In The Oppositional Gaze, Bell Hooks recalls the reaction of black women to their representation in film, “she was not us… We laughed at this black woman who was not us. And we did not even long to be there on the screen. How could we long to be there when our image, visually constructed, was so ugly?” Clearly the tropes and caricatures that populate modern media representation of racial and gender minorities are dehumanizing people to the point that we cannot even recognize ourselves in them. Is it possible, however, for the media to achieve any kind of ideal representation when any given character or cast is going to inevitably leave out characteristics and traits that some members of the viewership identify with? In choosing to represent any single person at all does the media inherently alienate others?
As Samuel Chambers speculates in Heteronormativity and the L Word, if the ideal cast for a group of friends on television included a representative of every race certainly the audience would deride the show for a lack of realism. So how can the media be simultaneously representative, realistic and universal? It’s a question that I believe may be easier to answer than it appears. If the people creating, producing and writing films and television were as diverse as the audience they are attempting to represent then the characters, even those who are very specific, would gain a complexity and depth that comes from viewing them with empathy and humanity that would resonate more universally with any audience.
Chambers, Samuel. Reading the L Word: Outing Contemporary Television. New York: TB Tauris, 2006.
Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992.