There are many things that we think we know about cultures that are not our own. One of the main places we get these assumptions from is the entertainment business. It doesn’t matter if the material they are putting out there is patently false or disrespectful, or if there is any context to the culture they are portraying. As a result, many people think they know and understand things when they really don’t.
I am not saying that it is done maliciously or with the intent to harm – at least, not most of the time. Things are changed for lots of reasons: convenience, out of ignorance, to make a joke, because of oversimplification, laziness, or simply a lack of understanding, to name a few. I’m not justifying anything, and I’m not giving anyone a free pass because they didn’t realize people would be offended. I also totally understand (coming from an ethnic group that is constantly misrepresented, for many reasons) and believe that these minority groups are justified in their anger, frustration, and humiliation when they see their culture abused in these ways.
I’d like to think that things are changing, even if it is only gradually. It has only been more recently that if a certain character has a specific ethnicity, that casting directors are actively trying to find someone fitting those criteria instead of just some popular actor that they feel will bring enough star power that nobody will care that the person is completely wrong for the role.
These things are changing not because Hollywood suddenly grew a conscious and is making more of an effort to find and promote minorities. No, things are changing because audiences want things to change and are using their power to show the entertainment industry so: they are speaking with their wallets. Things are changing because people want to see more diversity in their entertainment. This allows more people of color to tell their stories, get behind the camera, and for people who look like them to stand in front of it. This is such an important step to bringing a better representation of all cultures in this field. There is so much to learn from in a diverse culture, and the entertainment industry could set a gold standard for the rest of us to follow.
Now that people of different nationalities are appearing in worldwide releases, are participating in the writing, editing, and production process, we have the ability to tailor the story. We can correct fallacies, we can abolish stereotypes, we can shine a light on what makes our views so unique and worth paying attention to.
That only happens when we are portrayed and represented accurately. It needs to be authentic: in character, in dialogue, in experience and portrayal. That’s why I chose film as my area of study, and that’s why even on the hard days, on the days where I wonder if I will make anything at all of myself, I know that even if I don’t – I have to try. It’s not just me that succeeds if I do, it is all of my people.