Over the last couple of years, representation has become more and more important. People are no longer putting up with any form of art that doesn’t represent the whole of society. Which begs the question, can something be successful without representation? Can a piece of art be ‘great’ without reflecting society in its truest form? This particular set of questions are almost always asked about films. I’ve begun to notice that once a film reaches a point of success that same success is combated by its lack of representation. Is this a positive thing?
Such can be seen in the case of La La Land. When was first released it was unanimously agreed that La La Land was a great movie. They’d received so much buzz that many thought it deserved an Oscar. With the buzz surrounding the film, none can deny it was a Box Office success, with it still holding a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it was during the Oscar season where the controversy over the film began. Many began to ask whether the film lacking representation meant that it could not be a great film deserving of an Oscar. While I did not particularly enjoy the film as much as others, I cannot deny that is was a success. While watching it the question of representation never occurred to me. Both Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling both have musical theatre background which may have led to their getting the roles. Knowing this we have to consider that these actors may have just been the right fit for the role. The backlash the film faced may have been unjust.
Moreover, there is also the argument that movies that do include representation, particularly representation of the black community, make the entire piece of work about being black. There is a criticism that when films do include BAME actors it is never just a movie in which the actors happen to be people of colour. The story almost always has to include ‘the struggle’, which as a woman of colour can be quite tiring to see as an audience. A character encompassing my identity can never just fall in love or start a band, the audience almost has to be reminded that the actor is a POC. While I believe it is important to showcase the challenges people of colour face every day simply for being themselves, it sometimes feels as if our narrative can only be explored within the confines of how we relate to the White Man. Only in that within those boundaries is our story then of some importance. I, as an individual, am not satisfied in that form of representation. However, something to consider about a film, in particular, is that it sometimes demands historical accuracy. Therefore, the race of the characters become part of the storyline.
Ultimately, I am undecided about the matter. I do believe it is a shame that many films are limited in their success due to a lack of representation but I cannot deny that representation is important. Young POC must watch films with people like themselves as it may give them something to relate to. However, when we ask for representation I do believe it is important to specify what we mean. Most likely if there is a story including black actors that don’t focus on being black the director and/or writer is a person of colour. Why do others outside the community only feel the need to focus on ‘the struggle’ and consider the actual talent of BAME actors as secondary information? What I am wondering is, are we hindering the arts by demanding that it be a true representation of society and or is it simply just within our rights to ask this?
Written by Gift Onomor