Change, Entertainment, Media, Racism, Rebel With A Cause, Shannon Jeanna, Television, Violence

The problematic treatment of People of Color on The Vampire Diaries

Disclaimer: this article contains spoilers of season 6 of The Vampire Diaries.

I know what you must be thinking. Vampires? Is that still a thing? Not really, no… However, one of CW’s hit shows The Vampire Diaries is still going – if not strong since like its 3rd season – pretty smoothly and has even been renewed for a 7th season! Now six years is a long time for a show to last, especially on the CW where most shows are lucky to even see a third season, and are considered incredible if they attain a fourth one. So love it or hate it, TVD seems to have established itself as a pretty solid show for the network, despite some very problematic issues having to do with race and rape culture. Why write about TVD you ask? Because I find interesting how the show, in its treatment of people of color and/or females, unintentionally and pretty accurately reveals the kind of society we live in. Now do not get me wrong, not everything about TVD sucks (no pun intended). In fact it is in my opinion a pretty good show with clever twists and turns and at times pretty awesome cliffhangers. So I must confess that yes: TVD is my guilty pleasure. Most of the characters are pretty compelling – except perhaps for its lead (sorry Elena, I never really liked you) – and as a whole there are a lot of good things that could be said about the show. In fact, I still have hope that Season 7 could be the best season yet if the writers took it upon themselves to address the different issues affecting their characters, storylines and by extension, their viewers. The reason I’ve chosen TVD as an example is because it is one of the shows I am most familiar with but I do find that a lot of these issues aren’t specific to TVD or the fantasy genre and unfortunately often apply to a number of other shows, be it the ever successful Game Of Thrones, classics like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and even comedy shows like Friends or Modern Family. I will not touch on the HUGE issue that is TVD’s promotion of rape culture since it has already been addressed very eloquently and thoroughly by others. I will tackle however the issue of racism, which I often find has a tendency of flying way too often under the radar.

  1. The mayonnaise diaries
The Vampire Diaries cast (season 6)

The Vampire Diaries cast (season 6)

Now my biggest issue with most shows is the very apparent lack of diversity. Taking the example of TVD, its ensemble cast comprises approximately 9 characters (depending on the season): Stefan, Damon, Elena, Caroline, Tyler, Matt, Jeremy, Alaric and Bonnie. Out of these characters, 8 are white (Tyler though played by a latino actor, Michael Trevino, is portrayed as a white character), and only one is black. That character is Bonnie Bennett; played by biracial actress Kat Graham. Doesn’t look good for representation now does it? In all fairness, there have been other recurring characters of color in the show: Pearl and Anna were Asian, Luka and his father, Bonnie’s parents, and Jamie, are all African American, but all of those characters have had very little storyline and were all killed off or sent away at some point. That leaves us with Bonnie. The only person of color in that whole town situated in Virginia (arguably a very racially diverse state in real life). Therefore, Bonnie bears the burden of representation not only for black viewers but for all minorities (Asian, latino, etc. alike), while white people who watch the show have at least NINE DIFFERENT CHARACTERS to represent them, all having very different personalities and aspirations! Mind you, I haven’t even counted the recurring white characters like Katherine, Jenna, Sheriff Forbes, Enzo, etc. !

  1. Tokenism and asexuality
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Bonnie and Jeremy

We could cut the show some slack and think to ourselves, “well, even if there is very little diversity, maybe Bonnie at least gets some good storylines!” WRONG! Bonnie Bennett is probably one of the most poorly treated characters in TV history. She is the ultimate token black girl/magical negro. She is always put in a position of servitude and is ultimately a walking-talking plot device. If you watch seasons 1 through 5, Bonnie gets very little screen time, and the little she does get is only to cast spells, not because it is what she wants to do, but because she is asked, or mostly ordered or threatened into by her white friends and enemies. Bonnie is always the loophole: when the plot requires it, she is brought out of the shadows, and just as soon, shoved right back in. No questions asked. She has had no character development whatsoever, and in a show that lives and thrives based on its “ships”, Bonnie has only really ever been involved with one guy, that is Jeremy, her best friend’s human little brother. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but, when the white girls get to exclusively date guys that score high on the show’s Richter scale of hotness, aka older dangerous, unpredictable, (over)protective vampire/werewolf/hybrid guys, that’s when it gets unfair. Please let me emphasize that by no means am I saying that the criteria mentioned here is what anyone should look for in a mate, rather I am just discussing these “qualities” within the context of the show which keeps romanticizing them and painting such men as desirable. Love or hate younger predictable human Jeremy, even that relationship is made to be mind-numbingly boring and stale because all Bonnie and Jeremy are ever allowed to talk about is Elena, the lead white girl, in order to advance the plot. So Bonnie’s love life isn’t even about her, but is rather a means to an end, robbing her once again of all agency in her own narrative. On the other hand, Elena and Caroline – the two white girls – have hot guys fighting over them and worshiping the ground they walk on.

