Representation in media, and its importance, is not a new topic of conversation. In gaming, it’s around discussions of the protagonist not always being a white male. In film, hashtags like #OscarsSoWhite bring it to attention, or how an Asian actor was photoshopped into leading film posters to make a point. From films to games to TV series, representation is widely spoken about.

The Golden Globes recently brought it to the forefront, after the successes of Donald Glover’s TV show titled Atlanta, along with indie film Moonlight. The common thread between both Golden Globe winners is that they featured predominantly black casts.

Despite the largely white cast of La La Land stealing the show with its record-breaking 7 Globe haul, many celebrated the wins of Atlanta and Moonlight as a celebration of diversity. Their wins were not just a show of black excellence, but it was proof that diversity in a cast doesn’t get in the way of success when done right.

Benefits of representation in media 

Whilst discussions around representation in any form of media are not saying that all-black casts are the only way to go, it is important to understand the power that representation has and the benefits that come from it. Representation is also not limited to racial minorities, but also includes disabled communities, women, LGBTQ and more. So how does representation benefit all these groups?

Donald Glover’s acceptance speech for Atlanta’s Golden Globe awards was an apt illustration of one of the major benefits of representation. On stage, he gave a shout out to Atlanta-based hip hop group Migos and their latest single Bad and Boujee.

After that shout out, the song’s plays on Spotify shot up 243%. It rose on Google trends and has since topped the Hot 100 Billboard chart. Representation allows the door to be opened wider so that more minorities can have their moment to shine or be discovered.

Representation creates relatable and powerful role models and sources of inspiration. What many seem to take for granted is the power of having a role model that you can look up to and relate to. Having a black female role model was the reason the talented Lupita Nyong’o felt she could make it in acting.

This point is also made abundantly clear in an emotional story around a queer girl’s struggle in coming out. You can read the full story here, but the short of it is, a character coming out as gay in Supergirl helped a queer girl from committing suicide whilst struggling to deal with her own coming out.

Representation challenges the status quo and by doing that, brings fresh ideas to the table. Hollywood is a fanatic of formula. You only need to look at the superhero phase that we’re currently in to see its love of routine and safe approaches. Representation in media helps to break these formulaic approaches because it’s usually so rare for minorities to be given the spotlight.

Look at recent films such as The Danish Girl, a portrayal of the first man to undergo a sex change operation, or 12 Years A Slave, a powerful film around the life of an American slave. These films were widely praised for the fresh air they brought to a formulaic world. Similarly, Atlanta was so well received because of the unique voice it had and that wouldn’t have been possible without diversity in its cast. African-Americans telling their story with their own voice. Which leads us to the next benefit of representation.

It creates a platform for more voices to be heard. A point often raised these days is the danger of echo chambers online and how detrimental they are to creating constructive, engaging conversation. This same concept applies offline. When the same voices are being heard over and over again, conversation never progresses and the world is never challenged.

Giving a voice to minorities allows everyone to have their worlds opened up and to have their beliefs challenged in a positive, constructive way. This platform allows stereotypes and misconceptions to be broken and allows for more accurate portrayals. Stereotypes like all black people listen exclusively to Hip Hop and all aspire to be rappers or the glamorised, misrepresentation of disabilities such as autism.

The only way to truly combat these issues to give people who actually live these lives a voice, a platform to speak. In doing so, we can combat negative stereotypes and misconceptions that can do a lot of harm if left unchecked.

It’s Not Always Done Well

Despite the importance and benefits of representation in media, it’s not always achieved successfully. Sometimes it is flat-out ignored, as in the case of Ghost In The Shell which cast Scarlett Johansson, despite it being a Japanese franchise. Similarly, Matt Damon being cast in the film “A Great Wall” flies in the face of representation.

Sometimes representation is used as a gimmick. Hollywood’s latest transgression in this regard is the lazy idea of changing established superheroes to fit new demographics. Despite many praising it, it reeks of laziness and a band-aid fix that avoids dealing with the real issue.

