Cut up photos of different women pieced together
Better representation of minorities and diversity in popular culture is crucial. Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada


Real Life to Reel Life: People Reveal the First Time They Felt Represented Onscreen

'Hollywood movies made me aware of the distinction in representation.'

Movies like “Black Panther,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and shows like “Atypical” and “Special” have been celebrated for broadening representation in the globalized media. For people of colour and those with special needs and disabilities, seeing themselves represented authentically without repeatedly relying on stereotypes and tropes, was once a rarity. However, there is still a lot of ground to cover in terms of meeting the desperate need for more diversity. Working towards better representation is crucial as it plays an important role in the creation of people’s self-image and perception of different communities. To better understand the magnitude of this impact, we asked people from across the world to recall the first time they remember feeling represented or could relate to a character on screen.

Angel Nduka-Nwosu, 20, writer and activist, Nigeria 

Angel Nduka-Nwosu wears braids, glasses and a printed top while clapping her hands.

For Angel Nduka-Nwosu, bloggers were her window to representation. Photo courtesy: Lade Falobi

“The first time I clearly remember [feeling represented] was earlier this summer when Enkay Ifeonu, a plus-size blogger opened up [about the intimate details of her life.] She calls herself “Big Chief” and [I related] because usually Igbo (an ethnic group native to parts of Nigeria) women are not allowed to call ourselves chiefs without our father’s or husband’s permission. I call myself a chief now. #Bowdown. I don’t know, but [it] feels like when someone is fat, plus size or whatever label [is trending] these days, they are not allowed to be as confident as Chief Enkay. But, [the change in representation] makes me feel extremely happy.

“We are continually juggling multiple identities.”

Stereotypes do exist, [women from my community] who are plus-sized or were brought up outside, i.e Lagos or Abuja are not allowed to [just] ‘be.’ We are continually juggling multiple identities such as being Igbo in a Yoruba (an African ethnic group native to parts of Western Africa) place or being Igbo in predominantly northern places. 

As for representation, first and foremost, I want [to see] more Igbo women like me raised outside the ancestral lands. More stories of Igbo women succeeding in Nigeria who don’t have to leave to flourish.”

Hara (Last name withheld on request), 22, administrative manager, United Arab Emirates

“As a kid, the only mainstream movie I felt like I could relate to was ‘Aladdin.’ Princess Jasmine didn’t really look like me, but she was a character to whom I could relate to the most. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood the subtle [and not so subtle] racist representations in the film, but I still love it. 

I grew up watching Egyptian cinema with my father, so I saw people who were Arab and spoke Arabic, and lived a life that was familiar to mine. It wasn’t until I was older and started watching Hollywood movies that I became aware of the distinction in representation.

Also read: Why the Stigma of Therapy Is Multi-Layered for People of Colour

Lately, I have been seeing more people like me. Whether it’s women of colour, Muslims wearing the hijab, or Arabs in general. I also feel like we are starting to be better represented even though there are still plenty of movies and shows that still portray us poorly. Especially after 9/11, the media has played such a [huge] role in portraying Muslims and Arabs as terrorists. My Arab and Muslim friends living in the United States were especially conscious of this growing up. I only came to understand the severity of it and its consequences after moving [to the U.S.].”

Srinidhi (Last name withheld on request), 29, gender and disability justice advocate, India

Srinidhi poses while seated, wearing a saree and glasses.

Srinidhi hopes that more Indian women living with chronic illnesses and disabilities will share their stories. Photo courtesy: Srinidhi

“Honestly, I’m not sure I still feel represented on screen as a chronically ill and disabled woman. The times I do feel represented are when I read personal essays or memoirs by them.

It is truly important to have representation because it can shift the very core of our identity. Books have been my saviour and I return to non-fiction over and over to find safety and [feelings of] home. I hope to see more Indian women [living with disabilities and chronic illnesses] talking about our lives and our histories and share our wisdom.”

Giovanna Stefanutto, 22, student, Canada

“My ethnic identity is very spread [being Korean-Italian], so it’s hard for me to feel represented. In terms of my Korean side, [I felt represented when I watched] ‘Kim’s Convenience,’ a Netflix show about a Korean family living in Toronto. It adds a fun essence to the very strict Korean culture.

[I relate to it] because seeing the characters interact with each other is a lot [like] what I saw at home with my mom. The mom in the show reminded me a lot of mine. It gave me some more perspective on how and where my mom was raised. 

There’s definitely more Asian actors [in movies now], it’s growing and people like it. I [would] love to see more diversity, I want different faces, cultures, music, bring it all!”

Kayla Smith, 22, student, United States of America

Kayla Smith wears a black shirt and kneels on the ground with one fist raised in the air.

Kayla Smith hopes to see more diversity in the representation of people with autism. Photo courtesy: Kayla Smith

“The first time I felt represented in the media is the movie called ‘Power Rangers.’ The blue ranger is a black person [with autism.] It was awesome to have someone who [was] like me. Most of the time I see myself [represented] as either black or autistic or female, but not altogether as a black woman [with autism]. 

People like me [aren’t seen in] the media that much, but it is [getting] better. The stereotypes about autism are [often] negative where they’re shown as being weird or having difficult social skills. I think that the media always shows white autistic guys. I wish it reflected the real diversity in the autistic community [with more women and people of colour]. 

The representation of black people in the media is [often] negative too. The stereotypes I noticed [revolve around] black people being criminals or being in gangs. I wish [the media] showed more positive things about black people, especially black women.”

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Real Life to Reel Life: People Reveal the First Time They Felt Represented Onscreen