Debunking Myths About Representation


Juliet Chang, Writer

According to the Huffington Post, “Stories affect how we live our lives, how we see other people, how we think about ourselves.” Representation in media is very important and the need for it is only growing as the demographics of the United States diversifies. In films, music, and other forms of media, seeing someone you can relate to plays a large role in internal biases, motivation, and politics -despite common belief.

Even with recent movie hits starring underrepresented communities like Black Panther, To All the Boys I’ve Loved, Crazy Rich Asians, Love, Simon, Coco, and Call Me By Your Name making waves across screens, on-screen representation still seems to be lacking. Important but forgotten, people often underestimate why representation matters. A recent survey sent to South High students showed how little some of us know or don’t know about why representation matters. Here are some myths about representation in media -debunked (submitted from South High Students).

Sheboygan’s own movie theater shows movies every day, from horror movies to romantic comedies.

MYTH #1- Representation DOESN’T Matter

“Representation is arguably unimportant and is mostly blown out of the water. Do you want representation in the media? There is a place for anyone, even literal Nazis. It’s called the normal web, the dark web, and the deep web.” (Submitted)

Yes, there is a place for everyone somewhere on the internet, BUT everyone deserves to see someone like them in the spotlight. It’s disappointing to hear that if someone would want to see someone like them, they’d have to dig deep and search for someone who somewhat resembles them when currently, media parades around movies with white male protagonists back-to-back. Everyone deserves a chance to be seen and have their stories in the front, to be validated, and accepted in an inclusive environment. It has been acknowledged multiple times, that representation in media positively helps minorities and women to build self-esteem and set high career goals for themselves. By ignoring these groups and shoving them to deeper parts of the web, it displays a behavior that is uncaring about their individual and unique stories. Not every movie has to be a “diversity token”, the goal is to normalize representation.

MYTH #2- Representation in Media Doesn’t Apply to “Real” Issues

“This survey [on media representation] doesn’t feel relevant to current issues happening in America.” (Submitted)

Sometimes it may be hard to differentiate from why make believes and movies are relevant to real life issues and politics, BUT what happens in Hollywood pretty accurately reflects the country’s government. The country is near 50% male and 50% female, racial minorities make up around 40% of the population. In the original survey that was sent out, it was stated how these groups, making most of the population, got less than 20% of the lead roles in films. Hollywood is representation in media, so let’s move to our representative government. People often accept it as it is without thinking about criticizing for a representative government, it fails to accurately reflect the demographics of the country. Junior Camila Trimberger comments on representation, “After the midterms where a large amount of “firsts” were elected.” It’s true, most of Congress happens to be white males in the upper 50’s/early 60’s. In fact, after this year’s midterms, a record amount of females were elected into Congress, more than females being a part of Congress than ever before, but they still don’t even total to a quarter of the Congress. What we see in Hollywood, the land of make-believe, is just the same as what we see in our representative democracy.

MYTH #3- Representation in Media is Already Good

“A lot of people argue there isn’t enough of different representations in like movies. That it’s been “whited out.” (Submitted)

If representation in media was “good” or “accurate” there wouldn’t be discussions like this. Conversations about representation will exist as long as movie characters are whitewashed and people’s voices are stifled. Recently, a trailer for the horror movie, La Llarona, was dropped but only to reveal that its main role, would be played by a white American -even though its story revolves around Mexican folklore. Besides considering white-washing of characters in movies, when people of color do get roles, they’re often cast as side-kicks playing stereotypes. Those kinds of images negatively display people and restrict how they and others perceive them. What representation means is more than seeing a one-dimensional sidekick who looks like you, but a complex multi-faceted individual who may belong to a certain minority but is also their own person. Minorities don’t want to be your “spicy Latina”, “headdress wearing Native American”, “gay best friend”, “nerdy Asian”, or any other stereotype that’s been tossed to them.

MYTH #4- Representation is Uncomfortable so We Shouldn’t Talk About It

“I can see how people will be upset about not having a person or character that isn’t like them in media, but I don’t care all that.” (Submitted)

Out of a school of over 1,000 students, only 27 answered the original survey tied to this article. Whether reasons for not answering be that they were too scared to share opinions, didn’t care to share their opinions, or for some other reason, less than 2% of the student body wanted to talk about this issue. Representation in media is a topic we MUST talk about. Not all the influences of representation are obvious, some are more subtle. In the classic sociology experiments concerning how children perceive race (yes, they, in fact, are subconsciously aware of this), children do have racial baizes and so do adults. By simply ignoring and overlooking the issue at hand, we are letting things such as racism slide under the doormat. Even if one is not conscious of the effects on them individually, it will manifest in the behaviors of a group as a whole.

Talking about social issues is the only way to resolve them. Having clear conversations guided by open minds and facts are the key to solving issues. It may seem unnecessary if someone is used to seeing people who like them on the screen, but for those like me who don’t get that luxury, representation is all we ask for. Hopefully, by the end of the myth-busting, new light is shed on why representation is an important issue in society.