Between The Lines: A Conversation

Fandoms are complicated, is the conclusion we’re getting at, I think. Representation is not a clear-cut matter of having “people like you” on TV, but it goes much further than that. The conversations we have in regards to these matters need a dynamic shift, and since I’ve been talking about it for a few weeks, I decided to take a step and talk to a few writers on staff. This is, I hope, what can be the beginning of a conversation that revolutionizes the way we do media, the way we tell stories. When it comes down to it, we all want the same thing: to see more stories, new stories. Maybe all we need is to talk about what it’s missing, to talk about what’s going well, and to go full speed ahead into a new age of storytelling.

How would you say you approach television- what kind of media are you drawn to? 

Lizzie: Such a deep question! LOL. I basically look to TV for entertainment first, but entertainment in this day and age, I feel, cannot and should not be mindless. I want the stories and the characters I engage with to mean something, to touch on deeper issues, which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t entertain me – they need to do both. I’m drawn to smart, diverse casts, and shows that don’t fall into cliches or dumb down for the audience, though I’ve been known to forgive some shows for many transgressions if there is one particular aspect I like (Looking at you, Arrow. And you Once Upon A Time). So, long answer is…first instinct is to look at a show purely for entertainment reasons, but that’s never the reason why I keep watching the show. I gotta connect to a character, a ship or a story-line. As for types – which I guess was part of the question, my tastes vary a lot, I’m as likely to enjoy a superhero show/high fantasy epic as something more grounded in reality. As long as I click with a character/storyline/ship, I’m good

Lyra: I’m drawn to witty, smart, and unique characters and storylines. I approach television as if I’m stepping into someone else’s life, following them as they go through the motions of their daily struggles. I love my characters fiercely and am devastated to the point of never returning when they betray the trust I have put in them. Them and they being the writers, directors, and showrunners. I’m drawn to media that I wouldn’t mind talking about in my spare moments or remembering a couple years down the line.

Naomi: I am drawn to all sorts of things, but a good love story usually gets me hooked. I can always go for a good laugh or scare also.

Shadia:  I’ve been a TV fanatic practically all my life. It’s always been some form of an escape for me or just a great way for me to pass time and get lost in fictional characters and their stories besides reading books. I’m drawn to so many types of shows whether it’s comedy, thriller, superhero fiction, drama, and sci-fi. If it has a great plot, and awesome actors–then I’m in!

If you identify with a minority group, what has your experience been with representational media- do you find yourself relating to characters, what TV shows would you say encapsulate a character that identifies similarly to you?

Lizzie: I find myself relating to characters, yes, but not to characters who look like me. There are very few, if any latinx characters out there, and no latinx women of my age who do a similar job to mine that I feel like I can see myself in – not that job is everything, but from college to what you do in day to day life, there’s just no one who looks like me and I can see going through the same things. I know representation in general on TV is lacking, but latinx representation feels like it’s the farthest away, or maybe that’s just me talking from inside my little bubble. Either way, I remember a hashtag that was trending earlier this year, something like: First Time I saw Myself on TV, and I remember thinking: Wow, I never have. How sad.

Lyra: Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever identified with someone who represented my minority group or sexuality. There always seem to be stereotypes in the way that stop people like me from being properly represented on TV. Those stereotypes make it so people that are not Latinos, or have never experienced the same kind of life I have as a queer woman, end up playing/directing/writing these Latino/queer characters. The closest that I’ve ever come to feeling like I was represented was in Sweet Vicious’ character Jules.  She was neither Latina or queer but her experiences and the pain that she went through resonated with me in a way that I never thought possible. Even now I still mourn the fact that that show ended before we could explore more of her story and I could explore mine.

Naomi:  I am a black woman, and I find that our representation in media looks pretty decent on the surface, but when you dig down into the real numbers the truth is that representation is not nearly where it should be. With hundreds of scripted shows airing, black women have leading roles in very few.  Mainstream books have even worse numbers I’m sure.I don’t find that I relate to characters in terms of identity much. If anything, I find that the formulaic 4 friend group, no matter their identity, is where I can see myself most. For example, I was a huge fan of Sex and the City and of Girlfriends. Each show had 4 women at its center.  You had the down to earth one: Carrie/Joan, the wild one: Samantha/Lynn, the uppity one: Charlotte/Toni, and the mother: Miranda/MayaEven though each show was about women of different backgrounds, I found traces of myself in each show because of the formula.

