My response to brandonrambles‘s tumblr post about representation.
As someone who adores classic movies and just cinema in general, I often find myself in the same place as what you so beautifully discussed in your piece.
Since a lot of these films were made during and the post years of segregation (the 30s-60s), it was often rare to see a minority in a film. My sisters and I would watch the movies and whenever we would see a minority character, we would jump with joy and disbelief, in the same kind of way you might react spotting waldo in a crowd.
Most of the times of course, it would just be a person of color walking by the screen, but more likely, one serving a white person and speaking and acting in a way that portrayed the PoC character in an exaggerated and insulting manner.
It was sad, heartbreaking really, for me to love a medium that so wholly excluded, mocked and diminished people like me and other minorities.
I remember one day, watching a movie called Baby Face, a movie about a woman who takes advantage of the gender stereotypes men have towards women to climb her way to the success. I cried when I saw that her best friend, was a black women (Theresa Harris) who was just as intelligent and independent as the main character. She played a small role in the film but just that small portrayal moved me tears. I was surprised to see how much it meant to me, to not have to play the “spot the minority character game”, to not have to cringe or feel undermined or saddened or ashamed by the way my people were being portrayed on screen.
When you see yourself in other peoples work, you start to be able to fill the holes that make up the world. You say I could fit there, or I wouldn’t want to, or I relate to this, or I want to learn more.
I started seeking out more films with minorities in them. Some of them were moving and others were insulting, and I would say that though we are making a lot progress, a lot hasn’t changed about hollywood since then.
People are still asking questions about the prison system as they did in The Defiant Ones, where a black prisoner and a white one found themselves chained together as they escaped from prison in the Jim Crow south. People are still questioning racial identity and colorism as in An Imitation of Life, where a light skinned black girl passes as a white because she is embarrassed of her maid mother and the constant demeaning way her mother is treated within the segregated society.
Like America’s foundation, were land and citizenship gave people a voice to shape our country, hollywood has been so long controlled by white voices and wallets. As a result, PoC are still playing the catch up game.
They’re making strides in TV, in shows like Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, and as i see more PoC being just naturally included as main characters in scifi shows like the 100, paranormal like the Originals and the Vampire Diaries, and contemporaries like Recovery Road and Jane the Virgin, i get more and more excited about what progress could mean.
Still, I’m still fighting to see my korean, and chinese, and indian, and spanish and mexican and middle eastern friends on the platforms I love.
Its so disheartening to see how, while we make strides in some places, others– race, sexual orientation, disabilities–are overstepped and ignored, in books, in comics, in TV and in video games.
We need to keep speaking. We need to keep talking about it and analyzing it and passing the mic so every voice can be heard, so everyone can get their close up.