Representation Matters

Tonight people everywhere were watching the Golden Globe awards. The film world rewards its storytellers in glitz and glamor. But what about those who do not even get to enter the room, much less sit at the table (or stand at the podium)? I have spoken in the past about the necessity for Black people/African diaspora to have our own media. The fact is, Black people/African diaspora, as well as many other underrepresented groups in mainstream media, do have our own media – we have filmmakers making films all over the world. We have storytellers telling stories everywhere. We have vibrant and growing film industries in developing nations around the world. There are all sorts of storytellers using all sorts of media. But they are not going to be at the Golden Globes or any other large mainstream award ceremony being recognized for their work. Their films too often sit unnoticed and underappreciated, not because they’re not good. Not because they’re not necessary. But because they are not even on the radar of the power-brokers of the industry. And the industry is fine with it that way. My question is – are WE fine with it that way?

There is so much isolation, cultural and structural segregation in the media we access that we do not see the stories of large groups of people as told by themselves. Because these stories are not as easy to access, we more actively and tangibly support mainstream films, mainstream stories that notoriously exclude and stereotype large groups of people. Film is a tool that helps people cross both psychological and physical borders, learn each others’ stories, live beyond our small individual worlds and experience more of the human experience. Yet the average person is not exposed to enough imagery, stories, experiences of people who are considered too “other”, too uncomfortable  or too fiscally “risky” for film execs. Imagine how drastically such a film industry deprives us from having a better understanding of each other and a more inclusive picture of the human experience.

Representation matters. It matters in many important and tangible ways. Representation matters psychologically to those who do not usually see themselves represented with respect on the media we consume. It matters psychologically for the girl born without a forearm to see a woman on screen kicking ass and taking names with an arm that looks like hers (e.g. Mad Max). It would mean even more if the opportunity to perform such a character was played by an actor who actually does live without a forearm rather than a forearm having to be digitally manipulated away.

Representation is also important to those who do not know what life is like for people outside their small realm of experience. The media influences our ability to empathize with each other because it affects how we see each other, how we relate to each other, what stereotypes we have about each other and so much more. Representation also matters because it affects what we perceive as “norms” and thus it affects how we behave. When we are given only limited images of what is “normal” and “okay” we react to that, and to the people and experiences that fall outside of that category, in ways that are exclusive, stigmatizing, and destructive. Those who do not fall into the category destroy themselves trying to fit into impossible ideals, and those who do fall into the limited category sold as “normal” remain in a bubble that limits their ability to truly interface with the reality of the wide and diverse world  in which we live.

This is an issue that I am passionate about because I grew up on a small island which I did not really leave until adulthood. Much of what I learned about the world beyond our coastlines were taught to me through media, movies, t.v. shows, books, music… and so much of it was warped, wrong, stereotypical and limiting. I also realized that how people saw me, a Black woman, member of the African diaspora, a Caribbean woman, specifically a Trinbagonian woman, was also warped, wrong, stereotypical and limiting based on representations of people like me in the media. We need to do better.

Color-Reel-LogoIn my own way I am doing better by working on a project to address some of what I have spoken of: this lack of representation, lack of opportunity. I am building a film steaming platform called ColorReel for which I am currently crowdfunding. This platform will focus on making the works of filmmakers from underrepresented groups available to audiences worldwide. Integrity means aligning what you say and what you do, which involves putting my money and effort where my mouth is. This platform will make films about and by underrepresented groups accessible, reducing some of the isolation and structural segregation we experience when we depend on the mainstream film industry. This platform also aims to pay filmmakers, allowing them to have a residual income and create more films. Money will also go towards filmmaking grants to stimulate the development of a truly diverse film industry that supports is filmmakers. If you’d like to help me launch this project please donate to my GoFundMe fundraiser here.

© 2016 Kelene Blake, All Rights Reserved