While binge-watching your favorite show or movie, burrowed into the couch, eyes glued to the screen, have you ever felt that you can’t fully identify with the characters because your story is never the main plot? The story of your life, your daily struggles, is never portrayed on the big screen. Streaming networks need more relevant and accurate Black representation. It is a rarity to see a film depict the everyday struggles that are more commonly experienced but very overlooked, such as uncomfortable racist jokes, the social effects of Black hair, and the uncomfortable atmosphere of bringing a Black person home for the Holidays. More Black representation won’t end racism but it’ll improve it in so many ways. During quarantine, there’s nothing better than to curl up with a good movie; you might as well make a movie or show with an impact, one in which you’ll learn another’s perspective or one that'll let you know you're not alone.
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The movie Guess Who has an all-star cast featuring Bernie Mac, Ashton Kutcher, and Zoe Saldana. This movie describes the awkwardness and uncertainty that comes with blending two families and two races. This 2005 comedy stars Zoe Saldana—a Black woman—who brings Ashton Kutcher—a white man—home to meet her father. This movie shines a light on interracial couples and the discrimination they go through for simply being together.
Although interracial couples are becoming more and more common in commercials and cinema, no one discusses the rude comments, the disgusted looks, and the overall disapproval they receive from the public. Even though we have come a long way from the Loving vs. Virginia court case, interracial couples aren’t always socially accepted as easily as we’d like to think.
In the movie, Saldana’s character, Theresa Jones desperately seeks her father’s approval of her relationship. In the movie, she says, “I’m scared. I know things are different now and times have changed but you should hear the kinds of things people say to us sometimes. And the way they look at us. I need you to tell me that it’s okay to be with him,” said Theresa. In which her father, Persey Jones, Bernie Mac, responded “Baby, me telling you it’s okay isn’t gonna change the world,” This is a pivotal scene in the movie because it solidifies the whole purpose of it, which is that interracial relationships face their racial issues on top the typical problems that couples deal with.
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The mixing of two different races and two different cultures isn’t going to be easy for everyone to digest, whether it’s either of your parents, neighbors, coworkers or even people in the grocery store that don’t approve. Interracial relationships will never be simple. Everything you say or do acts as a statement. Only you can validate your relationship and your feelings and if you love someone, love prevails over everything.
The movie Nappily Ever After on Netflix displays the real-life frustration Black women feel towards their hair. The 2018 movie shows the main character Violet Jones’s journey of self-acceptance. She tries so hard to be perfect to please a man and be accepted by a society that it consumes her. By the end of the movie, Jones embraces being single and expresses her true self. Growing up, Black girls are taught that we have to be fixed to fit into white society. From a young age, Black women are taught to hate their natural hair. In the movie, Jones says “My hair is like a second job, it's finally time to focus on myself,” And she does, finally becoming truly happy.
This movie is unique because hair is never spoken of in movies but it is an essential aspect of Black culture. If a Black child leaves the house without her hair done, it is seen as ghetto, raggedy, and reflects poorly on the mother. Many white children leave the house with unbrushed hair or a messy bun, barely having to think about their head when preparing for their day, but a Black child has to spend hours on their hair in the morning, can’t get it wet or frizzy, and then has to protect it by wrapping it up at night. And all of that is on top of spending an arm and a leg on trips to the salon: weave, wigs, hair products, hair grease, hot combs, straighteners, etc. This story gives other races insight on the daily struggle Black women deal with and lets other Black women know that they are not alone.
Corritta Lewis from It's a Family Thing thinks one of the best representations of Black families since The Cosby Show is Black-ish. Black-ish can be streamed on Hulu as well as Grown-ish and Mixed-ish. Black-ish depicts the everyday struggles that Black people face; racism, colorism, fear, oppression, stereotypes, and many other issues that affect the Black community. “What sets this show apart from others is that it teaches us about our history. There are lessons in each episode that are thought-provoking, not only for black people but also for other races. It forces you to take a look at yourself and the thoughts in your head. This TV show is a representation of a family that has seemingly done everything right by society standards but still encounter issues because of their blackness,” said Lewis.
Mixed-ish is a spinoff of the show Black-ish in which the main character Rainbow Johnson reflects on her experience growing up biracial in the '80s. This show discusses breaking stereotypes, the struggles of being different and fitting in, what it means to have “good hair,” dealing with macro-aggression, being Black in the workplace, and so many more important topics. This show is similar to a modern day Everybody Hates Chris because it explains what it’s like growing up while figuring out the social construct of race.
Growing up biracial in an all-white high school, I never knew that mixed was even its category until I got to college. I identified with the characters 100% in Mixed-ish with their confusion with race and how to identify themselves. I felt their internal struggle when Rainbow and her siblings walked into the school cafeteria, unsure of where they fit in. Being biracial, you don’t fully fit in with either White or Black kids. In the first episode of Mixed-ish, Rainbow says “no one looked like us, not even our parents looked like us.” No one truly knows how that feels when none of the kids at school look like you, none of the characters on TV look like you, and not even your parents look like you. The only people who truly knew exactly how I felt were other biracial people.
In the show, Rainbow feels that if she chooses to be white, she's giving up her mom and if she chooses to be Black, she's giving up on her father. Society puts everyone into a box, and as a mixed person, you don’t fit in either box. This is such a groundbreaking show because it discusses the journey of self-identification and the navigation of such a gray area that a young child has to go through while being mixed-raced in a white society.
Although small strides are being made in the Black representation, it is not enough. Netflix, Hulu, and many other streaming sites do provide some diverse representation but there is still a long way to go before real progress is made. My four-year-old niece so desperately wants golden hair like all of the beautiful Disney princesses she sees. At such a young age she is already disappointed when she looks in the mirror and sees that her coils grow out instead of cascading down her back like the princesses of all of these great adventures that are shown on TV. She will never have hair like that and that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with having curly, nappy, kinky coils. She has the beauty and determination of Princess Tiana, one of the only Black Disney princesses.
Positive and powerful representations of people of color can be so uplifting to younger generations when trying to figure out life and their role in this world. “The documentaries of how the system treats blacks today are good, but knowing our history would be better. Showing other races that black people were more than slaves, but helped create the modern world. I believe these companies have the responsibility to show how great black people are after profiting from our pain, stereotypes, hurt, and death for so many years,” said Lewis. We need positive representation to counteract the negativity people of color face from all realms of society.
Most of the media today makes people of color think that they are alone in these feelings. Media representation has the power to validate our feelings and gives insight to those who will never feel like this. Media representation opens up a dialogue and that is why it is essential. If no one is talking about these issues then nothing will ever change.
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