Three shows with the representation I was looking for

Three shows with the representation I was looking for

By Dominique Hodge

There is no better feeling than being able to find people like you on the big screen. It is draining to see the same types of people take on the same kinds of roles. With an overwhelming amount of entertainment with “cut-and-paste” storylines, formulas including people of color as side characters can be exhausting. Nowadays, representation seems to be slowly moving in the right direction, but the wait can be daunting. However, I have put together a list of three shows where I could find the representation that I could not find anywhere else.

black-ish Despite my family’s running joke that I am the embodiment of Rainbow Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross), I love and relate to this show so much. “black-ish” is unmatched in the way it turns the average family sitcom into a refreshing take on Black culture and the experiences that come with being Black in America. The show follows the Johnson family and the absurd situations they find themselves in. Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) is the patriarch of the family who worries that his kids will lose their connections to Black culture as a result of them growing up in an easygoing, predominantly white neighborhood. This fear gets the ball rolling nearly every episode.

There is so much that makes black-ish a perfect show for representation: the all-Black cast and the differing perspectives depicted because of every generation having a different outlook is refreshing to see. The emphasis on making the characters’ personalities and motives positive and realistic for the Black community boosts the show’s value even more. I wish I had been introduced to this show sooner or had it around when I was younger. To have Dre and Rainbow explain why things are the way they are in Black culture is such a gift.

Pose “Pose” is one of those shows that provides a true sense of representation and identity for many. Set during the late 1980s, the show centers around trans and non-gender-conforming characters and drag ball culture in New York City. The show takes a close look at the changes and attitudes of the time and how they are forced onto the Black and Latino LGBTQ residents. The AIDS epidemic, gentrification and homophobia create obstacles left and right. The audience gets to see Blanca (Mj Rodriguez), Damon (Ryan Jamaal Swain) and the rest of House Evangelista try to make something of themselves in the real world. Even with all of the drama between House Abundance and the excitement of competing for best house mother, House Evangelista and House Abundance represent the importance of sticking together as a community.

There is something so empowering about seeing these characters express themselves both on the floor and out in the real world. This show creates a safe space for all regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or race. The grace it gives to being different is the reason myself and others have found representation here. Being different is hard because oppression usually follows. Yet, as “Pose” demonstrates you keep fighting and being who you are — not who the world tells you to be. The category is self acceptance!

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air I cannot remember a time where I did not know about the Fresh Prince (Will Smith). The ‘90s sitcom follows Will and his transition to living with his Aunt Vivian (Janet Hubert, Daphne Maxwell Reid) and the rest of the Banks family. Will makes an impression on the family with his goofy behavior and slang — immediately rubbing Uncle Phil (James Avery) the wrong way. A preppy Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), kind Ashley (Tatyana Ali) and spoiled Hilary (Karyn Parsons) Banks, when put alongside Will’s extroverted persona, make for some interesting moments. Will’s commitment to remaining a streetwise kid from Philly and Uncle Phil’s demand that he change causes some tension. However, the family and Uncle Phil warm up to him and ultimately decide to take care of Will like he is their own. Will and the Banks family learn to teach each other, becoming nothing short of a real family.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air didn’t shy away from tackling the negative aspects of Black culture. Topics like absent fathers, racial profiling from police and being reduced to a “sellout” all have episodes where the Banks family handles these issues gracefully. However, the most important reason this show is the greatest for representation is the way it challenged the norms and roles of Black people on TV. The Banks are a rich, flourishing Black family: that aspect alone was something I never saw before on television or anywhere. Both Vivian and Phillip Banks are college-educated. Even though Will is from the “bad parts” of Philadelphia, his upbringing does not make him incapable of success. In particular, Uncle Phil is an intelligent activist turned successful lawyer. He is a caring father who plays an active role in his children’s lives. Every step of the way, Uncle Phil knows what to do and what to say. When someone challenges his accomplishments or says something negative about his family, he does not hesitate to defend the life he fought for. As for his relationship with Will, Uncle Phil treats him like one of his own. Growing up, I was so used to having to follow or try to relate to characters who were not like me. However, this seems to be a problem that is dissipating. Because we have shows like “Pose” and “black-ish” coming out, and because there is more diversity being shown on screen, who knows what will be in the store for the future.

Edited by Chloe Konrad | ckonrad@themaneater.com

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