This gimmick comes hot off the heels of another lazy attempt at fixing representation: the token cast. This approach tries to tick boxes of appealing to minorities by placing one of each in a cast, often filled with stereotypes or poorly written characters. One only needs to look at the 2015 release of Fantastic Four for a recent example of this awful approach.

The reaction to representation is just as mixed of a bag as its attempts. On one end of the spectrum you have the reaction to the Ghostbusters remake which had some of the fiercest backlash a film has seen-  and that was before it was even launched. Regardless of the justification of the criticism, the way it was delivered and how the actresses were harassed was completely out of line.

Luke Cage, Netflix’s Marvel based show, was also not immune to negative reactions despite being well received overall. There was criticism levied against the show because it didn’t feature enough white people. The outrage was ridiculed by many. On the other end of the spectrum, the reactions can be encouraging. Tracer, a character in Blizzard’s Overwatch game, was revealed to be in a relationship with another woman. The news was largely well received by the gaming community. Sure enough, some threw accusations at Blizzard of pandering to the “SJWs” but for many it was a nonchalant affair.

Everybody Wins

Representation is slowly but steadily becoming a reality. More and more minorities are being given a voice to speak and although it sometimes feels like not enough is being done, there is optimism in the future of media and its portrayal of minorities.

Whitewashing in media is being tolerated less and less. Inaccurate portrayals are being called out, success is being given to those that are daring –  and, importantly,  more and more minorities are being inspired by what they see in media to tell their own stories and aspire to contribute to the conversation.

In the end, representation in media is something everyone should be fighting for as we can all benefit from it. Who knows what song will become a chart topper after being given a shout out at one of the most prestigious award shows in America?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.

Last Updated: January 17, 2017

Glenn Kisela

I’ve always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I’m not doing that, I do photography and design. I’m also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

  • MonsterCheddar

    Ag FFS.

    • Read first. Complain after.

      • MonsterCheddar

        Okay, I get it. Sorry Glenn. Thought it was “one of those” again that we get so much in the media these days.

  • Sageville

    Surprised you didn’t mention the horror show of that Michael Jackson movie…

    Representation is massively important… preaching to the choir…

    • 40 Insane Frogs

      What do you mean, Michael Jackson wasn’t a white woman? How dare you misgender and misrepresent xir’s race!

      • Lu

        You joke. But as a kid I really thought he was a woman.

        • 40 Insane Frogs

          He certainly looked the part during the mid 90s, and it got even more confusing when he was standing next to his sister, La Toya…

          • Lu

            Jeez yeah. Though he had more transformations than certain DBZ villains

          • 40 Insane Frogs

            Super Funky New Nose Level 5!

  • konfab

    “Despite the importance and benefits of representation in media, it’s not always achieved successfully. Sometimes it is flat-out ignored, as in the case of Ghost In The Shell which cast Scarlett Johansson, despite it being a Japanese franchise. Similarly, Matt Damon being cast in the film “A Great Wall” flies in the face of representation.”

    So according to that precedent you set, would you be against a black person playing in a very British franchise such as James Bond?

    • Alessandro Barbosa

      Is James Bond a “white franchise”? Don’t see the similarity?

      • Spathi

        No, it is a franchise based on a character (and books) created by Ian Flemming. The character is a Caucasian male.

      • konfab

        Facially, Bond resembles the composer, singer and actor https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3b8b14d04009da96af295303dff006ddbfeb51f46b43df628e3f379827c33fb3.jpg . In Casino Royale Vesper Lynd remarks, “Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless.” Likewise, in Moonraker, Special Branch Officer Gala Brand thinks that Bond is “certainly good-looking … Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold.”[23] Others, such as journalist Ben Macintyre, identify aspects of Fleming’s own looks in his description of Bond.[24] General references in the novels describe Bond as having “dark, rather cruel good looks”.[25]

        • Alessandro Barbosa

          Many of these descriptors reference facial features and structure over race, all of which would then conflict with the many actors who have played Bond in the past. So with that in mind why couldn’t Bond be a black actor? Would breaking the convention of features so meticulously described by your examples only be acceptable by white actors? Is that the one line not to cross?

