Representation Matters

By Cynthia Ray

We are immersed in a society that exalts young, good-looking white people with perfect teeth and hair.  As an older woman, I had tired of these (don’t get me wrong, I love Katniss!) and decided to search for positive representations of older people in fiction and movies.  That search got me thinking about the bigger picture of representation and why it matters.

Everyone is looking for a story with someone like them in it, represented in a constructive light, especially when they don’t fit into the “young, good-looking, white person” mold.  As writers, we can and should examine who we represent and how.

When I was a kid, cowboys were the heroes of the day-popular in books, on TV and in the movies.  All of them were men.  I remember how thrilled I was to discover Annie Oakley.  Wow!  A woman who could ride and rope and shoot ‘em up with the best of them.

annie-oakley-1950

I never missed an episode.  Even as a young child, I was aware of how people were represented and looked for messages; what did it mean about being a woman, a man, a child, a person of color?

 

When the Alien movies came out, I had the same ecstatic thrill as I’d had as a five-year old child discovering Annie Oakley.  Hooray!  A strong, brave, powerful woman protagonist who wasn’t “nice”.

ellen-ripley-alien

I mistakenly thought the movie industry had finally “got it”, that this was the beginning of a host of great women protagonists, but  last year we had Jurassic World-a throwback to the 1950’s if there ever was one (you know, the dinosaur movie with the whiny female executive who wore stilettos in the jungle, and while escaping from the T-Rex.)

I couldn’t resist posting this parody, which captures the essence of the ridiculousness of the Jurassic World movie.  The fact that a parody was made shows that we, in fact, have made progress.

 

Rogue One, on the other hand, gets it right, with a whole line-up of wonderful protagonists from many backgrounds.  Recently, I watched an old movie from the 1950’s.  It was so bad, I couldnt stop watching.  It was filled with misogynistic “jokes” about women, ridiculous caricatures of Italians with bad accents, and every black was either a waiter or a servant, portrayed as ludicrously moronic and/or cowardly.

 

I cringed through the whole thing; in fact, it made me sick to my stomach.  As a child, these were the images and ideas that I was immersed in.  As I grew up, I rebelled and rejected these representations and false ideas but many things are subtle and hard to uncover in our attitudes and beliefs and I am always discovering another underlying assumption that needs to go.

So I went out and looked for more current examples of books with different points of view,  and different kinds of protagonists, I found lists of books with protagonists of older people, people of color, autistic and LGBT, etc.  Yes, they are out there, but there are far fewer of them than we need.

As writers, we can help to ensure that everyone’s voice be heard, and everyone’s face to be seen.  We can expose and express ideas that may not be popular or accepted.  We can be courageous.  Think of the many books that were banned, and how new thought, ideas and people cannot truly be suppressed-not for long.  Let’s be the vanguard of a new era of expression, compassion, inclusion and respect.

NOTE:  After writing this blog, someone made me aware of this upcoming workshop by Wordcrafters in Eugene.  Perfect!

writing-to-promote-marginalized-voices

For information about this workshop:  Wordcrafters Workshop

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2 thoughts on “Representation Matters

  1. I must be about your age, from the Annie Oakley reference. It’s not an easy age. To younger folks, I am invisible; to myself, I am old. The hero of my books is the same age, but she can kick butt and never wears heels. (Your video made my day.)

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. Yes, the invisible thing is odd. I don’t let them make me invisible, I insist on being seen and heard. Im glad you are writing a strong older female protagonists. LOVE it.. PS I don’t consider myself old either. That is always 15 years older than whatever you are. 🙂

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