Importance of Representation in Characters
Updated: Nov 22, 2022
More often than not, when we go to the movies, certain groups of people fall into certain character tropes: the Asian man is the scientist, the Black woman is the sassy best friend, the queer person is the quirky assistant. As we move forward in doing a better job with ensuring proper representation on our screens, we also have to be aware of the diversity within the roles of our diversity. Keeping groups of people in character boxes isn’t doing much for change. We need to see BIPOC and LGBTQ+S2 peoples in a variety of ways.
When we watch a movie with a white male lead who does something incredible or insane our minds go “wow, that guy’s incredible (or insane)!)” But when we watch a movie with a gay man who does something incredible or insane (more often than not) we go “ wow gay people don’t do that (or in my case, I’d never DO that.)” Yes, I’m also guilty of putting myself into that box. With such limited queer content, every time there’s a movie with a focus on queerness we treat it like it’s the make or break for any and every future queer focused movie. There’s a desperation to have our specific story told, but we should hope for a wide variety of human experiences within every umbrella of peoples because that is actually life.
Recently, I watched Cate Blanchet in Tár. The film centers on Lydia Tár, who is widely considered one of the greatest living composer-conductors and first-ever female music director of a major German orchestra but with a twist. Lydia is a toxic lesbian Anti Hero. Not to give any plot points away (because you should absolutely go see this movie and I’d put money down that Blanchet is going to win the Oscar for it), but I need to give a bit of context. Lydia starts on top of the world teaching in NYC, living in Germany, conducting, being interviewed and then returning home to her insanely gorgeous, modern, chic German apartment with a supportive wife and daughter. When her orchestra is in need of a replacement cellist, Lydia tickles a fancy by persuading the company to choose a beautiful young woman out of the auditioners of predominantly older men. Now I’m certain you can assume where the plot goes from here, in a Macbethian arc, we soon see the sweet life unravel before our eyes, and it’s all because of our “protagonist’s” doing. The conductor has conducted her own fate.
I'm aware that the majority of the movie is white and that Cate Blanchet is not queer or openly queer in real life, but what this movie manages to do is show multitudes within the lesbian queer community. That’s all we could ever want to see coming out of Hollywood -variety within the human experience. No woman falls under any classic Hollywood lesbian stereotype. Lydia is successful, her wife is talented, the young woman is a gifted immigrant, and they're all battling with what they want out of life. No one is perfect, no one is being condemned for their sexuality. Their queerness isn’t even referenced - just like any heteronormative movie.
And the fact that Cate Blanchett is so deplorable makes me excited as an actor for the morphing nature of what we believe queerness can be on camera. This character and movie breaks stereotypes. No forbidden love, no conversion therapy, no queer shaming. This is a piece that will change minds that have little experience with queerness. They won’t be seeing their traditional tv/movie accepted forms of lesbianism. They’ll see real people making mistakes. They’ll see someone in a position of power abuse it for their own personal interests. They’ll see someone fight for their family and their art. They will see change. They will see a human.
I’m at the point where I crave this for all artists. We don’t define Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis or Daniel Radcliffe as what a white man movie named 'Daniel' should be. They are all so vastly different. We don't try to make every film about the overarching experience of "whiteness". But why do we do this for everyone who isn’t a white male? As a white man, I wouldn’t even self identify with their 'Daniel' characters, but hilariously, we do this for underrepresented stories. And that’s really the root of the problem. For years we've been begging for content that extends beyond the heteronormative, white arcs. Now as we explore more diverse characters we try to make it relatable to every single diverse experience when that’s an impossible task. We need to treat all characters in movies as people with individual identities. Until we keep pushing diverse content with diverse characters/story arcs, we may keep putting groups of people in character boxes therefore hindering us from true collective growth.