          In any case, I find that missing the point. The examples Glenn gave are clearly different. In The Great Wall, the movie is set in a time period that doesn’t make sense to have someone like Matt Damon in, nevermind lead. Ghost in a Shell, while set in a futuristic Japan which would most certainly have white Japanese citizens, star a Japanese woman with the name Motoko Kusanagi (which only takes two seconds to recognise as a Japanese name). So in those two cases I see the situation as vastly different.

          • konfab

            Why wouldn’t a white Japanese woman not have a Japanese name?

            You don’t see black people in the UK with West Indian names…

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Perhaps because black people have been in the UK for hundreds and hundreds of years already…

          • For the Emperor!

            “Given textual and archaeological evidence, it is thought that thousands of Europeans lived in Imperial China during the period of Mongol rule.[1] These were people from countries traditionally belonging to the lands of Christendom during the High to Late Middle Ages who visited, traded, performed Christian missionary work, or lived in China. This occurred primarily during the second half of the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, coinciding with the rule of the Mongol Empire, which ruled over a large part of Eurasia and connected Europe with their Chinese dominion of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).” – there is historical evidence for the possibility of white people in China.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Since we’re getting technical then, the film takes place during the Song Dynasty, which lasted from 960-1279. So technically there can still be an overlap, so there’s a point.

            Still, I think the underlying point is that it’s a film about the Great Wall of China, set during a period where a vastly small (read: minute) segment of the population was white, and yet it still can’t cast a Chinese lead? Come now 😛

          • Lu

            Have you seen the trailer? The movie is so far from reality the Europeans could have arrived there on a cloud sent by the Monkey king…..

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Yeah I get that (hence why I have no actual inherent interest in it. Monsters and shit?), but I do understand that arguments as to why the representation is problematic.

            As an aside, this is kind of the same argument when The Witcher 3 was called out for its lack of PoC, and was met with arguments that it was being historically accurate. While also banishing mythical creatures and the like. And I’d imagine, given a venn diagram, those defending Witcher 3 for their exclusion would make up for a majority who would argue the counter for The Great Wall.

            Maybe. Probably 😛

          • Lu

            Yeah but Great Wall’s lead is along the same line as The Last Samurai, foreigners in a strange land that end up defending it. (Very summarized of course). A Chinese lead would require the principal story (which is flimsy at best) to be replaced almost entirely.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            I….guess. I think The Last Samurai is a fairly stronger example given its connection to history and the actual facts behind why Tom Cruise’s character was there, but I see your point.

            I still feel that it just feeds into the issues that Glenn overall highlights, being that even in works that bear a strong connection to one ethnicity or culture, it’s often made to fit for another’s representation.

          • Lu

            Unfortunately all of his examples are poor in that regard. DragonBall Evolution would be a better example.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            …Because Goku is white? Isn’t that like exactly the same as Ghost in the Shell then XD

            (Sidenote: holy crap how bad was that movie though)

          • Lu

            To be fair he isn’t even human, but I’m focusing more on the destruction of the entire franchise’s story, characters and lore. Not to mention that dragonball is as Japenese as stuff gets (even though it’s a spin on Journey to the West), and yet there are how many japanese actors in that movie?

          • Lu

            Well we can stretch the naming thing a leetle bit. If her father was Japanese, but her mother say American (it happens), and they decided to please the family they’d raise her Japanese, it’s rather plausible.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            But you see these sorts of long winded attempts to justify it are kind of part of the problem? Like everyone knows Major is Japanese, and it’s made pretty clear. There are no doubt ways to find plausibilities that she could, in some universe be white, but wouldn’t just having her represented by a Japanese woman be, like, almost argument free?

          • Lu

            Yeah it probably just comes down to the studio guaranteeing profit by using a well known actress. But I really like arguing. And I really don’t believe it was a bad casting.