Stefan and Damon spend the major part of the series fighting over Elena's affections

Stefan and Damon spend the major part of the series fighting over Elena’s affections

Elena, who dated Matt, has been the center of a never ending love triangle involving Stefan and Damon the two hottest vampires in town, and has had some romantic vibes going on with Elijah, an original vampire. She has had the pleasure of being at the receiving end of countless romantic speeches and gestures. Now one could consider such treatment legitimate given the fact that Elena is the lead, but when you compare Bonnie’s treatment with that of Caroline, another supporting character, the difference in treatment is rather striking. Unlike Bonnie, Caroline is never really part of the A plot, yet she gets a real storyline allowing her to laugh, cry, lash out, and have a squadron of love interests lining up at her doorstep. Caroline has therefore had romantic entanglements with Damon, Matt, Tyler, Klaus, and Stefan.

Klaus and Tyler fought over Caroline

Klaus and Tyler fought over Caroline

Even Katherine, merely a recurring character, has been sought after by Stefan, Damon, Trevor, Mason, Elijah and Klaus; and Bonnie, well, she just has Jeremy a guy who cheated on her with Anna, his ex-girlfriend turned ghost, at one point even stating that “he always loved her [Anna]” by then completely rejecting his relationship with Bonnie and the importance it could have had for him.

Bonnie, like a lot of WOC on our screens, is made to be asexual and her looks are constantly downplayed so that her female co-stars may shine brighter. bonnie cloth
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Bonnie-Caroline-and-ElenaAs a result she’s afforded the worst clothes, the worst hair, the worst makeup and whenever the storyline calls for formal events (balls, weddings, etc.) – that require characters to wear pretty dresses or smart tuxedos, and often are crucial in building romantic connections and by extension character development – Bonnie is often and very conveniently MIA.

Where's Bonnie?

Where’s Bonnie?

Now, in no way does this mean that in order for a female character to be compelling or relevant, she needs to have a love interest, but in a show that values its characters’ love lives above everything else the way TVD is infamous for, it is very telling that the girl of color gets little to nothing in that department.

I find that studying the whole “shipping” phenomenon that comes with these YA shows and movies is very interesting and telling in the treatment of characters of color and by extension POC in our society.

Elena, Caroline and... oops, not Bonnie.

Elena, Caroline and… oops, not Bonnie.

If we look at Bonnie, it is rather scary how quick the writers are in shutting down ships that involve her and just how violent and hateful the fandom can react to said ships. First off we have Klonnie. Pretty early on, fans began to ship Bonnie with Klaus, the new big bad villain in town. Bonnie was THE character who’d had the most showdowns with Klaus and the only one who could match him in power and strength, making for an interesting dynamic and great potential for something romantic to happen somewhere along the line.

Klaus and Bonnie

Klaus and Bonnie

The Klonnie fan base grew so much that it began to gain the showrunners, cast and media’s attention. Just as soon though, the idea of Klonnie was conveniently shut down and Klaroline (Klaus and Caroline) was made canon instead although it made very little sense in comparison. Another big ship was Kennett (Bonnie and Kol) which was shut down immediately by showrunner Julie Plec.

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But it is okay for Elena and Caroline to date murderous vampires and for Bonnie to date instead her kinda sorta half-brother Jamie? Okay…

And finally there’s Bamon (Bonnie and Damon). Though this ship has existed since the very beginning of the show, it has been getting a lot of attention lately due to the many scenes and relationship development Bonnie and Damon have had in the latest season.

