From “Wonder Woman” to “Master of None”: Representation and Why It Matters

As an army of Amazon women charges into battle, my heart pounding, I cannot take my eyes off the screen. I look over at my mother and I see her fists clenched, face smiling broadly. I can tell she is overcome with the same sense of empowerment and awe that I am. These women are strong, brave, and fully clothed. Their armor is built for battle, not the fetishizing male gaze. They have all the tenacity and skill of any superhero team in cinema history.

Seeing “Wonder Woman” for the first time gave me something that I did not even know I was missing. I felt more confident. I started going to the gym, not out of a need to change the way I looked but out of a desire to be stronger and more capable. I wanted to be Gal Gadot; standing up for what is right and kicking ass along the way. If this movie had such an impact on me, I can only imagine the good it did for the millions of little girls around the world who now know that they too can be superheroes.

This is the power of representation.

Female emPOWERment. (Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)

For those whose identities are often underrepresented and misrepresented in the mass media, positive representation is crucial. This is particularly true for women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. Besides the fabulous box office hit “Wonder Woman,” there are other important examples of representation in the media. “Master of None,” Aziz Ansari’s Netflix series, often deals with Hollywood’s race problem. Ansari’s character Dev, an Indian American actor in NYC, and Lena Waithe’s character Denise, a queer black woman who is one of the show’s main characters, challenge stereotypes of race, sexuality and gender without making the show about those stereotypes and oppressions. Particularly, Ansari addresses how Indian actors typically get roles as taxi drivers and food delivery men, while black actors often get roles as slaves and oppressed maids. In the show when exceptions to these stereotypes arise, it is a breath of fresh air. This is the key to representation — telling stories about people from under and misrepresented groups that highlight what makes them human, not what makes them oppressed.

Viola Davis said it best in an interview with Time magazine in 2004: “It’s time for people to see us — people of color — for what we really are: complicated. The one thing I feel is lacking in Hollywood today is an understanding of the beauty, the power, the sexuality, the uniqueness, the humor of being a regular Black woman.”

People of color, women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community and those whose identities intersect these categories, are all people, wonderfully complex and interesting. To deny these groups equal positive media representation is to deny their humanity and deprive the world of their contributions. The world is a vast tapestry of various identities and people groups. Why would we limit our perspective to a select few when the whole picture is so much more beautiful?

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