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Article – Lacking In Representation


Posted December 17, 2013 by

Lacking In Representation

Nicole Kidman, when receiving her Academy Award in 2003, said, ‘Art is important’. Just how huge an impact art and the media have on people is debatable, but one can hardly deny that art can be an effective influencer.

For this reason, I believe, films, a mass-consumed form of art, should direct its efforts to bettering society. And I don’t mean by preaching goodwill.

There are endless surveys and studies done on representation in film and television, and the whole of 2013 has seen a sharp decline or no change in the representation of coloured, LGBT or female characters. It’s worrisome that films, especially the Hollywood variety, continue to often cater to the lowest common denominator.

With the release of ‘The Hunger Games’, people believed a change was in the offing. But the two films combined have not heralded much change. Where are the strong female characters, who don’t spend all their time cowering behind sofas, or pining for their beloveds?

In mainstream, commercial cinema, you rarely get that. Often, if any writers point this out in an article, the immediate reaction is, ‘if you don’t like it, don’t watch it’, or ‘these films aren’t made for women/ persons of colour/ LGBT, watch the stuff that is’. That would leave these communities to watch only niche cinema, often not even available to folks around the world.

That’s not the answer, of course, but the film industry’s quest for big box office turnouts leaves part of the audience feeling unfulfilled. I watched ‘Man of Steel’ yesterday, after a long time. The film is very enjoyable, despite its story flaws. But, one of the highlights of the film was the stoic and strong Commander Feora-Ul – a female character who is there because that is her job. On the opposite spectrum is Lois Lane, also very capable in her job, but the unfortunate damsel-in-distress for the majority of her screen-time. In one film itself we have the good and bad together.

And which of this year’s mainstream films feature characters from the LGBT community? Are there any that immediately come to mind? Disappointing, I know. This despite the burgeoning evidence of bromance between most male protagonists on screen these days. Why not bend the rules, like Andrew Garfield suggested, and see if some of our favourite protagonists might not actually prefer a same-sex relationship?

I’m a voracious consumer of comic book and action films, as is evident from the examples above, and these films are the greatest culprits in non-representation. Take ‘The Avengers’ for example, I love that film dearly. The cast is rock-solid, with a heady mix of up-and-comers as well as Oscar-nominated veterans. It’s slick and fun, but it’s lacking some of the founding members of the group – the Black Panther and the Wasp, for example.  Why?

But, it’s not all doom and gloom. People scoffed at Idris Elba’s casting as Heimdall – those people are crazy, obviously, considering that man is THE man of action. He was not only back as this ubercool character in Thor 2: The Dark World, but he was also in Pacific Rim, giving one of the most rousing speeches of the film year. Let’s not forget, he was tearing through our screens as Luther for a part of the year, as well.

Will we get more representational cinema in the coming years? One can hope, but there doesn’t seem to be much sign of it. If you look at how hard the LGBT community is fighting for the basic right of marriage around the world, or the growing participation of women in projects like Everyday Sexism, it makes me think it’s still an uphill battle.

British and European films often have a higher rate of representation, with coloured and ethnic characters being part and parcel of the narrative. They also include more overt LGBT characters. Women’s representation, well… that appears to be an ingrained issue. More women don’t necessarily mean better representation. Sometimes it just means there are more people taking their kit off, and being generally useless.

So, what’s the solution? How about the realisation that women don’t only watch rom-coms (don’t get me started on the term ‘chick-flick’, that’s for another article)? That gay characters happen to be people first? That people of colour are just like everyone else? If Hollywood breaks the mould, they may be surprised at how much ROI they get, from local and global audiences alike. People use films as an escape. But they also watch films that they can relate to. Marvel’s come up with a Pakistani-Muslim female mutant. Time Hollywood followed suit.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
Freelance Contributor

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