The Vicious Cycle of Minority Representation

This might not be my longest, most drawn out entry, but I came to a realization today when I was out talking with a woman. The whole crux of what I’m saying rests on an understanding of what the movie “Get Out” means to me, but not necessarily the specific plot points of the movie.

What made the movie such a huge deal for me was the way that it seemed so different from other movies, namely in that it chronicled experiences that I felt were things that only I had felt. It got into a personal space for me and put those things up on the screen for audiences of millions of people who might not have the same life experience.

And people loved it.

That’s the problem with Hollywood character representation. We have your “Get Outs” and your “Atlantas” and these things show a side of minority life that we don’t often see. A lot of film execs say things to the affect of “white audiences just don’t like to see minority characters” and that puts unfair blame on white audiences at large.

The real issue is that a lot of minority characters are stock types and they don’t seem genuine. Sure, there are going to be some bigots who don’t accept characters like them, but the writers are writing them and using other media they’ve been exposed to as a template and since there’s always been poor minority representation in movies it comes off as a parody of a parody of a parody. The real person there gets distilled down to a set of tropes that people are tired of seeing. White audiences are tired of it and so are audiences of color.

But the problem isn’t the white audiences don’t know how to accept those unlike them, the problem is that writers aren’t writing characters that should be accepted.

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Belonging 

I went out to see Doctor Strange on Thursday night. It was supposed to be the highlight of my day. I’ve been counting down the days over the last month. There’s a tiny theater connected to my neighborhood. It also happens to be in the same building as my favorite comic book store. I’m in the place about once a week and people know me and I know the area. 

The movie had been moved to a new auditorium and was starting late, but by the time I stopped bullshitting with the guys in the comic book store I was coming into the theater after most people had taken their seats. A woman pointed to the area where my seat was and I walked down the front part of he aisle (our theater has wide aisles in front of the seats for waiters to pass along without disturbing the viewers). The seat numbering seemed off and the seats in the area where the employee had pointed me to were filled. I was in seat 13 of the row I was on and I saw a seat marked 513 and assumed it was that one. 

Suddenly a bearded man around my age or a little younger stands up from a seat a little to my right and asks “Are you sure you’re in the right theater?” He doesn’t come toward me or really move except to point. “They’re playing the Madea movie in another one.”

Oh, I get it now. That’s very clever. Black people, as we know, would only come to the theater to see the latest Madea movie or tales of triumph set during slave times. I wasn’t sure if he was going to tell me how brace I was next. It was raining, after all, and we know the blacks can’t swim. 

He laughed after that and sat back down. I figured out my error a few seconds after ignoring him. There was a second set of white painted numbers on the bottom of the upturned seats. I found my chair near the middle of the row buffeted by a man playing on his phone and a man who would continually talk to himself and push down on the empty seat between us hitting me in the leg. 

The movie was really good and I was thrilled to see it. Did the small interaction at the start ruin it for me? No. I’ve had worse said about me, although I really hate Tyler Perry movies, so this is an insult on two levels. There’s not a moral to this story unless it’s this: these kinds of things happen. I went into public to enjoy a movie and a stranger made a racist joke. I’m minding my own business and it doesn’t matter. People feel the need  to comment on my race. I’m sure if asked this guy would be one of the ones who “has black friends” and “doesn’t see race”. 

Yeah, sure.