"The Last Dance" - Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore and Katerina Graham as Bonnie in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW. Photo: Annette Brown/The CW ©2011 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“The Last Dance” – Ian Somerhalder as Damon Salvatore and Katerina Graham as Bonnie in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW.
Photo: Annette Brown/The CW
©2011 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

And for once, even the media seems to be hopping on the bandwagon, excited about the prospect of Bamon happening romantically in season 7. However the writers have remained painfully silent about it for years now, and the reactions of some of the fandom has ranged from patronizing comments, to ridicule, to hate and even death threats. Now why is it so difficult for people to understand or even want Bonnie, a black woman, to be with Damon, yet are so quick to root for Steroline (Stefan and Caroline)? Very little people had opinions about Beremy (Bonnie and Jeremy) because it didn’t make any waves. Nobody really cared because Jeremy wasn’t sought after the way Damon is. In being with Jeremy, Bonnie wasn’t a threat to Elena or Caroline. That unspoken rule that she was somehow subservent to them wasn’t breached by her being with Jeremy. Everyone is fine with Bonnie as long as she is seen and not heard. Jeremy isn’t as appealing as Damon because Elena would never want to be with him being as he’s her little brother and Caroline has never even laid eyes on him. But if Bonnie was to be with Damon it would change dynamics completely. It would force the writers to really put her on the map, not as Elena or Caroline’s friend/servant, not as the magical negro, but as her own self worthy of being loved by a character so important and sought after, and that is an idea that a society bathed in white supremacy and white privilege cannot fathom. Ask yourself why Bamon still remains such a delicate subject and so unthinkable to some despite the fact that – unlike Steroline and a lot of other ships – it even has basis in the original book series? Why is it that so many people find it so easy to ship book Bamon when Bonnie is described as a white redhead, but just can’t manage to open their minds to the potential of show Bamon when Bonnie is played by a WOC? Because the society we live in teaches us not to want such things, worse it teaches us to feel disgusted by it and to always prefer whiteness over everything else whether it makes sense or not. Whether it’s right or not.

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Moreover, all Bonnie’s relationships (friendship and romance) are one-sided. Over and over again she is made to sacrifice herself for her friends and boyfriend without even blinking. None of her selfless deeds owe her any kind of recognition as the hero that she is, as opposed to Elena whose very scarce sacrifices owe her unending praise, most of the time undeserved. Bonnie is made to be the automatic sacrificial lamb which has heavily contributed in making her well-being, dreams, desires and entire life seem less valuable than that of the rest of the characters. Viewers are made to see Bonnie as disposable, so much that the rare times she is actually made to take a stand, her character invariably finds herself at the receiving end of unfathomable hate from the fandom.

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Unfortunately, these kind of hateful comments seem to have doubled ever since season 6; when Bonnie was finally given more of a purpose and agency to put herself first which was long overdue and has been for a lot of critics the most refreshing part of what has otherwhise become a pretty repetitive show.

  1. Negationism

Another thing grossly and specifically wrong with TVD is its appalling silence about slavery. In the show’s first season, the year 1864 is of significant importance and is mentioned repeatedly. It is the year when two of the leads on the show, Stefan and Damon fall in love with evil Katherine and are subsequently turned into vampires. There are a lot of flashbacks to 1864 made to set up the characters’ backstories. In a few of those flashbacks, Emily Bennett, Bonnie’s ancestor, and a WOC, is seen and even mentioned as being Katherine’s “hand maiden”. Let’s be clear, though this is fiction, there have been some mentions of real life historical facts. For example, it is said that Damon Salvatore fought for the confederacy; and there even is a scene set up during which he returns home after having deserted, sporting a confederate army uniform. So while there are vampires and witches in this fictional town, it is still set in historical 1864 Virginia, therefore Emily Bennett wouldn’t have been anything else but a SLAVE.

Emily Bennett

Emily Bennett

Yet it was conveniently decided to gloss over that clearly uncomfortable fact, by calling her instead a “hand maiden”. That is disgusting not to mention completely unnecessary. Katherine is known to be one of the most evil characters on that show. She strings guys along, pretends to be dead to lure in her prey, manipulates, lies and kills. It would therefore stand to reason that she wouldn’t have had much of a problem being a slave owner, so if anything, calling Emily Bennett what she probably was – which is a slave – wouldn’t have changed Katherine’s character in the slightest, but in fact could have even brought more depth to her character and Emily’s, yet the writers conveniently chose to ignore that fact.

