Diversity today means something radically different than it did 50 years ago. With the emergence of new shoes and movies in previous years like Luke Cage, Fresh Off the Boat, Sense8, Dope, and Blackish, there is much more representation today than ever before. Gay people are no longer just the sassy sidekick, Asian people are no longer sidelined as minor characters, and black people are now represented as more than just uneducated criminals. Minorities today are usually able to find one representation of them in media. The problem, though, is that many are hard pressed to find more than one.
Today’s media, albeit more progressive than ever before, still faces problems in diverse representation. Where are the LGBTQ+ characters of color? Where are the LGBTQ+ characters of different religions? Where are the interactions between characters of different ethnicities? Where are the characters of color with mental illnesses? These criticisms aren’t meant to nitpick or discredit diversity in the media today, but I want to address the perception that just because there’s more diversity today doesn’t mean that it’s enough or real representation by any means.
Sense8 is one show that features a diverse cast of characters, seemingly checking all the boxes with representation. At the same time, it has a plot that doesn’t appeal to everyone. A dramatic sci-fi based Netflix original, Sense8 features a complex plot that many can appreciate but also features gore and violence and potential triggers for some. For anyone who wants representation but doesn’t enjoy sci-fi or drama – they have a dilemma. They have to choose between representation and supporting a diverse cast or watching a personally appealing show without the diversity. On the other hand, cis white people have a wide range of shows to choose from that will always represent them. No matter how much representation there is today, not everyone is able to enjoy it. As much as minorities can appreciate the diversity today — it means nothing if they can’t watch it and experience it themselves.
Another problem with the representative media of today is that every show and movie is expected to do everything. A new show featuring a diverse cast is supposed to be funny, entertaining, and also has to address important issues. That same show also has to appeal to every single minority watching it for representation. Shows with majorly white and straight casts don’t experience that struggle; if one show doesn’t appeal to viewers, there’s always going to be another show that will. Meanwhile, diversity is still hard to find in children’s shows, despite it being hugely important that children grow up seeing representations of themselves on screen. Diversity in popular culture doesn’t matter if it’s only accessible for mature audiences.
Is media truly representative if there are parts of a minority that can’t experience that diversity?
We, as viewers, have the power to put more diversity on screen. Movies and shows operate based on what get’s them money. It’s been shown consistently that representation sells; the major successes of these recent blockbusters proves that. If audiences keep supporting diverse media, Hollywood will follow the trend. If we want more representation on screen, we have to start by supporting the diversity already in media.