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Emerging Voices | Pop Culture Falls Short on Minority Presence

The lack of representation of traditional minority groups in film and television has been the subject of conversations and movements in recent years.

There were boycotts and movements around “#OscarsSoWhite.”

There is backlash when an actor or actress is cast to portray a character from an underrepresented group when the actor or actress comes from a more privileged background.

Communities grieve because they are represented by only one token character in a show or movie. When the identity of an entire community rests on one fictional person, anxiety and concern abound over each moment they appear.

As these conversations continue, we must grapple with our role in the perpetuity of this industry, whose faults and shortcomings are not limited by this conversation.

When a problem seems larger than our own existence, at times we ignore it completely.

We can become stagnant in the face of injustice.

Maybe, there is another option. Instead of watching underrepresentation continue and complaining about it during the awards season, we can do something else. Maybe, we can take action and use our agency in the milieu of popular culture.

Movies, television, music, books, podcasts and so on depend on our financial support. By the laws of free-market economics, our demand for certain aspects of popular culture can drive the market in a new direction.

So, where should we move the market?

This question is where Alison Bechdel and Ava DuVernay can help.

Bechdel is the creator of the Bechdel test, which, when applied to works of fiction, inquires as to the representation of women.

In order to pass this test, a work of fiction must pass three components.

There must be (1) two (named) women who (2) speak to each other (3) and not about a man.

DuVernay helped develop similar criteria regarding people of color in a work of fiction.

The DuVernay test asks if people of color have fully developed lives as opposed to being support for the white character’s story.

These tests are not an exhaustive understanding of representation in popular culture, but they are a starting place.

There are still going to be works that pass one or both of these tests and send harmful messages. There may still be violence, language or portrayals of sexual content that viewers find inappropriate.

These tests, and others like them, should not be your only criteria for what popular culture you consume.

But they can help.

Think about where you spend your entertainment money, whether you set aside a large amount of your income for concerts, movies and subscription services, or only on special occasions or once a month. Think about where you are directing the market.

The next time you visit the movie theater, think about who is represented in the movie you are paying to see.

Does it pass the Bechdel test?

Does it pass the DuVernay test?

No?

Is there another option that does?

Maybe, instead of seeing the newest Marvel movie in theaters, you wait until it comes to DVD. Maybe, you can support female-directed movies in the theater.

Look through your recently played music on Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora or wherever else you listen.

Who is represented?

Maybe you can find a new artist you love by exploring playlists or albums created by women, people of color or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Representation matters. If we continue to propagate a world where people are not seen, we encourage a world that hates.

The world is big, and sometimes there are problems that paralyze us. Here, we can take a stand. We can make a change, no matter who you are.

We are all responsible for the information we consume. Make sure that you are aware of the media you support and choose sources that are represented well.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a new series focused on engaging the emerging generations of faith leaders. Learn more about EthicsDaily.com’s “Emerging Voices” and “U:21” series here.

Harrison Litzell

Harrison A. Litzell is a student at McAfee School of Theology and the Children’s Ministry Intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church.