Representing the ‘Other’

If you think about the last time you watched a movie with an African American character, it is more likely than not that that character was a racial stereotype and not a main role. Typically they are cast as the servant, the thug, the comedic best friend, the ‘independent’ woman. Film maker Spike Lee comments that “In order for the characterisations of African Americans on television and film to change, blacks need to achieve positions of power in those industries, where they can have some control over the images that are produced.”

TV shows and movies are no longer just a source of entertainment, but education. Portrayals of other cultures must be ‘correct’ in every sense of the word. If children grow up watching misrepresentations of cultures, they will naturally think that the way they are behaving and being treated is acceptable.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Disney released a children’s movie with a main character being from African American descent.  The Princess and the Frog features the main princess Tiana as a hardworking waitress who dreams of opening her own resturaunt – a significantly different persona to the typical Disney princesses who quite often have no ambitions of their own besides marrying the prince.

Famous Youtuber ‘GloZell’ visits Disneyland and gets emotional when she meets the princess Tiana

Many people in our culture are so used to racial stereotypes that they aren’t even aware that what they are saying is racist. A stereotype that come to mind include Asians being smart but being bad drivers. According to Asian American writer Jessica Walton, “The problem with stereotypes is that they are so ingrained and so commonplace that they have become invisible. They can be perceived as harmless and as comfortable and normal as your living room chair – except of course if you are on the receiving end.”

Racism and misrepresentation in the media of other cultures includes both physical and emotional harm, including anxiety, depression, lower self-esteem and high blood pressure.

So what can we do about it?

There is a current idea that being “colour-blind” – will stop racism. However being colour-blind is to basically pretend that race is not an issue in society and that people don’t notice race. There are differences between cultures and pretending to ignore these differences is not going to aid the social injustice.

There is therefore a great need for other cultures to have a fair (and accurate representation.) If a certain cultural group is represented in a similar way again and again, that image being portrayed becomes the norm.


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