It’s hard as a young person of a different ethnicity or background to look at the TV and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is very important — Zendaya
I’d like to amend that quote by saying that it is not only young people of a different ethnicity or background who find it hard to look at the TV or a movie and not see anyone who looks like you. Representation is important to everyone who is of a different ethnicity or background, young and old.
While striving for positive representation of people of different ethnicities and backgrounds on TV and in movies has been an ongoing topic of (ocassionally heated) discussion, it came into the supernova-bright spotlight with the movie Rogue One: A Star Wars Story because of its multicultural/multi-ethnic cast.
My Dec.19 post, regarding my love/deep appreciation for the movie and my declaration that it was the best film to come out of the Star Wars franchise, focussed on the fact it subverted the idea that a movie’s protagonists always came out of a conflict alive and still standing to fight another day. That a happy ending isn’t always the best ending.
I really didn’t dive into the diversity of the cast in that post because I was still processing what I had seen. I’ve probably ruminated long enough to make somewhat lucid remarks on the subject. I also admit to being encouraged and spurred on by a tweet Rogue One actor Diego Luna shared last week regarding a Star Wars fan’s Tumblr post. The post made an emotional impact on him. In it, the woman shared her experience about the time she took her Spanish-speaking father to see Rogue One and how the fact that Luna kept his accent for the film, made her father proud to be Mexican instead of being ashamed of being Mexican. The tweet went viral resulting in media outlets in the States and from Mexico wanting to speak to the woman and her father.
Her post struck a chord with me. I can be outspoken on a lot of things but diversity/representation hasn’t been a subject I felt the need to weigh in on until now.
I grew up in a multicultural environment. In school, from kindergarten to university, my classmates were Indigenous, Filipino, East Indian, German, Italian, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Argentinian and so on. We didn’t quite resemble the United Nations but we did resemble the United Colours of Benetton ads that were almost ubiquitous back in the ’80s. There was an easy acceptance of our physical appearances that tied us to our individual ethnicities.
If any racial slurs or jokes were made, they were most likely made because the person making those slurs/jokes didn’t know how to verbalize whatever was gnawing them and lashed out over something that was obvious but was never really the source of the problem/issue.
When I was growing up, in the handful of times where racist slurs were made at me, it was confusing and hurtful because I never did anything to insult or harm the taunters. They would never tell me what I did wrong. They always ended up making themselves the victim and me the bad guy. I suppose when you think that way, you’re fucked up. No getting around that conclusion.
Over the years, I have come to understand that those who throw out racist remarks/slurs are people who need to exert some sort of power over someone else because they feel a degree of powerlessness that makes them uncomfortable and maybe, a little panicked. So they pick on someone who they believe won’t call them out on their bullshit. Of course, there are other who were taught racists views. You’re never born thinking that way. You’re taught labels and use them as a way of making sense of the world. Let’s be honest, labels are never that helpful. Labels box you in.
Unfortunately, because Asian people, in particular, Chinese and Japanese people, especially Chinese and Japanese girls and women, have been stereotyped as docile and passive… perfect doormats for verbal and physical attacks.
I do not have a Chinese accent. But I have a Canadian accent (whatever that is supposed to sound like). That’s because my family came over to Canada when I was four months old. But the lack of a Chinese accent hasn’t kept the odd and questionable human being from making remarks about slanted or slit eyes and talking with a really bad Chinese accent because they think it’s funny. Dumb fucks. I blame most of that behaviour on sheer ignorance. If they truly disliked me, for whatever reason, it’s easy enough to stop interacting with me. It’s that simple, is it not?
Despite the unpleasant moments, I have to say that for the majority of my life, I have been fortunate enough to be around people who look beyond my ethnicity, who are never distracted by my ethnicity, who accept me for who I am as a person.
In my current job, I am the only person with Chinese ethnicity working in my department. It’s been that way for years. I never think of it unless an older relative brings it up. Fortunately, I can count the number of times on one hand where I’ve had to address the issue with a relative. And since I’m bringing it up, yes, representation at my workplace is lacking but I’m not looking to change anything because my focus is elsewhere… somewhere I believe I can make my own little mark on diversity and representation. Honestly, my ethnicity is a non-issue at work. If it is, no one has said anything to me. I was hired for my skill set, not because there was some invisible quota that needed to be filled regarding diversity or the fact that I’m female.
While my ethnicity seemingly is a non-issue in my professional life, I do think it has been a shadowy issue in my romantic relationships. Not in every relationship but there are some that probably wouldn’t withstand the microscopic scrutiny I would put it under right now.
I’ve met men who will only date Asian women because they’re not ‘aggressive’ or ‘possessive.’ Sorry, but I see nothing but red flags when I hear shit like that. Quite frankly, any guy who thinks I’ll be docile and passive in a relationship because he thinks I can manifest his stereotyped assumptions/dreams about Asian women, is going to find my steel-toed boot up his bleeding arse and his car tires slashed.
But I think I’m digressing by talking about relationships.
Anyway, representation is something I never thought to put down into words until I saw Rogue One. Aside from the premise, another reason I love the film is because of its talented multi-ethnic cast. While Mexicans are thrilled Diego Luna is the male lead in the film, I love the fact Donnie Yen and Jiang Wen are also in the movie. And let’s not forget Riz Ahmed. Sure, he is British, but he is also Pakistani.
How great is it for children and adults — who share the same ethnicities as these actors — to see themselves reflected back in a movie that doesn’t have them portraying stereotypes? Pretty fucking great, I’d say.
And you know what? They all have accents, folks. And you know what else? You understand what they’re saying. The fact that accents are treated as normal and not something to be made fun of, or is seen as an obstacle to understanding what they are saying, is fantastic.
Personally, I love listening to accents. Accents are great. I’ve never regarded accents as something that got in the way of understanding the dialogue and what was happening in a scene. Makes me wish I had an accent even though I apparently have a Canadian accent. Again, I don’t even know what that means or what it’s in reference to.
Right from the beginning, when I started writing, representation has been something that has found its way into my fiction writing. With any long-form or novel-length projects I’ve worked on or are working on, there has always been some form of representation with regards to my characters. I’ve never forced it. It just is.
Through writing, diversity and representation have become important to me. There is this need to manifest it in my creative life, in my writing life. Again, I’m not forcing it. It’s just there and there is no way I’m going to dismiss it.
This need to show diversity has manifested itself in other ways — who I follow on social media, the kind of music I want to listen to, my small but significant interest in social histories and a desire to explore beyond the Canadian border and the North American continent. I love how this is subtly and positively infiltrating my life and my choices.
I long for the day where the entertainment media, or the media in general, stops running stories about representation or the need for representation because it’s been normalized. As it stands, it’s not normalized. As long as there are still adherences to using ethnic stereotypes to tell a story, we won’t be any closer to being rid of them. And so, the fight for representation continues. I stand behind this fight. There is no other way for me.