want more representation, and now they’re getting it right? So what’s the issue?

The issue is MASSIVE. And here’s why:

Casting POC in overly demonstrative roles perpetuates stereotypes. We live in a world where POC already have to prove so much. All brown people aren’t terrorists, all black women are not angry, all asian guys aren’t nerds. But how can we try to prove that when these are some of the only representations POC get in media? To quote Jesse Williams, “By the way if you don’t live around Black folks and you just watch tv, you’re going to be racist. I’d be racist! It’s a mathematical equation. You and the media and a fake ass history system that makes you believe that White people created any of this makes you think that Black people ain’t worth a damn. Of course, that’s the way the algorithm works”. 

These roles put us in boxes: “You’re only good for this type of role, but a white actor can play anything". We experience same idea with modelling: a white model can go anywhere in the world, to any market and get work. But there are certain markets that coloured models are told not to bother with because those markets “don’t book dark girls”. I’ve been told that to my face, many times, “unfortunately this market is a little racist”…like I’m supposed to take that lightly. Followed by: “Oh but don’t worry babe, if a makeup line decides to do a “tribal” inspired collection, we’ll call you”. *rolls eyes*

Also FYI, it’s actually not representation when you’re only presenting us a certain way. When you perpetuate stereotypes you’re not including us in the bigger picture - we’re still so separate from the general society because we only fit certain roles and so we’re still on the outside only being seen one way. 

What I’m saying is: diversity in the entertainment industry needs to be approached sensitively. A TV show casting one brown guy as a doctor isn’t getting applause from me. If you’re going to claim to be diverse you need to actually DIVERSIFY how you cast roles. The guy in the gang doesn’t always have to be black. The terrorist in your movie doesn’t have to be Middle Eastern/Muslim. The indian girl doesn’t have to have parents with super strong accents who scold her for not wanting to be a lawyer. Come on, get creative. 

When people are constantly given these images by the media, these are the images that occupy their minds and help them formulate opinions. That’s a huge problem. It’s not just about being happy that a sitcom has one POC in their cast who’s so demonstratively a POC (whatever the colour is: sassy black girl, indian girl aspiring to be a doctor, nerdy asian who can’t get any girls). Why should I be happy about that? That’s not good enough. It’s about presenting POC as people who can exist in many different ways, with different personalities, roles and purposes in society, where we can exist as part of society as a whole and not just fulfilling the roles that are convenient for you. You know, like how we ACTUALLY exist in society? 

What I’m trying to say is this: I can admit this industry is slowly making it’s way to being more inclusive with POC - but if it’s being done in such a way that the way we’re perceived is so controlled then what good is it doing us? Are we being included or is our identity being policed?


Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  

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