"Lost Girls" - Paul Wesley as Stefan and Ian Somerhalder as Damon in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW. Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW ©2009 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

“Lost Girls” – Paul Wesley as Stefan and Ian Somerhalder as Damon in THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on The CW.
Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW
©2009 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Even worse, in Mystic Falls, the fictional town of Virginia where the story is based, tons of events are held celebrating the founding families. We see Elena, Stefan, Damon and Caroline happily attend the founders’ ball, and even play dress-up in 19th century attire at a founders’ parade. Bonnie obviously wasn’t at the ball nor did she dress-up for the parade – not because it would have been disturbingly wrong, but it probably had something more to do with the fact that she is banned from wearing pretty dresses, but I digress.

Instead, she was made to snap pictures, watch the parade and wave happily as her friends celebrated the lives of people who owned her ancestors. Talk about inappropriate!

Tyler wearing a confederate army uniform

Tyler wearing a confederate army uniform alongside Bonnie

  1. Black lives don’t matter

Another issue I have with this show is how quick and easy it is for people of color to die. To give you an idea, here is a list of all the characters of color that have been killed off without it triggering any grief or sense of loss for the characters and the viewers: Pearl (Asian), Harper (black), Luka and his father (black), Conor (black), random black guy eaten by Caroline, Jesse (black), Ivy (Asian), Qetsiyah (played by an Indian actress but supposed to be black). Versus the characters’ deaths that were met with some kind of emotional pain by at least one character: Jenna (white), Vicki (white), Grams (black), Tyler’s father (white), Tyler’s mother (white), Anna (Asian), Lexi (white), Isobel (white), John (white), Luke (white), Rose (white), Andie (white), Elena (white), Nadia (white), Katherine (white, her death is made a big deal out of though everyone hates her), Jeremy (white), Bonnie (black, not sure if I should count her in because she was dead for 3 months and none of her friends even noticed…), Damon (white), Sheriff Forbes (white).

But what is probably most telling about how little the lives of characters of color matter on this show, is when we compare Bonnie and Caroline losing their fathers. Bonnie and Caroline are both part of the main cast, yet though Bonnie has been part of the main plot even more so than Caroline, she isn’t given parents and a home or even just as much as a bedroom until season 4 (after fans kept demanding it from the writers).

Caroline and her mother

Caroline and her mother

Caroline on the other hand who has never really been part of the main plot, was given a home, a room and a very present mother pretty much since the pilot. Caroline’s estranged father was then introduced briefly back in season 2 before being killed off, while Bonnie’s father who was supposed to have been living with her all along was only introduced in season 4 to be killed off right away! But this isn’t even what is most problematic here, what remains most disturbing is how differently the deaths of both fathers were handled. Caroline’s father dies with vampire blood in his system. His hate for vampires was so strong that he made a conscious decision to die instead of completing the transition. Caroline sat by him as he breathed his last breath and was left to grieve, as her sense of loss was addressed in an entire episode. On the other hand, Bonnie who was a ghost at the time (don’t ask), watched her father’s throat being slit open by a maniacal killer and couldn’t so much as hold his hand as he laid dying. We see her scream and cry in horror through a camera shot that lasted all and all probably a couple seconds and… that’s it. Everyone moves on!

Bonnie and her father

Bonnie and her father

None of her friends are ever made to mention what happened and Bonnie doesn’t either. She just lights a candle in remembrance of her father a season later, without her trauma and grief to ever be addressed or even mentioned. What’s more, later on in season 6, Caroline’s mother dies of cancer and that’s enough to make her turn off her humanity and be at the center stage of a few episodes, while Bonnie once again gets nothing.

