Representation: Who’s Missing? 12 comments


a puzzle made of multi-coloured pieces

I want to take a quick, informal survey about representation of marginalized people: Do you see yourself and the people you care about in stories? Who’s missing? Who don’t you see in stories who you would like to see represented more often and/or better?

Maybe you care about representation is a general way but don’t feel invested in any specific issues–that’s okay, you can sit back and listen. But I know that stories erase or misrepresent many of you and the people you care about (me, too!) and if that’s the case, I’d love to hear who some of those people are.

I don’t need a list of every hypothetical kind of marginalized identity you can think of–thoughtful contributions are more constructive than cutting and pasting lists. On the other hand, if there are people in your live who are both missing from stories and from most mainstream discussions about representation, I really want to hear about them.

Why am I asking? I am aware of my own limitations enough to realize I am vastly ignorant of just how many people are erased from stories. I would like to do a better job of realistically depicting the world around me and undo the erasure of people from my own work. And, as I know many of you share the same ambitions, I wanted to open up this conversation with all of you. Most importantly, discussions about representation are too often framed in terms of “those Other people over there”, when representation is really about us and the people we love. On the flip side, it’s much easier to be aware of the erasure of people you care about than about the rest of the people in the world–I’m hoping we can all open each others eyes a little about just how many people are missing from stories.

So many people get left out of books, video games, film, TV. So many people get erased by our culture. Who is missing that you care about?

[Moderation Warning: when I talk about diversity and representation, on occasion a jackass will wander in to “play devil’s advocate” which is more accurately termed “derailing the conversation”. Sorry, it’s not my first day on the Internet and I don’t fall for troll games, especially devil’s advocates and concern trolls. You’re on notice that comments on this thread will be moderated. Please don’t try my patience. I control the “delete” and “ban” buttons so I assure you I’m the one who will come out the victor. Go ahead and impress me by how sensitively and inclusively you can discuss a topic like representation instead.]


12 thoughts on “Representation: Who’s Missing?

  • The Bitch Pack

    We need more stories about Women of Color for sure- their contributions to history have been massive & largely ignored! Thanks for bringing this up, Shaula- very timely subject

  • Nicole M. Saad

    If I look at myself or the people in my life I find people AND women. Yes, we’ve been talking about women a lot lately it seems but I was raised in a patriarchal, very male driven society by mostly women. The irony does not escape me at all. I was raised in a dichotomy by women — strong, hard-headed, vulnerable, lovable, complicated, frustrating, driven women. That’s what I know. That’s who I try to write.
    What I see — is the usual — characters who primarily exist to drive someone else’s — the leading man’s –story. It has been happening for so long, it is such a norm now that trying to bring balance is perceived as a ‘revolutionary’.
    When I write I don’t think of ‘writing the other’ I think of writing what I know on an emotional level and on that level I and the people I know are far more complicated than what’s depicted in storytelling today.
    How can I forget how frustrated I was watching Jurrasic World and the clad-in-a-white-suit-in-heels female character? Where in the world is that?
    I find that it all starts from the people I surround myself with. The more people from every walk of life I have around me the richer my experience, the brighter my writing.
    I write people who are immigrants and survivors and complicated and lost and struggling and loving and hating and every other thing in between. I don’t try to meet a quota. I don’t write ‘Middle Easter’ or ‘African American’ or ‘Asian’ or ‘Woman’ — if one tries to write ‘other’ whatever they may think it is — if it doesn’t have any emotional backing then it’s just fake. Offensive even.
    First fill your actual life with diversity. Then write about what you experience. Stay true to that. It’ll be far more ‘representing’ of the world than trying to stick an African American minor character in a story and call it diverse.

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      Thank you for the thoughtful response, Nicole.

      > I write people who are immigrants and survivors and complicated and lost and struggling and loving and hating and every other thing in between.

      You and I have very different immigrant experiences–that are also sometimes similar. I appreciate that you write about immigrants in your stories because I don’t feel like anyone in the mainstream captures anything like your experience or mine. That said, I’ve been making an effort for several years to read more immigrant writers and wow, there’s a whole world of fresh perspectives out there on the margins that reward the effort of seeking them out.

