‘Representation’: The Buzz Word That Does Matter

The opinions expressed in this article are that of the author and are not necessarily those that best represent The Hysteria Collective as a whole.

“It’s trendy”, some say. “It’s trendy to put LGBTQ+ people or people of colour as the main lead in films.” Trendy. This word has a bitter taste. Is it trendy to make the minorities exist beyond their social condition? Or do you mean that people can now start to embrace who they are and be pleased with the idea of comparing themselves to the main character instead of a shallow or completely inconsequent and misrepresented second part, and that this idea bothers you?

I was having a conversation with one of my lecturers this winter, about art, representation and identification, when I asked him why did he think that representation mattered. I was surprised when he said that it wasn’t important, except if you thought that art had something to do with the political, which wasn’t his opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I had a lot of respect for him, but I let you guess his ethnicity, social class and education, on top of being a man.

I found myself thinking back about this conversation months later, after I had finished the TV show Euphoria, by Sam Levinson. Despite the fascinating aesthetic and undeniable genius filmmaking and writing of it, it had absorbed and inspired me for deeper reasons. The main character, a black and queer young woman, gets involved with a transgender girl. Around them gravitate stunning and complex female characters with a strong personality and a shameless sexual life. It had touched me because I was able to portray myself in this universe. A universe in which I was allowed to exist, unapologetically.

So why does representation matter?

First, because, as a young bisexual woman, I am tired of misrepresentation. Deeply. I’m tired of bisexual women being portrayed as some sexual fantasy, the perfect accessory to a threesome, or people that can’t commit and are confused. I’m tired of black guys being the funny and inconsequent main character’s best friend. I’m tired of Asian people being a side part and smart ass hacking computers systems. I’m tired of all the clichés, easy plots, and the so-called acceptable ways of behaving that shaped the whole society we live in.

Viola Davis, that I had discovered in The Help, but who blew my mind in the progressive and artistically unique series How To Get Away With Murder, had a word about this: “Let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there”.

Why does representation matter? Because here comes the question of the artist’s responsibility.

Show me women being interesting without the need to be sexualised or liked by a man. Show me boys being educated and confident with their masculinity, crying, wearing makeup if they want to. Show me girls being strong and independent without making them emotionless. Show me people stepping away from toxic relationships and not calling problematic and dangerous behaviours “romantic”. Show me fat people being called beautiful. Show me older people being confident about their age, having sex, starting their lives all over. Show me people of colour, lgbtq+ people, disabled people taking the lead and being respected. Their right to exist, unquestioned. Here’s another strong point of Euphoria: not a single character questions or misgenders Jules, the transgender girl. Not even the dislikeable characters. Why? Well, because it shouldn’t be brought up as an issue. It shouldn’t be complicated to say “she” or “he” or “they” when one asks to.

In brief, show me some humanity.

Because I need it. Because we all need it, in order to become better and to believe in ourselves. Denying the power of art is a dangerous thing. That’s also what Gina Rodriguez expressed: “I didn’t become an artist to be a millionaire. I didn’t become an actor to wear Louis Vuitton. I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on screen. […] And I realised how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, ‘Well, there’s no way I can do it, because I’m not there'”.

Now here’s what I think: if from now on you put only white heterosexual people in films and literature, pleasingly depicting men, making unacceptable behaviour acceptable and creating dull and submissive (in life, not sex) women, it means that you don’t – pardon my language – give a fuck. It means that you’re completely disregarding minorities, which consist of the majority of the Earth’s population.

If you make them silent, or invisible, you deny some people their right to exist. So you should pass on this camera, this brush or this pen of yours to someone who listens and wants to make something beautiful with art, not just selfish self-talks designed for privileged people.

There’s this quote that says: “Art changes people and people change the world”. Also today I would be able to give my former lecturer an answer: yes, art is a wonderful and magical process of its own, but art is also political. And as an artist, you have a responsibility due to your power. A political and social one. Because if you aim to influence the masses, if you aim to change the world, you should change it for the better.

I want to exist.

Don’t you?

Maëlle Leggiadro

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