Don’t get me wrong, it’s getting better. Representation in all forms of media is slowly aligning itself with modern standards of inclusion. We have certainly come a long way. The thing is though, a lot of these characters are still limited to acting out stories that are dictated by their status as a minority. Maybe I’m speaking only on behalf of myself here, but please no more sad coming out films. No more films where the ‘plot’ is that the Asian child lives under the expectations of their parent. And absolutely not one more where a terminal illness is warped into a cockblock (I am looking at you Cole Sprouse).
It’s time for the separation of character/context and narrative. What I mean is that choosing to include and represent a minority group shouldn’t define the entire story. Largely, the race/sexuality/socioeconomic background of a character in a film shouldn’t predispose them to a plot line. There are experiences that are widely shared by certain communities, yes, of course, but there are also hordes of unrepresented individual experiences that are equally valid.
What I’m asking really is: where are the picture books where the gay parents have to climb a tree to rescue their little boy’s kite? I want to watch a film in which a girl in a wheelchair idk… opens a bakery. The girl in the hijab might trek across the Pyrenees and the non-binary student might have to choose between… yep, you guessed it: their law degree and a career as a fashion designer.
I’m not saying that these are the next big hits but I’m getting at a larger point here.
These details, these back stories, could be reduced to just that (every now and again). Because race, sexuality, religion, these things form only a part of any given story. Where are the stories in which a young girl does, well, anything at all, whilst also happening to be a lesbian? These characters, these real and true people should be in both the background and the foreground of any modern work.
People talk about the burden of representation but maybe it’s time to move away from these expectations of universalism. I’m yet to watch a film in which there’s a character with whom I fully identify, despite the staggering volume of films about teenage white girls. Instead of expecting characters to perfectly capture all-inclusive experiences, maybe we could just enjoy accessing diverse personal and individual truths.
I have no intention of demeaning the importance of representation, or of belittling the impact these factors have on individual lives. All I am proposing is that we enact a movement of stories that are inclusive without being sociocentric (a word it took me an hour to find). The gays come out and the Muslim girls wear a hijab, and also they live diverse and (sometimes) fascinating lives.