Diverse casting in media lets people view themselves more positively

Showcasing characters of different ethnicities can help break stereotypes surrounding race representation

Photo courtesy of Disney

Written by Stefanie Baltasar, SFU Student

Representation and diversity in media matters. It’s not about being politically correct or about tiptoeing around discourse about racism and sexism. It’s not even about capitalism. It’s about giving people role models and main characters who are like them. Movies such as Black Panther, Coco, Wonder Woman and Star Wars: The Force Awakens don’t star a white male protagonist and instead, showcase more diverse characters. Fully describing how much that matters would take me forever, but here’s
a summary.

These are all examples of media where different people are being given the spotlight. It’s not pandering because these movies are not casually tossing in a stereotypical gay person or person of colour in the background to “diversify” an otherwise all-white cast. These movies give them the spotlight. When you have a protagonist that you can immediately go “this person is like me, this person comes from a similar background, from my background,” it makes a difference in how you view yourself. It’s going to make a difference to kids who will grow up wanting to be like Wonder Woman, Rey, or Black Panther. They now have someone to look up to that they can also instantly relate to.

Using historical figures is another great example. Yes, they were in the background and not the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean that their work was not important. Media doesn’t have to showcase the blatant racism in history to be important. Racism isn’t a part of Coco’s plot, but Coco is also a movie where anyone can relate to a non-white
main character, and that main character is not white. It maintains universality through common themes of growing pains and family fights, and Miguel isn’t a white American or Western European protagonist.

Coco can be considered “just another Disney/Pixar movie” and Wonder Woman “just another superhero movie,” but honestly, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. They stand out because Coco features Mexican characters, and Wonder Woman features a female superhero — but it’s also important to note their similarities to movies featuring non-female, non-Mexican protagonists.

The lack of differences promotes relatability and solidarity. It removes the assumptions that just because someone looks different, they have to be different and foreign to us. Canada is a multicultural community, with people of all different backgrounds living in close proximity to each other. With movies like Coco, Moana, and Black Panther, we get to know a little more about other cultures, about each other. Showing off surroundings that lead to stereotypes, like Coco’s grandma feeding him tamales (i.e. the tough Mexican grandmother “I will feed you” stereotype) and breaking stereotypes are both important.

If all you have taken from this article are some movies for your “to watch” list, then I’m still going to take that as a win. I’m hoping a day will come when we don’t have to make a big fuss about representation. It will just be there, as commonplace as a white
male protagonist.

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