Media Representation in 2016


Social media has enshrined 2016 as a train wreck of a year. The year delivered us seemingly endless celebrity, childhood role models’ deaths, political uncertainty of Brexit and to top it all off, a Trump victory. Moreover, the film industry decided to yet again to limit our screens to the same familiar faces. Creating controversy with the casting of Scarlet Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and the lovable Matt Damon apparently being the only man able to save China.

Yet, we need to acknowledge the silver linings of the film/TV industry in 2016. We have witnessed great strides. Aided with fierce social media and journalistic backing we finally have both small and silver screens that are more representative of the diverse world we all inhabit.

Thus, this is short list celebrating the collective accomplishments of 2016 for greater representation.

Turns out people of colour are more than window dressing

Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed Netflix series, Master of None discusses the immigrant story and the subsequent lives of next generation migrant children who balance two worlds; one of their heritage and one of their birthplace. One of the most powerful aspect of the show is giving Asian Americans, a grossly underrepresented minority, a true voice separate from the stereotypical roles of maths geeks, karate masters and thick accented shopkeepers and taxi drivers. The series gives representation to both South East Asian and Taiwanese characters, showing their common experiences of being first generation migrant children as well as their individual personalities. Thus, showing their heritage does have a significant role in their lives yet it is not their only trait, they are still normal twenty/thirty something adults with first world problems. Also, the series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the film, Edge of Seventeen casted Asian American actors as male leads and redefined the current media perspective of Asian men.

Moreover, 2016 was the unprecedented year where six people of colour were nominated in leading actor categories, with key mentions to Rami Malek from Mr. Robot, Idris Elda for Luther and Anthony Anderson from Black-ish.

The creation of multi-dimensional female characters

Star Wars has always been classic sci-fi series, providing us with the privilege of knowing the truly awesome, Carrie Fischer. Yet, in subsequent years the studio went a step further by providing two female-led star wars films and a frsh set of female role odels to the younger generation. The characters of Rey and Jin were products of turbulent childhoods who grew up to be independent and resourceful women who become leaders amidst a tremulous environment.

Moreover, the series Jane the Virgin brought a house full of unapologetically and unabashedly strong and flawed women to our screens. Showing the realities of being women of colour, balancing being a single mother whilst in education and the decision of choosing an abortion.

Disney finally decided to push aside love stories

2016 was also the crowing glory of Disney in terms of representation. They finally created a female lead with feasible body proportions in Moana. The cast reflected the film’s rich heritage subject matter with actors from Hawaiian and Polynesian lineages. The film, Zootopia discussed racial prejudices and engrained social stereotypes.

Not assuming disability ultimately results in euthanasia

The Netflix film, The Fundamentals of Caring, discusses disability in a non-patronising manner. Unlike the film/novel Me Before You, it showed that people with disabilities do have a life worth living. It did not shy away from the harsh realties that disability has on a person and their support system but also illustrated that those with disabilities cannot and are not wholly defined by it.

Addressing social prejudices head on

Black-ish has rarely shied away from controversial topics, discussing the N-word and gun control in America. Yet in 2016 this series brought the #BlackLivesMatter Movement to prime time American television, depicting contrasting viewpoints to the police, whether you respect them as our protectors or fear them as representatives of rigged and unjust system. Tackling these hard hitting topics, it brought the debate in the family living room, creating free space to argue and critique the movement and the current system of government, whilst educating all about the harsh reality of prejudice.

Examining the idea of family and weight

This is us is a poignant drama. Following in the footsteps of series such as Modern Family, it discusses the inter-connectivity of family, while also discussing adoption in the 1970s and the impact of being a different race than one’s adoptive parents. Also, this series discusses the issue of weight, which is remarkable, as so few women of varying body sizes and weight are seen in our media, let alone given a lead storyline.

-Arisha Ahmed