The Year of our Lord 2019 is almost over, and apparently, this still needs to be said.
Women of color are not interchangeable.
Now, of course, the problem of bad representation is big, and there are many facets to it. I don’t mean to go into all of them – I couldn’t. But the fact of the matter remains: every little step forward we take, representation wise, in entertainment, favors men first. That’s, like my bisabuela would have said, the way of the world, mijita.
Except the world has changed a lot since her days, even if the ways that world is transmitted haven’t changed as much as we would all want them to.
Take for example Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which came out last weekend, and which featured a more diverse cast than any Star Wars movie has featured before. Two of the leading men were MOC, a woman was the jedi to save all jedis, and the movie featured POC in other secondary roles. One of the newcomers was Naomi Ackie, playing Jannah, the former storm-trooper who helps Finn in the final battle.
It was a joy to see her, and I can’t help but think of the little girls who will see themselves in Jannah and feel validated somehow. I just wish her screen-time in the movie didn’t come at the expense of Kelly Marie Tran, aka Rose Tico.
The Last Jedi introduced Rose in a way that made us feel like she was there to stay – and the way her story-line wrapped up in that movie made it seem like big things were coming for her in the conclusion. She did, after all, had one of the most-quoted lines, and hey, she was primed to be the love-interest to Finn, one of the main characters.
Except that didn’t happen. Jannah happened, so …eh …Rose couldn’t?
It’s almost like this movie – this industry – couldn’t fathom the idea of having two WOC at the forefront of this movie, especially considering they already had two MOC as leads.
And let me tell you, it really, really sucks.
Jannah and Rose’s stories couldn’t be more different, their lives couldn’t be more different. And yet, so often WOC in entertainment are there to fill quotas – so of course, only one is needed. Take for example the story told by Stephanie Beatriz, of Brooklyn 99. Melissa Fumero was cast for the show first, and though the two were not going for the same role, Beatriz figured that, as soon as they’d cast Fumero, that meant she was out of the running.
They weren’t going to hire two WOC, and particularly, two latinas. No way.
Except that story has a happy ending, as you all know.
Not all of them do. Take the controversy surrounding America’s Got Talent, which fired Gabrielle Union after she complained about a racist comment a guest judge made, and is now looking to replace her with …Sofia Vergara. Don’t get me wrong, I love Vergara, and I think she’d probably be hilarious in a role like that one, but I’m pretty sure the show would have never considered someone like her if they hadn’t fired Union.
You can only have one WOC, after all.
Except it isn’t true. We’re not homogeneous, and our experiences aren’t either. You can’t reduce every minority to the same thing. There is no true diversity without the understanding that POC aren’t the same, and that opening the door means really and truly opening it, not just pretending to for the sake of looking good.
Right now is about as good a time as any to start.