          • konfab

            But you see these sorts of long winded attempts to justify it are kind of part of the problem? Like everyone knows Bond is Caucasian, and it’s made pretty clear. There are no doubt ways to find plausibilities that he could, in some universe be black, but wouldn’t just having him represented by a White man be, like, almost argument free?

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Very clever, what you did there….

            I wasn’t actually making a long winded attempt to justify it, but simply using your examples of Bond’s definition according to Fleming to point out that most of them refer to facial features and not actually race (again face structure, make up etc). And as previously discussed, it’s vastly different to the examples Glenn gave, given that Bond, in the country, time period and era he exists in, and given the characters tendency to physically change over each new iteration, wouldn’t at all feel or seem out of place with a black lead.

          • konfab

            You want to make the assumptions about the demographics in society where people can effectively choose what they look like?

            I hope the film trolls everyone by showing a sequence where they show the people assembling the Major pick out the real Scarlett Johansson (who would be long dead in the timeline) as a likeness.

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Well like I said in my earlier comment, there may be a good reason why her shell is white when she’s Japanese that’s addressed in the movie. Hopefully. And hopefully well, unlike “she breathes through her skin” 😀

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Well it isn’t in the series (since, well, you know :P) but I wouldn’t actually be surprised if the film goes that route. Didn’t think of that tbh, might be how they address the backlash in a way

    • Umar

      Well…you do get black British people.

      • konfab

        You get white Japanese people then as well.

        • Umar

          Yeah but there is a major difference between the casting of a non-Asian actor for an Asian role opposed to casting a black person for a British role.

          • konfab

            Shaka Zulu was South African. Therefore you can assign a White South African to play him. Not a problem according to the logic you put there.

    • Sageville

      You appear to confuse “British” with “White”…

      Unless you’re speaking about 16th century Britian, where most were white. Today’s Britain is a cosmopolitan mix of the world’s people, so a black or even Indian decent actor could and probably should be the next Bond, if you’re talking about actual accurate representation.

      • konfab

        Wrong: London is a cosmopolitan mix of the world’s people. Contrary to popular belief, the UK isn’t London.

        • Alessandro Barbosa

          If you think the rest of England outside London isn’t as mixed, you’re very wrong.

          • Spathi

            “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.”

            -Daniel Patrick Moynihan

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            Then your definition of facts are very wrong, as Gavin so pointed out 🙂

          • Spathi

            Lol wut? Your statement is factually incorrect. The rest of England (everywhere that is not London), is not AS mixed as London. That is according statistics, you know, not someone’s opinion or Gavin walking around and counting people from different races. I struggle to understand how someone can misinterpret the word “fact”…but congrats you succeeded!

          • konfab
          • Have you been to Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham or Leeds… the UK is very very much not white outside of London and reposting a picture showing population density isn’t proof of anything really

          • konfab

            I have toured the whole UK…

            Saying the UK is very very much not white is like saying that South Africa is very very much not black out of Johannesburg.

          • Alessandro Barbosa

            ….You realise Gavin is, like, originally from the UK? As in he lived there for many years?

          • lol, as Alessandro pointed out.. I’m English. My entire family is English and I’ve lived in London, central England and Northern England

            London has a much higher % of diversity but as does every other main city in the country.

            It is a majority white country, but that doesn’t mean that people of other colours aren’t to be found outside London..

            Not to mention there are plenty of coloured English people all over the country.

        • Sageville

          Erm, I think I know what I’m talking about, I was born there, lived there, and worked there.

          Even small dorps have multi-cultural populace, just to a less extent. I grew up in Throckley, a small town in Newcastle upon tyne. Majority white, but there was always many different races all over the place. That was 3 decades ago, or alternatively I worked in a small suburb of Sale in Manchester, same story.

          So you pushing the UK as some whites only stronghold is frankly just bollocks.

    • Lu

      Have you heard Idris Elba speak? He’d make a damned good bond.

      • I’d dig for Idris to be the next Bond.

        I 100% believe that the character James Bond was intended to be white by the author of the books but I don’t believe casting Idris would be a problem.

        I’d have a hissy fit if they cast a female lead though, that would be changing the entire story and that’s not okay just to placate people.