      > First fill your actual life with diversity.

      You are all part of my life! That’s why I appreciate and value getting to discuss this stuff with you. :)

      > First fill your actual life with diversity. Then write about what you experience. Stay true to that. It’ll be far more ‘representing’ of the world than trying to stick an African American minor character in a story and call it diverse.

      Wise words, lady.

      • Nicole M. Saad

        The immigrant story does not really exist in film very much today and if some of the crazy stereotypes being hurled at the current refugees is any indication — the upcoming immigrant/ refugee stories are going to be horrifically distorted.

        I find that some writers get so caught up in writing ‘the other’ that they forget they’re writing people. In my research for my last script I read two books about the Bosnian war and those who survivored it — as far as Bosnia is from my own experience in Beirut — I was stunned and incredibly moved by how similar my experience as a war child and immigrant is to the people I was reading about. We’re not even from the same continent but on an emotional level — we couldn’t be closer. I felt like I knew exactly what these people went through.

        Taught me the valuable lesson.

        • Shaula Evans Post author

          You touch on the two big writing questions, Nicole, that I ask myself all the time.

          1. How do I recognize and do justice to writing the parts of the character’s experience that are the same as mine?
          2. How do I recognize and do justice to writing the parts of the character’s experience that are different from mine?

          They’re both important.

          • Nicole M. Saad

            Do you ever feel that even the characters with a different experience than yours still have something in common with you?

            Is love, love across the board? Neglect, grief, anger, frustration, want, lust, desperation, pain — the same for us all? Do you think writing experiences that aren’t entirely our own are far more possible and true if we find what we have in common with the other and grow from that?

            • Shaula Evans Post author

              It’s generally easy for me to find my commonality with characters–unless I really dislike them, in which case I have to dig for it. The challenge with commonality is to be specific rather than vague about it. I don’t want to erase the specificity of my characters by waving an airy hand and claiming “we’re all the same at heart”. When I think I’ve found common ground with my characters, I try not to overreach, if that makes sense, or let myself get away with lazy writing.

              Writing for me is a process of constantly holding my own feet to the fire. ;)

  • Susana

    I’ve always felt that the true representation of the Latina mother figure has never been represented. It’s always been cartoonish: a woman who can’t speak English and is too religious. I look at my own mother and don’t see any of that. She was the reason I sat down and wrote my first script. Because sh asked the same question we’re asking today, “Why can’t they show us as we really are?”
    As a Latina, I can’t recall a single character I’ve s en myself in. However, I find my teenage self has a lot in common with Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan).

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      > I’ve always felt that the true representation of the Latina mother figure has never been represented.

      Representations of mothers in general are pretty crummy, and then they seem to get even worse and less fully dimensional as you get into specific identities.

      I love the women you write, Susana, so I’m not surprised you bring this kind of awareness to your writing.

  • Sabina

    Women of color – We can all take a lesson from the recent upwards trajectory of African American film.
    Differently abled people.
    It irks me that films that are not in English and/or are not set in an English speaking country are automatically branded ‘indie’ or worse, ‘foreign’ and therefore not much use to the world. The fact is, American movies are films and everything else is indie.
    I’m not an American, though I speak English. I’ve lived in four different countries. I don’t know what stories us third-culture kids have, but I’m sure there’s a few.
    People with complex personalities. I know that human complexity is impossible to capture in any narrative form, leave alone film. But honestly, it’s becoming harder and harder to recognize the people on TV as human.
    All of the above as human beings, as characters, not caricatures. And not just foils for the hero.

    • Shaula Evans Post author

      I want to see and read all of the stories too, Sabina. When it comes to women of color, I’d really like to see broader and more varied depictions that A) acknowledge that “not white” is bigger than “African American” (a strange conflation that seems to happen often in the US), and that B) women of color exist across other intersectionalities: differently abled, GLBTQ, mental health issues, etc.

      I am hungry for more complex characters and more diverse heroes–and I feel so proud and grateful to know so many amazing writers, like you, who are writing them.

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