I am a Muslim from Muslim-majority Indonesia and I am of indigenous lineage (while I haven’t done DNA tests, I certainly look “indigenous”). While I already accepted my bisexuality twelve years ago, I just realised only recently that I belong to the sexual minority, combined with the fact I am still closeted offline and a borderline hermit.
Basically, I never feel like I belong to marginalised classes (emphasise on the word “feel”). Growing up, I never felt the need to be represented by the media, not even after I started consuming way more foreign media that depict my fellow Muslims and bisexuals in bad light and ignore the existence of my fellow Indonesians.
I am one of those people who believe we can feel empowered by fictional characters who do not share our identities. But, at the same time, I am also aware of my own privileges. While it is not necessary, I acknowledge that seeing yourselves on the screens feel like a big bonus.
As any media studies majors notice, it is not just about the quantity, it is also about the quality. What’s the point of being regularly represented when the representations are mostly shallow stereotypes? In fact, I would argue no representations is better than bad ones; being ignored means the wider society doesn’t have any preconceived beliefs about people like you.
And yes, positive stereotypes are still stereotypes. They still deprive the characters of their complex humanity, they are still dehumanising.
There is also nothing empowering about non-white actors being given what are essentially leftover white characters. If it is all about empowerment, why aren’t they being given original non-white characters or ones based on non-European mythologies and folklores?
Actually, when I said I never felt the need to be represented, that was not the full story.
I don’t feel the need to have my cultures, sexuality and religion to be represented, not even after consuming the media that depict them poorly. But, there is one aspect of my life which gets me riled up when depicted poorly: my psyche.
I am an introvert AKA someone who gets “energised” through solitude. For Indonesian standard, I am too reserved and stone-faced, to the point where people wrongfully call me cold. I am also socially inept person who regularly makes interactions unnecessarily awkward. I also have emotional traumas that cause mood swings and short temper; while they are not severe enough to the point of “crippling”, they are still burdensome to my life.
And I feel misrepresented by the media.
Love of solitude is different from social ineptitude…. and it is definitely different from anti-social inclination, which is what we refer sociopaths as. While social awkwardness is burdensome, it is definitely not one of mankind’s worst sins.
Reservedness is not the same as coldness. Believe it or not, not only we can feel emotions without expressing them, we don’t owe our emotional expressions to to most people. Don’t forget that we can also fake them. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” also applies here.
Extroverts AKA people who get energised through interactions can also be awkward and even anti-social. Just a reminder, the pandemic was exacerbated by party animals who thought partying was more important than public health.
And yes, people with anger issues can be abusive. But, that does not mean we are. In fact, not only some of us actually try our best to not lash out at innocent people, we become this way because of traumas, which may or may not be results of abuses.
I feel validated as a human being every time I see rare humanising portrayals of such people. So far, my favourites are Pi Patel from Life of Pi movie and Will Hunting and Sean Maguire from Good Will Hunting.
Pi’s introversion is depicted as a sign of contemplativeness and willingness to learn, instead of anti-social inclinations. When he gets shipwrecked, not only he has to quickly learn survival skills, he also deals with intense spiritual crisis… and his introversion helps him with both. Despite being unanimated with his face most of the time, we can feel what he is feeling… and we can tell he has a very sensitive soul.
While Will and Sean do anger issues, they are also gentle souls with traumas. The difference between them is Will needs help in overcoming his anger while Sean clearly has successfully done so. I can relate to Will (minus the constant run-ins with the law) and I desperately want to become Sean.
Strangely, even though I have been mocked and abused for my stuttering all of my life, I never feel insulted by the mocking portrayals of stutterers. Maybe they are not mean-spirited, maybe they are not common. For whatever reasons, even after watching The King’s Speech and celebrating that profanity-laced scene, I never demand films to have more humanising portrayals of stutterers.
Overall, if you are not a part of certain marginalised groups, you should remember that it is not about you. Whether they want representations or not, it is about them in the end. Don’t speak on their behalf as if their life experiences are your own…… and yes, your token minorities only make you look worse. The best you can do is to actually listen and accept all of the anecdotes are valid, even when they contradict each others, even when they do not support your political causes.
And even if you a part of certain marginalised groups, just remember you are still one person. Regardless of what you want, you don’t have the right to speak on the behalf of entire groups and invalidate anecdotes that contradict yours. You can only speak for yourself.
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