Two Black Muppets were recently added to the cast of “Sesame Street” to talk about racial differences in diverse communities. Representation matters, but not all shows and movies have hopped on the positive representation train. Although it is important to display Black struggles on the big screen in order to bring recognition to these concepts, Black struggle can be traumatic and overrepresented.
To bring forward positive representation for the younger generation, the two new Black Muppets, Wesley Walker and his father Elijah, will be addressing questions about what it means to be Black.
"The color of one's skin is an important part of who we are, but we should all know that it's OK that we all look different in so very many ways," Elijah said in a clip from the show.
IU sophomore Leilanu Jackson said she views representation as seeing a specific community and culture visible in mass media and academia. There can be miscommunication sometimes in TV and film when the stories try to represent certain groups of people, Jackson said. For instance, when viewers see a person of color in a mainstream film, it’s often a storyline about police brutality.
“People cling to these things as like their overarching ideas of one type of population,” Jackson said. “Media has to represent the current times, but at the same time it’s a separate realm. Be creative, stop doing the basic Black struggle story. Get away from these standardized types of representations of people.”
To promote more positive representation in TV and film, production companies can construct scripts with every type of community in mind. According to Vox, Black individuals represent 35% of all gang members in America, but in Hollywood they represent 64% of all onscreen gang members. In the same analysis, Vox found the relatively more dignified "henchman" role was cast as 81% white and only 4% Black. Placing Black actors into respectful and powerful roles could influence the path some people are on — seeing positive representation could mean everything for someone.
The film “Black Panther” holds weight in the Black community because it gives Black individuals power seeing a superhero of color on the big screen. Ryan Coogler, Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Black director, put together a Black lead cast and depicted Black women in powerful and engaging roles.
“It’s definitely a motivational thing,” IU sophomore Jalen Russell said. “We need to be able to see each other. We need to see our faces, our type on screen in a positive way.”
Although platforms like Netflix have been going in the right direction, with shows like “Black Lightning,” “Family Reunion” and “On My Block,” Netflix original “blackAF” received backlash because its cast was composed almost entirely of lighter-skinned biracial Black people. According to Refinery29, the show seems to lean toward an idealistic view of Blackness in an industry which continues to display colorism. Lighter-skinned individuals are seen as more acceptable but don’t always represent the Black community in physical form.
“We get a lot of representation of the lighter skinned Black women,” IU junior Tamar Trice said. “The erasing of darker skinned people in the media and cartoons, is a form of passive-aggressive racism. That impacts the beauty standards that people have.”
Despite the negative forms of representation present in Hollywood, there are shows with positive forms of representation of diverse people, including “black-ish,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” “grown-ish,” “Black is King,” “Doc McStuffins,” “Craig of the Creek,” “One Day at a Time,” “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Princess and the Frog,” and “That’s so Raven.” These shows are not biased and directed toward one type of person. Not all Black actors play thugs, and characters of various backgrounds are highlighted.