Theta Delta Sigma hosted a panel called “Representation in the Media: A Discussion on Empowerment” Wednesday to discuss how different identities are portrayed in media, especially in light of recent films like “Black Panther” and “Love, Simon.”
Theta Delta Sigma is the only multicultural Greek society at UConn, and this showed through the diverse backgrounds and sexualities of the panelists.
The panelists were first asked to think of the first time they saw a character on TV or in movies that they could relate to. Many of the characters stated were also said to not quite fit the panelists’ identities, but were the only positive example that could come to their minds. There was always some trait pasted across the characters that made them unrelatable and unrealistic.
For example, gay characters always seem to be supporting characters whose personalities are based solely on their sexual orientation. Bisexual women and lesbians only come up in shows as a source of titillation for the male characters. Asexual and transgender characters are almost never depicted. Depression in characters is romanticized, as is getting off medication.
They aren’t made to be real or relatable people.
The panelists also brainstormed stereotypes they have noticed in the media: Black women are aggressive, Asian women are either dumb or badass, Latino and Native American women are sexualized, Asian men are emasculated and gay men are fashionable and flamboyant and are only seen as accessories. It is also negative for characters to have accents. Accents are often seen as a sign of stupidity where, as one panelist pointed out, you actually have to be incredibly intelligent to learn two languages.
One panelist said only about 2.5 percent of leaders are minority women, so most of the people directing films and TV shows are white, heterosexual men. For this reason, many characters, even in films based on real events, are whitewashed and/or live in a heteronormative world. So if a director makes a character gay, he may feel obligated to make the character white, to balance it out.
“It’s really nice to hear other people’s opinions on how they feel represented in the media or the lack thereof,” Stephanie Reyes, an eighth-semester allied health major, said.
There weren’t a lot of movies or shows that the panelists felt represented them, but there were some standouts. “Black Panther” was noted for the extensive research and respect put into its creation. “Hamilton” got a mention for its cast of mainly people of color. “Kinky Boots” stars a drag queen, so it did very well in representing a part of the LGBTQ+ community that isn’t depicted very often. “Sense Eight” was great since it had a number of different identities represented in it, but these identities weren’t the main focus and was thus not based on stereotypes.
“I think, more so than for myself, but a lot of people in this room don’t naturally come to events like this all the time, it was more seen as a requirement,” Marissa Smoller, an eighth-semester elementary education major, said. “As you can tell in the audience a lot of Greek organizations showed up, which is great, so I hope there was a lot more awareness. And I think that the examples that the panelists chose to share were really powerful and very honest and real in terms of sharing their identities and who they are and how they feel their identities are portrayed in the media, so I hope that everyone else took a lot of great learning moments out of this event.”
It isn’t often people of so many different identities can get together and discuss how they feel about their representation in something as large as the media. Even from the audience, it was clear the panelists felt bonded over their shared frustration, and hopefully that frustration transferred over to the audience members.
Rebecca Maher is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.