There’s something about being able to see yourself in films and shows. It’s more than just about relatability, there’s a sense of connection with characters – as if they get us in ways not everyone can. Apart from that, representation builds sensitivity and a basic idea about people, cultures, groups or communities that we might not know otherwise – like meeting someone you wouldn’t get a chance to. This year’s Emmys were a clear answer to why representation matters.
In her acceptance speech for Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, Lizzo shared how growing up, she always wanted to see someone like her – a black woman, just as fat, just as beautiful. And so, creating something which does exactly THAT was more than just special for her. It is a rite of passage for girls who want to see a reflection of their culture, their life, and the literal image of how they look.
“If I could go back and tell little Lizzo something I’d be like ‘you’re gonna see that person but bitch it’s gonna have to be you’.”
Talking about the show in her acceptance speech, Lizzo also addressed the cast of the show. She mentioned how their stories aren’t unique, they just don’t get the platform. And the truth is, we do not need unique stories, we just want OUR stories to be told, and for people to hear them out.
Her speech was a reminder of how art, cinema, and media impact us in ways we can’t even imagine. We absorb ideas and opinions, and even normalize them through the shows that we regularly consume. They seem like consumption of content over a meal, but they’re bigger than that, they gotta be bigger than that. We tell our people to watch something that we liked, or that stayed with us, which then becomes a part of them as well. And this is an indefinite cycle.
When we restrict ourselves to showing the same kind of people, again and again, we close ourselves to the idea of understanding someone else’s struggles, specifically when it comes to minority groups. And we cannot really sympathize with someone, when we don’t even know where they come from. So when an important platform like the Primetime Emmy Awards, acknowledges shows that are a mirror to these differences, it, in turn, encourages this content, while also celebrating it. Because that’s what differences are for – to be celebrated, or else life would be so mundane.
We are all stories, and there are times when gender, religion, societal standards or just the mere fact of whom we love, makes us feel like we do not belong. Being able to watch a similar story can make anyone feel like they ‘fit in’, and on some days, that’s all we want.
So, Lizzo’s speech or shows like Abbott Elementary and Squid Game winning in major categories are important landmarks, or like lightbulb moments. They will not only push creators and artists to come up with such content, but also make someone feel seen because they can relate to the story or maybe even a character.
Even when it comes to the literal idea of how these characters look, it’s important to focus on the image that is being ‘normalized’. Growing up, I’ve mostly seen tall, petite women play important roles. If at all there was anyone with a short height, darker skin tone and pimples on the face, every now and then, they were not given anything substantial to do – it was always the side character. And well, that doesn’t help with the confidence.
Seeing a queer character might make it a tad bit easier for someone else to come out to their family. Coming across a story of a Black family dealing with the social constructs of race, might give us a real picture that isn’t confined to history books. Maybe, watching a woman be a superhero, might normalize the idea that we don’t need men saving us. And if these aren’t issues that make us want to hear them, then there’s something very wrong with us as a society – which is beyond ignorance.
Representation matters because it makes a difference. It starts a conversation and gives a platform to people who have been deprived of one. We can always call pop-culture a means of ‘entertainment’, but we all know it’s more than that. If not, what’s the point?