Shadia: As an American-Muslim, it’s been quite a challenge to be able to see representation of Muslims on TV. I mean, it’s starting to get a teeny bit better now as I’m noticing a FEW Muslim characters. For example, on one of my favorite medical drama shows, Grey’s Anatomy it started with seeing a glimpse of a hijabi (Muslim woman wearing a headscarf) doctor in the background in two episodes. Now in this current season, one of the new interns at the hospital is a Muslim woman, that is also a hijab and actually has a role where she speaks and interacts with the other interns. That means a lot, and coming from Shonda Rhimes who is all about diversity and inclusivity I’m glad she is making this new change on her show. I have related to a lot of TV characters in the past and in some current TV shows I’m watching now, actually. Even though there has not been any Muslim woman with a headscarf on many shows, I relate to many other characters simply for being a human that has feelings and goes through various life tribulations. It could be any kind of TV show for me, really.

How do you decide what media you want to keep watching, what determines whether or not you will continue a show/book/film? 

Lizzie: When the show is making me actively angry, I stop. That’s about the only way I stop, though – I like to see things through to the end. I’ve gotten better at this, because I used to be someone who stuck to something, always, but I’ve decided life is short and there’s no need to make myself miserable, there’s a lot of people who’ll try to do that.

Lyra: I decide what media and TV I want to keep watching or consuming by how they treat their characters, the fans, and the storyline. If all of these come together in harmony I’ll watch more, I’ll read more, and I’ll invest more. It doesn’t have to be a perfect harmony but respect is key.

Naomi: If I stop watching a show, it’s usually because the writing has changed or I’ve gotten busy. When the story stops being interesting or funny or it becomes hard to believe, I will give up.

If I know an underrepresented person is at the helm of a show or other media, I try to get behind it. That doesn’t always work. I tried so hard to like Luke Cage, but I couldn’t and I was really mad at myself for that.

Shadia: I try to not to watch shows that have violence against women, shows that degrade women, etc. If a TV show has some great character development, intriguing plots, and a sense of good story-telling, I’m in

What is one story you’d love to see on mainstream TV? 

Lizzie: I’d like to see a Muslim romance. I’d like to see a latinx character on a sci-fi show. I’d like to see a show set somewhere other than the US. Honestly, I just want different. Because there’s so much of the world we don’t know/understand, and TV should be there to open a window to those stories.

Lyra: I’d love to see a bisexual Latina story on mainstream TV that doesn’t focus on the fact that she likes to sleep with men and women. Too often the sexuality of a bisexual is the focus of the story and it’s made to seem as if the bisexual is a hyperactive sex magnet with nothing but sex on the mind. Believe it or not bisexuals think about more than who they’re going to sleep with next. We have lives, jobs, and even animals and pets that we love. Why don’t we explore that and throw a little fantasy/adventure into the mix?

Naomi: I’d love to see a Tales from the Crypt/ Twilight Zone like series written by a black woman (preferably me) and starring black and brown faces alongside others.

Shadia: I’m HOPING one day, we get to see a TV show of an American Muslim Woman as the main character! A show that really embodies what a true Muslim is, what Islam really is about, and how our actual reality is. Not the way we’ve been ripped apart the way that the media has portrayed us for many years now. Not the stereotypical false ideology that is looked upon us. I want a show that speaks the truth, a show that has actual Muslim men and women writers really putting out the truth and steering it in the right direction. One day.

What is your top pick TV at the moment?

Lizzie: Probably NCIS: Los Angeles, a show that has suddenly, in it’s 9th season, because surprisingly diverse, boasts what’s probably the best written relationship on TV and just never does drama for the sake of drama.

Lyra: The Shannara Chronicles on Spike TV. They have such a rich and diverse cast of women and men with the power to save The Four Lands. Love is their guiding light even when stuck in the darkness and the chemistry between every single character is fantastic. Also they have a POC princess who kicks ass while wearing a dress and has a girlfriend that she loves. That’s brilliant!

Naomi: It would have to be Outlander. Jamie’s love for Claire even with her grey hair and her wavering belief that they belong together, he is always sure.

Shadia: Ah, that’s a hard one really. I love Timeless, Grey’s Anatomy and Jane The Virgin and sooo many more! 🙂

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