WHY REPRESENTATION IN MEDIA MATTERS?
“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.”
- Daniel J. Boorstin
The first time I watched the trailer for Never Have I Ever, I was curious. The prospect of a show with an Indian protagonist was exciting, especially after years of watching sidekicks sporting inaccurate and stereotypical accents. Mindy Kaling being one of the creators seemed like an added benefit given she was born to Indian parents, so I thought I probably could count on her for quality and substantial content.
Naturally, I dived in with certain expectations that came crashing down after the 10-episode long monstrosity marketed as inclusive and diverse representation. Putting aside the unoriginal, unimaginative, and dull storyline, to say it disappointed an Indian teenager like myself, would be a gross understatement. The show started its assault with an overdose of offensive stereotypes, the cliché of the Indian good girl being forced into an arranged marriage who leads a double life, and runs-a-tight-ship mother with a funny accent (Well, the protagonist didn’t have an accent, someone had to. Otherwise, how would you know that they were Indian, right? Oh, I don’t know, perhaps through an accurate depiction of our culture, which could be achieved after in-depth research and not assuming that watching DDLJ and K3G qualifies as research.)
And to be honest, Never Have I Ever is not the first show to falsely portray anything that isn’t Western and White. And it is undoubtedly not going to be the last. But if these shows think that they get brownie points for trying, they should go join the scouts.
In today's world, that is increasingly becoming interconnected; it is surreal to think about how little we know about each other. And since people certainly won’t be going door to door explaining Indian, Asian, Latino, or different cultures, media is the one option. And when millions stream false portrayals of various cultures wrapped in this concocted notion of diversity, it does more harm than good as is said.
And we often downplay the importance of representation in media. There is nothing more important than understanding what a profound impact a simple matter of representation can have. When they see someone who looks like them, feels like them, loves like them, it gives them courage, gives them hope, and perhaps watching people like them placed on higher rungs of society makes them feel desired and accepted.
Things that don’t make a show inclusive;
1. An Indian character with a funny accent
2. Latino, Filipino characters who are housekeepers, nannies and engaged in other blue color operations
3. Asian characters with glasses who strive to conquer Nerdville and, of course, lose their virginity.
4. Casting white people to play Asian, African-American, or other characters.
5. Black men as angry and violent characters, Latino actors cast as drug lords and criminals.
It isn't that a Latino actor can’t play a drug lord or that a Black actor can’t play a violent character. It is simply about reserving only these limited spaces or continually casting such actors for playing the repetitive rolls, that make it stereotyping. This perpetuates false notions that are often attributed to these communities making it even harder to pierce through the veil of inclusivity and a true diversification of our media world.