Popular culture needs accurate ethnic representations

A young girl poses in front of a poster for the movie

A young girl poses in front of a poster for the movie "Home." Images presented by visual media propagate representations, often untrue, of ethnic groups.

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The most important factor for children in today’s media is representation.

America is a country built from a mixture of different cultures, so it is only normal to see those cultures displayed on television. Instead, the majority of what we receive is westernized.

An example is Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.” Her olive skin, mentioned many times throughout the novels, suggests she is indigenous. Jennifer Lawrence is anything but.

Furthermore, the movie franchise received criticism for African American characters from District 11 even though the books specifically point out the dark skin tones of people who hail from that region.

Another famous example of whitewashing is “Exodus: Gods and Kings”. Like many movies based off Biblical stories, the cast for this film is mostly Caucasian despite the fact that the setting of the tale is in Egypt. Because of its distance from the equator, and the lack of technology for a grand migration between Europe and Africa, there is very little possibility that people with pale skin inhabited the area at that time. Yet those were the heroes, and the Africans that were involved with the film were cast as slaves.

Other people of color in Hollywood movies are usually comic reliefs with little to no touch on their heritage.

When this issue if addressed, the most common response that I have heard is “get over it.” Some privileged people do not believe that representation is necessary in the media because that is all that they receive. They see themselves on so often in the media, it does not bother them that other people do not have that pleasure.

Much of this dismissal is due to the fear of change. Privileged people are accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and some fear one different from their own because they do not know what it will bring. They want to see people of color as criminals and illegal immigrants and nothing else. They want the word “fat” to be the equivalent of “ugly.” They want women to remain subservient and have their lives revolve around men. They want homosexual people to “stop shoving their lifestyle in our faces” (I quote I have heard from peers and on social media), and they do not realize that is exactly what they are doing with the clichéd story of “she was an ordinary girl until she met him.”

Not all privileged people are like this, of course, but too many are.

Insensitivity to the issue of representation can be very discouraging to developing children. They might feel that their identity is not valid enough to be shown on TV and it can make them feel inferior.

What people need in order to be liberated from their fear of change is education, which they will receive if they are exposed enough to the world outside their own.

Many forms of media already have excellent representation. Such media increases understanding in the children that will mold the future of this nation and gifts them with the utter delight of seeing themselves in characters on TV.

The most prominent of those characters are from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “Avatar: The Legend of Korra.” The universe of these two shows is influenced heavily by Asian cultures in the use of mixed martial arts, the reoccurring theme of balance, the four elements and food.

The plot of the first series revolves around the near-total genocide of a race in the name of imperialism. Sound familiar?

In addition to this, the two shows display a variety of strong female characters, all with their own unique traits, ranging from very young to very old, all beautiful, but not sexualized. They also harbor a place for physically disabled people as well as the mentally ill and deal with the issue of child abuse.

The protagonist of “Korra” is a buff, brown, bisexual woman. There are no words to describe the happiness I feel at the fact that someone as powerful as Avatar Korra has my skin color and is not portrayed as a terrorist.

Similarly, the revolutionary show “Steven Universe” portrays nonbinary characters and gives constant lessons on healthy relationships. “Adventure Time” writes women of all body types. “Good Luck Charlie” has a character with two mothers.

Other shows in the past presented similar representation. An episode of “The Proud Family” was dedicated to the celebration of Kwanzaa and another episode celebrated Ramadan with an explanation and appreciation of both events.

“Wizards of Waverly Place” aired an episode on the appreciation of Latino culture and kept reminding the audience of the protagonists’ heritage throughout the show.

“The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” broke stereotypes with a smart blonde, dumb Asian, a black man in charge with no slur towards his skin color, a successful and happy single mother and a Latino bellboy who plays a crucial role in almost every episode.

Last but not least, “That’s So Raven” featured an African American woman who constantly taught lessons of positive body image.

These shows bring out the beauty outside of the westernized world. This trend must continue in order to educate the next generation of children on open-mindedness, as well as to ensure a security for their race, religion, body, gender, and sexuality.

“But they are kids; there is no way their minds can handle issues that are so complex!”

That is the exact type of thinking that holds society back from progressing. Adults must stop looking at younger people as if they are too stupid to understand anything. We are more empathetic towards social issues than any of the previous generations were. Small children especially have heightened observation skills to help them understand the world they are surrounded by so they can live accordingly.

If more content in the media provides what was listed above, children can learn about the uniqueness of human beings without any bias, and at the same time they can relate to characters with something other than similar personalities.

Hopefully in the near future more people can share the happiness of a small African American girl beaming up at a poster for “Home” exclaiming, “Mommy look, she has my hair!” They can share the wonder of grown women crying with joy at the sight of Princess Tiana. They can grin with pride alongside a disabled boy cosplaying Hiccup fromHow to Train Your Dragon.”

The lack of representation is not something that should be disregarded. Representation matters, and there must be more in order for this nation to prosper.

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