The depiction of characters in Dear White People, On My Block, and Luke Cage do challenge the traditional and stereotypical representations of ethnic minorities because of how fleshed out the characters all are. Stereotypically, ethnic minority characters are very one dimensional, made to only embody one trait, and are not center stage of the television show. Rather they are in the background, or are the protagonist’s friend. In these shows, however, they are the main characters and have just as much depth to them as any white protagonist normally does, as well as just as much screen time. A large reason behind this, I believe, is because more ethnically diverse directors and writers are being given this opportunity by Netflix to create media. As Lang pointed out in the Salon article, from 2007 to 2014, a massive three quarters of characters with speaking parts in major Hollywood films were white, and of the 732 movies that were eligible for an Academy Award between the years of 2011 and 2015, only 58 had two black leads, which is equal to 7.9% of those nominated films having black leads. Those numbers, plain and simple, are not equal.
One thing that I took notice of, although unfortunately did not shock me, were the tweets included in the Salon article about white viewers being up in arms due to the fact that Luke Cage was “racist” for not portraying white characters. Now, I am speaking from the perspective of a white person so my understanding of racism will never be complete and I have much to learn, but within a society where whiteness is praised, one cannot truly say it is racist to lack the very same elevating whiteness which saturates our media every day. You have so many other films and media, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson were touched on in the Salon article in particular due to their success, that hardly ever casts black actors. This is a large part of the reasoning behind this discomfort with shows like Luke Cage, On My Block, and Dear White People in the eyes of white viewers—it is unfamiliar. This is why there needs to be more people of color represented accurately within the media and more people of color writers, directors, producers, and actors need the space to produce content so as to further educate. Netflix at the very least has created more of a platform for this exposure, and through this I believe minds and wordviews of bigoted viewers can be changed because it paves the way for informed, active, viewing. Not everyone who has bigoted views will change and I understand that, but more exposure to groups of people who have not had equal exposure in the past is a good place to start.
I personally loved all of the shows and many of the characters, and while I could not relate to them entirely because, as a white woman, I do not face the same challenges they do, I appreciated Sam due to her involvement in journalism, which is something I am interested in, as well as the friendship dynamic between the kids in On My Block and how the neighborhood setting and conversations reminded me of some of my middle school and high school dynamics from an age standpoint. I also have a love for Marvel, which sucked me into Luke Cage from the start.
These characters’ problems and concerns are relevant to me because I live in a society where racism exists. For example, in Dear White People, as a white person I could use that media to help recognize what is and is not alright for me to say, and stand against things like blackface parties which Simien says are more common place than we might think. Also, as someone who takes part in social media, I see the anonymity fueled trolls which Sam deals with all of the time on every social media platform so much that it is inescapable, even if I am not dealing with anyone trolling me on the topic of race. Simien brings up how in conversation, people tend to stick to the topics which are safe and correct, saying, “Let’s not talk about slavery. Let’s talk about Abraham Lincoln.” Well, no matter who you are, having those tough conversations about slavery rather than Abraham Lincoln are necessary for progress. Also everyone has to acknowledge there was a problem and a knife (both of white being racism) to begin with, as Simien references the knife in the back quote from Malcolm X. This includes me as a white person and everyone else in this society in an effort to help minimize and put an end to racism. Even though my experiences are different from what any person of color will experience, I loved all three of these shows, and look forward to being able to continue watching them and more importantly continue learning from them in the future.