Why does this matter? Because if a show for teenagers is able to dehumanize people of color in a way that nobody or very little people seem to question, it tells us something really scary about our society and our level of tolerance for racism. It tells us why black people are so easily brutalized by police all over the US be it a man murdered over a routine traffic stop or a 14 year old girl being assaulted by a police officer, it tells us why a man can get pushed off a metro carriage in France for being black, why 147 Kenyan students can be murdered by terrorists in general indifference, why thousands of migrants can drown in the Mediterranean without anyone batting an eyelash, or why doing away with the confederate flag was even a subject of debate. TVD – and an appalling number of mainstream shows – is a construct of a society that oozes systemic racism and white supremacy. White people watch TV and internalize those toxic ideas to such extent that POC become irrelevant, worthless and invisible to them. POC watch, and if they’re not alert enough, begin to hate themselves and subconsciously apply the rules of colorism to their own communities. When we’re not in front of our TVs, we’re being fed those ideas by the Internet, by the movies, by commercials, magazines, and the very people around us. That is why it is so important to speak up whenever we come across such destructive attitudes and narratives. Simply ignoring them will not do. We are not overreacting, we are not being paranoid in standing up for what is right, whether it is walking through Ferguson with our hands up or tweeting network executives about the racism in their shows which contributes to poison impressionable teenaged minds. We can all make a change in our own little way. No issue is unimportant. I may not change the world by writing this article, but I will cause at least one person out there to question things and that in itself is a victory. Silence is complacency.

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Art, Entertainment, Media, Movies, Racism, Shannon Jeanna, Television

Awakenings: How I woke up to the movie industry’s systemic racism

The other day, I was talking to one of my coworkers, a white French guy, who couldn’t seem to understand the uproar caused by the shameful whitewashing of Ridley Scott’s latest movie Exodus: gods and kings. I took a breath, counted up to ten to stop my blood from boiling, and calmly explained to him why it is racist that white people were cast to play Hebrews and Eygptians aka POC, and why it was doubly racist, not to mention offensive, that black people were cast solely to play slaves and criminals. Unfortunately, whatever I said seemed to be of no use and he was adamant to linger within the grasp of his clearly racist ideals.

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As I continued explaining it to him as calmly as I could, I began to notice just how conditioned, if not straight up brainwashed by media he is, and it did scare me all the more when I thought to myself that he probably isn’t the only person out there who was raised and conditioned to believe such nonsense. I mean, if you think about it, all the movies ever made in Hollywood about biblical times (excluding DreamWorks’ animated movie The Prince of Egypt) or the Middle East are whitewashed; be it Hollywood classics like The Ten Commandments (1956) starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses II, Laurence Of Arabia (1962), starring Sir Alec Guiness as Prince Faisal King of Syria and Iraq and Anthony Quinn as Auda abu Tayi, and Cleopatra (1963) played by Elizabeth Taylor; or more recent movies like Prince of Persia (2010) and Noah (2014), all of which are composed of predominantly if not exclusively white casts when the stories are actually set in the Middle East, about Middle Easterners aka POC.

Exodus cast aka Heidi Klum's Halloween party

Exodus cast aka Heidi Klum’s Halloween party

To that severe abnormality must be added the fact that representations of people from biblical times in all forms of western art are also whitewashed, very often depicting Jesus, for example, as white and blonde with blue eyes.

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Add to all of that genuine backwardness, narrow-mindedness and ignorance, and you got yourself people like my coworker, stewing in ignorance, truly led to believe that both Hebrews and Egyptians are white people. Those whitewashed images penetrate peoples’ subconscious minds without them even noticing it. Only when I googled “Egyptian people” and showed my coworker that they actually are brown skinned people, did he even begin to question things.

i don't see race

During our discussion, I tried to explain why representation is so important, and that given the fact that there are already so little roles out there for POC, that aren’t stereotypical and just ridiculous, it is only common sense that the little amount of decent roles about us should, i don’t know, go to actors of color as opposed to white actors who already have infinite other roles to choose from! As an example, I mentioned that I, as a brown girl, am NEVER represented in media. He then got me thinking about the moment I first realised that fact (probably so the heat would be off him) and I honestly couldn’t remember. Having thought about it for a few days, I finally managed to recall that while the process took time, was very gradual and is still ongoing, involving a few years of informing myself, learning, reading, watching things and basically educating myself, one event did AWAKEN me to the institutional, systemic racism perpetrated by media. That awakening began when I watched the movie Bend It Like Beckham, a comedy by Gurinder Chadha about an Indian girl born and raised in Hounslow, England. Her passion is soccer and the whole story is a pretty accurate portrayal of how the two cultures she was raised in seem to clash constantly while she’s caught in the middle, belonging to both, and alienated by both at the same time. As a French Sri Lankan raised by Sri Lankan parents and born and bred in France, that movie resonated greatly within me. Please note that to this day I’ve actually never seen a movie about a Sri Lankan raised in a foreign country, Indian is the closest I can get… I was about 14 or 15 when I finally got around to seeing Bend It Like Beckham and I remember thinking: “Oh my gosh! That is totally me!” I was suddenly awakened to what it felt like to be represented in a movie and it felt rather peculiar, in a good way.

