Growing up I was very interested in shows like Xena: Princess Warrior and Sailor Moon. Looking back I now understand these shows had queer (even if it was very subtle) characters and, even though as I child I didn’t understand it ,I knew these characters were “different.” But they were also white.
Like most people, I love watching TV. It provides great entertainment and requires minimal work on my part, which is always appealing. As a white woman, I’ve generally paid little attention to issues like representation in the media, mostly because I never realized there was a problem. It wasn’t until I got to college and began taking classes like Feminist Foundations and Women: A Global Perspective that I realized how much privilege – and along with it, power – I have in the world as a white woman. I’ve learned about police brutality, intersectional feminism, privilege, and many other important issues that our society is attempting to recognize and address today. As I’ve learned about these issues and the different ways they impact people’s perspectives and understandings of the world, a specific issue I’ve begun paying more attention to is the lack of representation of minorities within the queer community in the media. While the queer community as a whole struggles for recognition, instances of representation of minorities within the queer community (people of color and people with disabilities, for example) are far less likely to be shown even within genres of media that supposedly cater to them. While there are many types of minorities within the LGBTQ community for this blog entry I wanted to focus specifically on race.
Media does make an impact on viewers lives. The term “symbolic annihilation” is when viewers only see one type of representation being made in the media, and it leads them to think other people who aren’t being represented are not as important (Boboltz). This means that non-minority viewers are not being shown what other minority groups are going through, but also these communities and the issues they face remain invisible to the viewing population.
This is important because when you break down the “top-grossing 100 films in 2015” a total of 76% of these speaking roles went to white women, while Latino women on had 4% and Asian women only had 3% (Women and Hollywood). If you add to the fact that only “Less than 1%” of these characters identified as being queer, it’s easy to imagine how little screen time LGBTQ minorities are getting (Women and Hollywood). Representation does mean a lot to people. When populations are consistently excluded from the media, it not only allows people outside those populations to continue ignoring their existence; it also causes members of those populations to question their own value in society.
I did my own small research on LGBTQ representation using Netflix. As of March 2018, there were 42 movies that were tagged as “LGBTQ movies.” I decided to exclude two of these from consideration because they were documentaries. For the remaining 40 movies, I looked at how many of the leading roles were held by white actors and how many were led by racial or ethnic minorities. Of them, only eleven had non-white leading actors. While 11 out of 40 movies may seem like an acceptable percentage for representation, when the categories are broken down based by the race of the lead actors it is very easy to see that is not the case. Only three movies had Hispanic roles: I am Happiness on Earth, Esteros, and Hurricane Bianca. Both I am Happiness on Earth and Esteros had Hispanic leads and were set in Mexico with Spanish speaking actors. Only one movie on Netflix had a lead character played by someone from Cuban descent that was an American who spoke English which was Hurricane Bianca.
Some may ask why representation is so important, especially in our current social climate, since homosexuality has become more accepted within American over the past decade (Russell). While that is true, members of the LGBTQ community are still fighting for their lives. A study done on queer youth showed that they are at higher risk of “emotional distress, symptoms related to mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior” than youth who identify as straight (Russell). The problem seems to be magnified for racial minorities who identify as queer, like African Americans who report “higher rates of suicidal thoughts and depressive symptoms and lower levels of self-esteem” compared to those who identify as straight within the African American Community (Russell).
Having more characters in film that are queer people of color would help the LGBTQ community because queer people of color would begin to have their stories told and because the LGBTQ community isn’t just made up of white queer people. The LGBTQ community, which is made up of people from all over the world, can’t be considered as having fair representation in the media when that representation caters primarily to the racial majority. To be able to have physical proof that something is real and normal, even if it is just a movie, is a good start.
Boboltz, Sara and Yam, Kimberly. “Why On-Screen Representation Actually Matters” Huffington Post. Web 25 March.2018.
Russell, Stephen T., and Jessica N. Fish. “Mental Health in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Youth.” Annual review of clinical psychology12 (2016): 465–487. PMC. Web. 25 Mar. 2018.
“Women and Hollywood 2015 Statistics”http://womenandhollywood.com. http://womenandhollywood.com/resources/statistics/2015-statistics/. Web 25 ar. 2018.
Paige Elizabeth is a senior at ODU and will be graduating in the spring with a B.A. in Women’s Studies and a Minor in Public Service. She is slowly learning how to be an adult.