      • konfab

        I am sure the creators of Ghost in the Shell also think that Scarlett Johansson is going to be a good Major.

        The point I am trying to make is not about the individual actors. It is more about the doublethink that is being employed.

        If you think that Idris Elba would make a good bond because of his abilities and not his looks, then you should also concede that Scarlett Johansson might make a good Major based on her abilities, and not her looks.

        If you decide to pick and choose after that, it is hypocrisy.

        • Lu

          Oh I’m all for Scarlett! Plus there’s always the fact that most animes draw their people to look like westerners (Log Horizon actually shows the protagonist’s avatar as looking “white”, while outside the game he has Japanese features), so there isn’t much of an argument against that.

          • konfab

            “Oh I’m all for Scarlett! Plus there’s always the fact that most animes draw their people to look like westerners”
            Now you are opening a can of worms.

          • Lu

            Probably, but I can back my statement up so I’m not too bothered.

  • Jac7

    Well said. Now let’s fooking party!

  • Magoo

    “Despite the importance and benefits of representation in media, it’s not always achieved successfully. Sometimes it is flat-out ignored, as in the case of Ghost In The Shell which cast Scarlett Johansson, despite it being a Japanese franchise.”

    “On one end of the spectrum you have the reaction to the Ghostbusters remake which had some of the fiercest backlash a film has seen- and that was before it was even launched.”

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    I’m very happy to see more representation in the various media I consume because it allows me to see/experience things from different points of view, or consider things in ways I hadn’t before.

    As long as I can relate to characters, which has more to do with how they’re written or performed, then I’m all good – and that’s not nearly as difficult as people like to make it out to be because humanity is pretty universal. I identified perfectly well with an 18 year old girl in Life is Strange and a black man in Luke Cage even though I’m neither because I could relate to them.

    Supergirl’s coming out arc was brilliant – not only was it very well done, but it was so surprising because that’s one of the last shows I would’ve expected it to come from.

    Ghost in the Shell I think people should wait to see the movie before continuing to freak out – the fact that Major Kusanagi is in a white shell might be addressed in, or even important to, the movie.

    Did you not mean Matt Damon in The Great Wall?

  • Lu

    I’ll admit I rolled my eyes when I read the title. But after actually reading the article, well written. One huge * though. Have you seen the trailer for Great Wall? It’s 2 europeans going to China to look for a weapon. Looks like there are only 2 white dudes in the entire movie. If there is any whining about whitewashing there one could say Marco Polo was whitewashing, same with The Last Samurai.

    • For the Emperor!

      Was about to make a similar comment about Great Wall, but was struggling with the correct wording lol.

      Better examples of recent movies would be “Gods of Egypt” and “Exodus god and kings”. Especially the first.

      • Lu

        Glad i skipped both of those. 😐

        • For the Emperor!

          Exodus was actually a good movie in my opinion. Gods of Egypt…well yeah really worth skipping, though I would watch it over Ghostbusters any day 🙂

          • Lu

            Women are smart and funny. get over it XD

  • For the Emperor!

    A well written, dialogue/thought provoking opinion piece. We didn’t see eye-to-eye on that one last year, but this one is very good and appreciated.

  • Now this is well written.

  • Infinite Rainbows

    Representation of race is unimportant. What can you say about it? “Because that person has my skin color, I can see myself in them?” Utterly ridiculous.

    Instead, go for representation of personalities, philosophies, ideas, and allow people to see themselves in characters for the people they are. I can see myself in people who are not my race or sex. I can see myself in villains, murderers, thieves, and so on. I don’t have to be another race, or another sex, or evil in order to relate. If color of skin is really that distracting, paint everyone blue. People with an obsession with race will complain about the complete lack of diversity in cast as well as the lack of representation for non-blue people, but that’s a price we should be willing to pay.

    True diversity only happens when we look from a person of one race to another of a different race, and we DON’T NOTICE ANY DIFFERENCE. Going out of our way to make it an important aspect of media is the opposite of this.

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