As Netflix Put It, “Representation Matters”

Embodying hypocrisy at its finest, the people who complain about the presence of same-sex relationships in TV shows because they worry that this will “turn their kids gay” are the same people whose sexuality is forced down the throats of LGBTQIA+ youth by all aspects of media. We live in a cisgender heteronormative culture, one that prevents LGBTQIA+ youth from discovering their true selves earlier on, one that pumps out children with harmful compulsory heterosexuality and internalized homophobia. By not showing children same-sex relationships, transgender adults and youth, and other identities in the LGBTQIA+ community, our society has caused children to suppress and hate themselves because they don’t realize that it’s okay to not be cisgender and/or heterosexual, that they’re normal, valid, and loved as they are. On the streaming service Netflix, there are various shows under the title “Representation Matters.” Netflix is right: representation — on the screen and in government—does matter. It matters because it shows people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, citizenship statuses, genders, and abilities that they matter too.

While the entertainment industry and Hollywood have been trying to promote diversity in their shows and films, it’s not enough to just have one token minority character or the same storyline for every single character with that identity. Giving a white lead a nerdy Indian American sidekick isn’t the progressive action directors seem to think it is. No identity is monolithic, so it’s not enough to just include characters with different skin colors. Directors must also consider how that character is depicted and whether this depiction perpetuates stereotypes. 

In order to provide viewers with the representation they deserve on the screen, the film industry should look towards Sex EducationOne Day At A Time, and Grand Army, for example. Providing representation for gay teenagers of color, pansexual young women, bisexual adolescents with internalized homophobia, asexual youth, women who have gotten abortions, sexual assault survivors, and all those with insecurities, Sex Education is a revolutionary show that has made inclusivity the main focus of its cast and their plot lines. Seeing someone similar to yourself in a popular TV show, whether that’s in terms of gender, experiences, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or multiple out of the aforementioned aspects, can not only make you feel normal but can also empower you to feel more confident and loving of yourself. 

One Day At A Time—creating a family sitcom vibe—depicts a Cuban American family with a mother who acquired PTSD and depression after serving in the military, a grandmother who bravely immigrated to the USA from Cuba at a young age and is now working towards obtaining citizenship, a lesbian teenage daughter with a non-binary significant other, a son who deals with anti-Latinx racism from his classmates, and a family friend who’s recovering from substance abuse. Throughout this show, new characters are introduced, from the daughter’s best friend whose parents were undocumented and then deported, to the witty, badass black woman who also served in the military and is the mother’s rock. Intertwining various identities with each other, this show presents people as they are in the wild: multi-faceted and intersectional, providing representation for people who relate to the characters in more ways than one. 

While Grand Army provides awareness of systemic, anti-black, and anti-Latinx racism in the education system, strong female characters who stand up for their rights and for respect while also acknowledging their own wrongdoings and shows how each character isn’t perfect, just like how real people aren’t, it’s earned a soft spot for me because of its representation of Indian American students. These students aren’t your stereotypical nerdy and quiet Indian American teenagers; instead, a teenage girl wrote and directed a feminist play and held a feminist art gallery at her parents’ restaurant while her brother, albeit a studious and driven young man with the goal of attending Harvard, came out as gay and stood up for himself when his parents dismissed him. As a feminist, LGBTQIA+ Indian American teenage girl myself, this representation made me feel seen. 

Fictional representation isn’t the only kind of representation marginalized people need: they also need political representation. At the 2004 Democratic Convention, Barack Obama said that “the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him too” was why he was running for a senate seat. Years later, when Barack Obama was serving as the 44th President of the United States of America, his official White House photographer, Pete Souza, captured a shot of Jacob Philadelphia, a young black boy dressed to the nines in a suit and tie, with his hand on Barack Obama’s head as the president leaned over to make it easier for the boy to reach. Jacob had told the president that his friends had said the president and himself shared a hairstyle, so to prove to the boy that their hair was alike, Obama had let the boy touch his own. Not only is representation like this important so that the interests of marginalized people of that community are heard and protected, but it also matters because it tells all young people who see themselves in their political representatives that they can dream big too, that they belong and can be anything they want to be. Similarly, Kamala Harris, the first woman and Asian-American person to be the Vice-President Elect will do this for a whole generation of young girls and BIPOC children, inspiring them to dream big while advocating for them with her influential role in government. Finally, the first openly transgender woman to be elected to the Senate, Sarah McBride, will be a vital asset to Congress as she contradicts the prior administration’s discriminatory policies against transgender people and provides a voice for this underrepresented community.

While representation is undeniably necessary for the people who are being represented, it can also meaningfully impact those who are not in the community being represented. People hate what they don’t understand and aren’t exposed to, so by depicting people of all identities in relatable, positive ways, both the government and media deter the formation of bigots through the power of empathy. When people are able to empathize with fictional characters or famous figures different from themselves, they are more likely to be accepting when someone in their own life is different from themselves. Let’s create a more accepting, inclusive world where everyone knows that they belong and are valued. Let’s demand the representation—in media and politics—that every person deserves. 

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

You can find announcements, more news, and get to know our staff on social media: give us a follow, and learn how you can get involved today!

We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

We hope you’ll join us.

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