It wasn’t until very recently that I realized how far our society has come in terms of tolerance and understanding of marginalized and underrepresented groups of people.
I think a lot of that understanding can be attributed to how much positive exposure these marginalized groups have gotten in entertainment in recent years.
Of course, there’s still work to be done in terms of respectfully and accurately portraying all the diverse people of the world through our entertainment media. But where we’re at now is so much better than where we were even as little as 10 years ago.
For example, in the majority of movies I saw growing up, girls were only shown as damsels in distress. The only thing that could wake Sleeping Beauty from her magic-induced sleep was “true love’s kiss” from Prince Charming.
Pretty much every Disney princess movie seemed to show that a girl needed a prince to come and save her from unfortunate circumstances in her life, as if she was not able to do that for herself.
In the first episode of the TV show “Glee,” a wheelchair-bound character was locked in a porta-potty by some guys on the football team, perpetuating the idea that physically disabled people are constantly victimized and mistreated.
The first time I ever saw a gay character in a movie was Damien in “Mean Girls.” He didn’t have a storyline of his own and was often used for comic relief, sometimes even while he was being bullied and harassed.
His friend described him as being “too gay to function” and even though it was said in an affectionate way, it contributed to the fact that his defining feature was being gay.
These are all examples of stereotypes that have existed in our society for a very long time.
When you’re a kid, and you have no exposure to people who are different than you, you tend to internalize these stereotypes.
If you’d asked me when I was younger, I would have told you that I thought being gay wasn’t common or normal, that people who are disabled don’t usually live full, happy lives and that since I’m a girl, I would need a man to save and complete me.
However, as I’ve gotten older, I have broadened my horizons so much, and even realized things about myself I wouldn’t have known had I not consumed the media I did throughout my life.
My main source of information and exposure to so many types of unfamiliar groups has been through my favorite TV shows, movies and musicals.
Representation in entertainment has been a very positive thing for two main reasons, one being that it allows people to see themselves in characters.
This creates a sense of validation and comfort in people who have gone their whole lives not feeling like they were normal because they had never seen other people like themselves on TV.
Second, representation in TV and film exposes people to things they are not used to and allows them to understand and empathize with people who are different from them.
The movie “Captain Marvel” premiered recently, starring actress Brie Larson as its main character – a superhero who is every bit as powerful and capable as any male superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
At no point in the movie was she painted as a damsel. In fact, she was typically the one saving her male counterparts from inevitable destruction.
In a 2015 Broadway revival of the musical “Spring Awakening,” deaf actors were cast to play the deaf characters in the show.
The production was fully accessible for hearing and deaf audiences alike, as ensemble members were used to portray the “voices” of the non-verbal deaf characters and projection screens were used to provide subtitles for any exchanges that took place in sign language or spoken language alone.
Netflix’s reality show “Queer Eye” has been a huge source of representation for the LGBTQ community for the past couple years.
It has brought a diverse group of gay men into the lives of many people around the country and shown audiences how people who are nothing alike are still able to connect on a very basic level over things as simple as food, clothing and culture.
The show demonstrates in a very genuine way the power of self-love, and it has shown people that our differences are not as insurmountable they sometimes seem to be.
As humans, all we want in the end is to be seen and understood.
I believe that through these increasingly positive representations of marginalized groups of people, we are getting closer to a world in which every person can feel like they have truly been seen.
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