Whether it be through film, television, literature or any other type of medium, representation in media can critically influence the public perception of ideas, topics, and, most importantly, people. When people see themselves represented properly through others in media, it can be an uplifting and empowering experience to see a representation of your life and part of who you are to others. Proper representation of the Black community and culture is especially important because of this and Black representation has progressed significantly in recent times.
Well–executed Black representation in media does not start and end with simply casting Black actors in more roles. It involves actually putting in the effort to represent the Black community within the context of the media itself. Senior Maria Desir highlights this through the way in which “The Cosby Show” portrays the equality of Black families.
“‘The Cosby Show’ showed a regular Black family. You have a mom and dad who are a successful couple with kids and it showed that they were regular people,” Desir said. “One of my favorite parts was also when Theo applied to NYU and one of Bill Cosby’s daughters went to an Ivy League. It taught that us Black folks can be successful too.”
Other shows have helped portray Black families and communities in a positive light as well, such as “Living Single,” “A Different World” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” Sophomore Tianna Gil discusses how the representation in these three shows, in particular, made an impact on her.
“These shows were non-stereotypical shows about Black people in the United States. They did not place a negative stigma on the Black culture and that stuck out to me,” Gil said. “These shows showcased essential positive traits among my culture and/or heritage such as our resilience, endurance, work ethic, strong achievement orientation and various more.”
As described in these examples, proper representation can be incredibly empowering and its presence is not only significant in the media, but for all of those within the Black community. Media can also help establish role models for people to look up to, especially in fictional media featuring Black protagonists with admirable qualities. Characters such as T’Challa in “Black Panther” and Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” go through relatable human journeys while also representing Black culture in their own unique ways. This is especially important for children as they can see themselves and their culture in a positive light.
Representation is crucial across all forms of media. Every instance of representation executed well is another chance to help inspire and empower those who face undeserved discrimination from prejudiced individuals. Proper representation can also help bring people from across the Black community together as Gil explains.
“Representation creates a sense of unity and collectivism within the Black community. Seeing Black culture and individuals being represented establishes a sense of togetherness, creating a feeling that we are a part of something,” Gil said. “It shows that if someone from my community, culture and heritage can succeed in something I am interested in, I can do it as well.”
Black representation in media has progressed a significant amount, and as it continues to do so, Black communities and individuals can continue to find strength and inspiration by seeing people just like them in the media they consume.