The Importance of Representation, or “The Best Man Holiday” was a Race-Themed Film??

When was the last time you watched TV? The average American spends 34 hours per week watching TV, says a new Nielsen report. So chances are, you’ve watched TV pretty recently. But when was the last time you really watched TV?

I recently challenged myself to actively engage while watching TV – to not just follow along with the plot of a story or a character but to really pay attention to what I’m being shown and to analyze how what’s being depicted or sold to me pertains to real life. By and large the most striking thing I’ve noticed is the lack of diversity. I don’t just mean in movies or popular TV shows. Advertisements for PS4, Life Alert, Poland Springs water… if there is a single POC, I’m impressed. For the most part, these commercials feature pre-dominantly, if not entirely non-POC. The problem with this, aside from the very obvious issue of generally lacking diversity, is that it reinforces on a subconscious level the idea that there is some sort of separation between minorities and dominant culture. It teaches us that “normal” is a non-POC man drinking a bottle of water, or playing tennis, or smoking a cigarette – and the subtle “othering” effect of that is pronounced.

Apparently POC don’t get cable…

Nor go to prom. Or drive Audis. Or have first kisses.

This is evident in the recent backlash USA Today experienced after their article:  “’Holiday’ Nearly Beat Thor as Race-Themed Films Soar.” While I am impressed and relieved to know than USA Today received backlash at all regarding the slight, it doesn’t detract from the initial err as far as I’m concerned. What exactly makes “The Best Man Holiday” a race-themed film? The all-black cast? The predominant use of R&B music?

All black cast? MUST be a black movie.

All black cast? MUST be a black movie.

According to the U.S. Census, approximately 36.5% of Americans are POC – and yet we’re still unable to see a film in which the cast is not predominantly non-POC without considering it to be somehow “race-themed”. If having a cast of predominantly one-race makes a film “race-themed”… well, I’m looking at you, Avengers/The Notebook/Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind/Batman/Lord of the Rings./etc. How do we not get bored of all these race-themed films, Hollywood??

Oh wait.

POC see movies featuring non-POC every single day (even in times where it’s not appropriate: see Jake Gyllenhal in Prince of Persia, Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, etc) and not once does anyone say “wow, that race-themed film was surprisingly good!” So why are we surprised that “The Best Man Holiday”, which poignantly explores issues of love, friendship, trust, and forgiveness, and is a fantastic feel good movie/tear jerker galore, beat out a sequel (a sequel, y’all!) to a movie about a superhero with a giant hammer?

Oh wait.

Listen. I love me some shirtless Chris Hemsworth. And I love me some shirtless Morris Chestnut. My point is simply that we need to start advocating for more POC representation in every day life – on billboards, in commericals, on TV – so hopefully one day POC doing normal things like living and loving and being successful is not considered more foreign to the general public than abnormally strong men with magic hammers from other planets.

For more about this, read npr’s story: “Best Man Holiday Resonates Across Racial Lines”.

Peace and love,

J

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