The stories and careers of minority actors in Hollywood are generally stereotypical and formulaic. A well-rounded, fleshed out character of colour was an almost non-existent thing to be seen in popular TV and media up to the last two decades or so. A lot of work has been done since to humanise and incorporate the nuance of underrepresented people, but we still have a long way to go.
Speaking from personal experience, my earliest recollection of a character of colour I felt I could relate to was Mulan from the 1998 Disney classic. As a child, I was entranced by the magic of being a Disney princess and loved them all in equal measure. The representation of girls of various ethnicities undoubtedly helped me feel more connected to them.
I have always appreciated this aspect of my personal childhood film favourites: most notably, as seen in The Princess and the Frog (2009). Tiana’s strong work ethic, can-do attitude and loving nature made her the role model I aspired to be like when I was grown-up one day. It’s clear through her influence that positive representation of people of colour in film and media is of great significance to the people who consume said media.
Recent Disney films such as Encanto, Turning Red, Luca and Raya and the Last Dragon have shown a surge in popularity in portraying personas from varying racial backgrounds. A running joke on TikTok has been that Disney has a current interest in capitalising on generational trauma – but in all honesty, I think that these films occasionally depict the experiences of being a child of colour with surprising accuracy.
Bridgerton is another example of stellar representation and diversity. As a lover of period-era dramas myself, it was revolutionary to see someone who looked like me in a show set in the Regency era (think Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice). Simone Ashley (who plays Kate in season two of Bridgerton) tells of how she felt the same: “I never imagined that a woman who looked like me could be a part of one”.
It goes to show how very possible it is to include people of ethnic backgrounds and diverse beauty standards without needing to change much else about a film’s storyline. In fact, when these characters are simply present but add nothing to the plot of a story or are reduced to merely stereotypical shells, it does more harm than good for the community being represented.