Parminder Nagra as Jess, Kiera Knightley as Jules and Shaznay Lewis as Mel

Parminder Nagra as Jess, Kiera Knightley as Jules and Shaznay Lewis as Mel

As a 90’s kid, I grew up with TV and watched A TON of it. I knew almost every TV show out there and watched all of it with great enthusiasm without, I must admit, viewing much if any of it with a critical eye. I was clueless to the fact that very little POC were represented. That I wasn’t represented because for the longest time, I – or rather my subconscious mind – thought I was white. I grew up with Disney movies, admiring and looking up to its princesses (huge Ariel fan here), swooning for its princes (Prince Philip is a babe), and the first show that I ever watched that wasn’t a cartoon was Saved By The Bell. I had a huge crush on blonde haired Zac Morris (played by Mark Paul Gosselaar who by the way was extremely whitewashed despite being half Indonesian). I wanted to be Kelly Kapowski and had virtually no interest in Lisa Turtle, despite the fact that she was just as pretty and way more lively than Kelly (I’ve realised that only recently when watching SBTB reruns).

Saved By The Bell cast

Saved By The Bell cast

Just like everyone else, I watched shows like Lizzie McGuire, Even Stevens, Full House, Step By Step, My So Called Life, Charmed, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Roswell, Smallville, Friends, Invisible Man, Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, etc. all starring predominantly, if not exclusively white casts. I was however also a big fan of more racially diverse shows like Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Sister Sister, Family Matters, Kenan & Kel, That’s So Raven, Dark Angel, but the majority of what I did watch, or rather of what was available to me, were white shows, and none of them starred brown Asians, even as extras…

You may think “Oh poor you! How did you bear it?” to which I can only say that I didn’t know any better so it didn’t really matter to me. That is until I had that awakening. You may have heard of the movie Awakenings based on Oliver Sacks’ book, and directed by Penny Marshall (yay for female directors!). It starred Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, in a story about a group of patients incapable of functioning properly and basically in a vegetable state. Dr. Sayer (played by Robin Williams) comes along and has the idea of using a new treatment which awakens them back into reality as fully functioning human beings, as if back from a long slumber.

Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro in Awakenings

Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro in Awakenings

When I first watched Bend It Like Beckham, it truly was a similar type of awakening for me. As if all this time I had been blind and could suddenly see. I finally got a taste of what it was like for the brown girl to be the protagonist, not the stereotyped side-kick waiting in the shadows while the white girl gets to shine. This time, the brown girl was in the spotlight! She was the one the audience was rooting for, the one who was actively chasing her dreams, the one who got the guy. It was totally new to me; being able to relate to a character in a way I never thought possible. I’ve watched that movie probably a million times (and still enjoy it to this day).

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Bend It Like Beckham

Parminder Nagra and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Bend It Like Beckham

After that, I began to crave such stories, and went looking for more of that narrative, so I searched for similar movies and found almost none… Sure there was Bride And Prejudice by the same director, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn’t relate half as much as I did with Bend It Like Beckham. Then there was The Other End Of The Line by James Dodson, starring Shriya Saran, Jesse Metcalfe, and Anupam Kher (who was also in BILB), which wasn’t successful probably due to its amateurish skits, but I was ready to cut it some slack since so little movies like that have been made. There was also another movie called Bollywood Queen, starring James McAvoy and Preeya Kalidas (who played a minor role in BILB), but was so mediocre that even I can’t cut it any slack. That’s it. I searched and searched and finally had to admit that the movies made about girls that look like me: stories about brown girls in the Western world, can literally be counted on one hand! WTH!??

