THE LATEST THINKING
The opinions of THE LATEST’s guest contributors are their own.
Explores the positive effects representation has in our media, politics and sports.
At the beginning of March, I came across a photo posted on Facebook by Ben Hines. Hines was waiting in line in the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution.
In front of him stood a young girl gazing up at a portrait of former First Lady, Michelle Obama. The look of wonder on her face says it all. It is a moment that captures, definitively, why representation matters, and the power that comes with highlighting our diverse leaders. Just as the Obama family inspired hope in America through political action, a new impetus has emerged in our cinema as audiences demand more diverse and heroic representations.
Since its release in February, Marvel's Black Panther has grossed over 1 billion dollars worldwide, and has inspired a whole new generation of fans across the globe. This comes just two years after the racial controversy that erupted from Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, in which white male racists emerged from social media to criticize the director's choice of having lead actors that include John Boyega (Finn) and Daisy Ridley (Rey). Apparently, select white males felt unfairly excluded, calling the film "white genocide" and designed to "demoralize and destroy whites." For me, the irony in these kinds of comments is how they call into question the ways that American cinema has historically promoted black genocide and a demoralized black community, films such as New Jack City, Boyz 'N' The Hood and Menace II Society.
Growing up in Southern California in the late '80s and '90s, these films pervaded my views of young African American males as dangerous gangsters and drug dealers. These types of representations became embedded social perceptions. Once instilled, these types of perceptions can have dangerous consequences. Just ask the family of deceased Terence Crutcher. Before he was shot and killed in Tulsa (2016), police radio captures one officer's voice referring to Crutcher as someone who looks like a "bad dude" who could be "on something." Crutcher, who was unarmed and had his hands up, was simply walking to his stalled car in the middle of the road when officer Betty Shelby opened fire.
Since Black Panther's release, a new wave of African American art, culture and unity has emerged. One small instance of this can be seen with tennis professionals Sachia Vickery and Gael Monfils photographed giving the Wakanda salute.
And this symbolic embrace of cinematic representation of African leadership, ingenuity and empowerment is reminiscent to the call of action put forth by essayist Maria W. Stewart who, in 1831, wrote, "O, ye daughters of Africa, awake! Awake! Arise! No longer sleep nor slumber, but distinguish yourselves. Show forth to the world that ye are endowed with noble and exalted faculties."
Returning to Hines' photograph, I know that change is happening. The new leaders and heroes of today are inspiring a whole new generation for tomorrow. This is hope and change in action. And this is why representation matters.
The little girl who captured hearts after a stranger snapped a photo of her admiring a portrait of Michelle Obama got to...