Black representation in the media: what could go wrong?


Roy Nitzan

Guest Contributor Faith Brocke addresses her opinion on black representation in the media.

Faith Brocke, Guest Contributor

In the last century, many Black characters and stories have emerged from the forefront of creators’ minds. Black experiences being incorporated into the shows we watch and books we read is beyond important and should be treated as natural, since Black people haven’t always been an American favorite, per se.

However, this doesn’t always mean that the representation is automatically good just because it exists. If executed incorrectly, it can often be more harmful than beautiful, therefore bringing down the quality of the work as a whole, and often offending those who should be feeling seen and celebrated.

For example, there’s the ‘loud’ or ‘rambunctious’ or even ‘ghetto’ stereotype that is often slapped onto characters for no real reason at all. Yes, there are many talkative, opinionated Black people, but we are not all the same and do not all act like this.

For example, in the 2010 film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, one of the main characters named Grover Underwood is portrayed as a Black man. His character in the movie is outgoing, flirtatious, and undeniably loud. The problem isn’t that he’s any of those things on their own, as some may argue that these are desirable qualities.

The problem is that Grover Underwood, the book character, is none of these things.

While the movie betrays the text from which it originates in other aspects, this is the most rattling. Grover is known for being cowardly and shy, only facing conflicts when he has no other choice (which is often, if we’re honest here), while once a skin color is attached to his image his entire demeanor suddenly changes for the sake of maintaining a ‘more Black character.’

This reinforces the idea that all Black people must be like Movie Grover, flamboyant and nosy, meanwhile, there are plenty of Black people like Book Grover, timid and danger avoidant.

Aside from stereotypes, there’s also more misrepresentation when it comes to cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation, or taking from another culture for aesthetic or humorous purposes, is normalized in the media, especially sitcoms, for no real reason. It often has no place in the show aside from comedic appeal.

In season seven, episode two of Mom, a white main character named Wendy goes to Florida and comes back with cornrows in order to flaunt the fact that she lived the ‘Floridian experience.’ Wendy’s use of a cultural hairstyle did not open any important or necessary storylines for the show beyond this episode, and the other main characters were simply cracking jokes about how bad she looked behind her back. And this could not serve as a learning experience for anyone, as the rest of the main characters are all white, and would have had no objection to her choice of hairstyle had it not been for the fact that she looked terrible. Because they themselves were uninformed as to why Wendy shouldn’t have gotten cornrows, nobody was there to go ‘Hey, maybe don’t get those the next time you head down to Orlando,’ and that’s what ruins the delivery.

Now, if Wendy was getting the cornrows to show her support for the Black community, learn what they mean to Black people, that would be entirely different. But a cultural centerpiece and experience was turned into the butt of a joke, instead of celebrated and appreciated.

Overall, the issues are more that people don’t understand why these things are a problem. Only a portion of Black people act in the way that they are constantly promoted as in the media, and cultures should not be used for aesthetic and comedic purposes, and non-Black content creators should definitely consult Black people to be better educated on experiences and stereotypes they don’t have to experience.

There are always beautiful, yet informative works such as The Hate U Give, which perfectly encapsulates police brutality, protests, and emotional discourse that comes with racial discrimination.

But not every book, television show, or movie can hold that same amount of emotional and realistic understanding, and it is important to recognize that and understand not all representation is good representation.