I am so sick of ‘diverse’ characters only existing to help white main characters
The ‘mystical negro’ is only the start of the problem
by Ari Bines
Believe me when I tell you representation in media is getting better. We've moved a few steps away from only casting actors and actresses for white viewership and shining a light on more diverse stories and people to act them out. It's progress and deserves applause. However, even in 2018, there's still a long way to go.
Netflix's upcoming movie Sierra Burgess Is a Loser, a story about a plus-size girl catfishing a boy online, got me excited to see a new relatable narrative. But there's still one lame-ass problem: it's another white girl narrative with a token BFF to help her solve her problems — and I'm so sick of it.
If there's a white lead, there's a 'colored sidekick'
Every. Single. Time. And whether or not the sidekick of color is close with a white protagonist is entirely circumstantial. Nevertheless, if it's not a film presented by Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels, you can bet your sweet ass the single POC's role is to uplift the caucasian lead.
Dan, played by RJ Cyler, is Sierra's best friend in band class who helps Sierra to see that she's accidentally started catfishing a guy who mistakenly texted her. It's something any character in the film could have pointed out to her, but we leave it to the only Black person in the film to do the necessary work to move the plot along.
Think about it: in High School Musical, the only character development seen was that of Troy and Gabriella. But it is the responsibility of Chad Danforth, played by Corbin Bleu, and Taylor McKessie, played by Monique Coleman, to help Troy and Gab go through the motions of high school.
The same can be said for Netflix's hit show Orange is the New Black. Like really? You mean to tell me that out of the entire women's prison system, where, according to NPR, 64 percent of women in jails across the country are women of color, Piper Chapman's is the story we're centering the plot around? Cool.
Now, they just have longer storylines for POC…who still support the white lead
13 Reasons Why is said to be one of the most diverse shows in mainstream TV. Supporting character Courtney's story is that she's an Asian-American who's in the closet and crushing on Hannah and adopted by two married men. Jessica, who comes from a black father and a white mother is raped in Hannah's story, and the student body president is a Black guy named Marcus who gets into Harvard but assaults Hannah (thanks for that incredibly portrayal, Netflix!) Do all of those characters have interesting, complicated character arcs? Yes! Do all of those characters have the misfortune of having their own plotlines reduced to context for everything Hannah does? Yep.
The same goes for this upcoming Netflix movie. It's great that a real curvy actress shows the life of a girl suffering from body image insecurities. But the movie will just reinforce the desire to be skinny and typecast the only person of color in the film as the best friend to guide her white feelings to the light of "self-love."
Real change is only going to start from behind the scenes
The fact of the matter is that there isn't enough representation going on in the director's chair. Last year, Fortune did some stats on who was behind the fall TV lineup. "About 89 percent of executive producers of new series airing this season on the four U.S. broadcast networks are white, and 79 percent are male." Yikes! That means only 11 percent of those producers were people of color.
Drake and Karena Evans got nominated for the Video Music Awards for God's Plan .. congrats!!? pic.twitter.com/5NoCIWlXqk
— Cardee Mauley (@CardeeMauley) July 19, 2018
Not all is lost, though. Directors like Ryan Coogler, who directed Black Panther; Lena Weith, the creator of The Chi; and 22-year-old wunderkind Karena Evans who directed Drake's Nice for What and God's Plan videos are all slowly making moves to represent people of all backgrounds to tell their stories.
I don't know about you, but those plots of some white girl moving to a big city to work at a magazine is a way overrated tale — I'm ready for something different.
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