representation

After that, everything I watched and read, I did it with a critical eye. I wasn’t passive anymore, I watched and read things actively and straight away noticed the lack of diversity in the media that I consumed. I discovered the terms tokenism and whitewashing which embodied those frustrating feelings I felt inside but couldn’t really put in words. I went from being conditioned by media into cluelessness, blissfully ignorant of the problem, to being awake and painfully aware of it. After that, everything I watched and read made me feel forgotten and ignored, and I began to question things. When I watched a show, I no longer related to the protagonist just because they were the protagonist, I no longer shipped characters together, just because I was supposed to. I used my brain, and began to relate to the characters that embodied what I felt like, which is forgotten, overlooked and unimportant. I related to all the under-developed characters, the forgotten ones, the so called irrelevant ones. I felt for those characters that were designed to be nothing more than tropes, plot devices, the best friend, the “magical negro”, the comic relief, lacking depth and devoid of much if any character development and story line. All these “characters” have one common denominator though: 99% of the time, they are played by actors of color.

Fourth from the right is Bonnie Bennett, cast as the "magical negro", the only POC on the CW's hit show The Vampire Diaries

Fourth from the right is Bonnie Bennett, cast as the “magical negro”, the only POC on the CW’s hit show The Vampire Diaries

I kept asking myself why it didn’t seem to bother anyone that we always get to see the same people be protagonists and the same others being, well, The Other? Then I realised that for the longest time I myself was clueless, just like my coworker who thought that Egyptians are white. It’s not his fault, just like it wasn’t mine. We were both conditioned the same way by media, by the system. The difference is that as a POC, I had to awaken sooner or later to reality. As a white guy, my coworker can afford to simmer in blissful ignorance pretty much for the rest of his life because it’s not going to affect him whether or not Moses is played by a white guy, because there are already millions of stories out there about him that he can pick and choose from, while I have literally four movies, four representations of myself, to take away with me; the same way a black girl has very little media representing her and a First Nation girl has none. This lack of representation is however not only crucial for the main people interested (POC), but also for white people. Because when white people watch Bend It Like Beckham, that is what they’ll think brown girls are about, and while a lot of that movie is true to life, there is so much more to us than just that. Because before being Brown, or Black, or Native, we are people, complex human beings with a million different traits that story telling has hardly even begun to scrape. When it comes to POC in the media, even the tip of the iceberg remains submerged under water.

Representation-Matters-1

The discussion I had with my coworker the other day showed me more than ever what white privilege is to those who are either too stupid, lazy or indifferent to awaken themselves to its despicable realities. After all, why should a white person care about whitewashing, and under-representation or misrepresentation of minorities when they already have an ocean of media representing themselves? How could they even begin to understand what it feels like not to be represented when all they see all day every day are representations of themselves in every possible angle?

I know what you must be thinking: now what? Is this the end of the story? Are we to surrender and admit defeat? Hell to the no! It starts by complaining, ranting about what frustrates us, talking about it, but it should never end there. Once you’ve vented, go out and do something about it! Yes, boycotting counts, petitions count, but we cannot expect white people to write stories and make movies about us that will be portrayed accurately, because they do not know what it’s like to be us. The bottom line is that WE have to write about ourselves because we are the only ones who can do it truthfully and properly.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

No situation is all positive or all negative and I do see something positive in our story. Having been so exposed and even forced to deal with stories solely revolving around white people, like players standing on the side lines, we know BOTH worlds and can write about both more accurately, thus bringing them together! As POCs, we can even write about each other! I can write about brown people, and feel like if I put in real work, respect and heart, I can also write about other POC because, while we do each have very different cultures, powerwe understand each other on the stuff that matters because we know what it’s like to be forgotten, stereotyped, diminished, dominated, ridiculed and even hated. We know what it’s like growing up with media that completely ignores us as if we’re not interesting enough or even worth talking about. But I can also write about white people because I’ve grown up and live in white culture. It’s all around me. It’s all we ever see and hear about. It is by creating, writing, filming, producing, distributing our own stories that we can truly awaken people, both POC and white to reality and the importance of diversity and representation; so that one day none of us will ever have to explain to our coworkers why movies like Exodus are shameful, or even better, such bigoted movies would never be approved for funding in the first place.

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