This year, we saw representation in film and television turn up the volume with the critical and popular success of Moonlight, Atlanta, Underground, and Insecure. Moonlight, which I thought was an absolutely stunning film, stood out because it told a familiar story with the kind of empathy and complexity which is rarely seen for black characters, gay characters, and drug dealers. I was lucky enough to attend a master class with Mahershala Ali, who plays Juan in the film, at the 2016 Savannah Film Festival. He spoke with such love and thoughtful respect about his character, who reminded him of people he had known growing up. It is so rare to see people, especially people of color, written with the familiar complexity of a real person. Atlanta, Insecure, and Underground are incredibly important to the television industry because they feature creative people of color in so many areas of production, not just the actors.
Insecure stands out because it originated as Awkward Black Girl- a webseries. While we're on the subject of ABG, I would just like to point out that I loved this show early on because I- a white woman- related so deeply to J. Take that, network execs who say that black characters aren't "relateable enough", which really just means when they think of an average American they think of a white person. But this just furthers my point- the internet has created a quiet revolution in the entertainment community- it has put content in the hands of everyday people. If you are sick of never seeing someone like you on television, you can put together a talented, passionate group of people and make your own television without having to get past a board room full of producers and network executives, most of whom are old rich white men who no longer have a real connection to people who aren't like them. That's what Sandeep Parikh did when he made The Legend of Neil- a niche series for gamers which later got picked up by Atom.com. That's what Felicia Day did when she created The Guild, another "geek culture" series which garnered a huge cult following and featured an incredibly diverse cast of "normal" looking people. Modern technology is making it easier than ever for this content to be incredibly high quality. After all, Tangerine was shot on an iPhone.
It is important to bring new voices into the fold. It is important to tell stories about all of America, not just middle and upper class white people. It is important to have diversity on all levels of production, from writers to key grips to DPs to actors and directors and producers. If the same few people with the same life experiences are the only people telling stories, then the stories and the industry will stagnate. As a female actor, I am sick of men writing female characters. The best writers can write realistic people who are different from them, but there are too many lazy writers out there who are just churning out characters composed entirely of tropes and stereotypes. This is not only boring mediocre writing, but it actively contributes to widespread negative cultural attitudes towards women, people of color, and the LGBTQIA+ community. As creative people, we trade in empathy. Empathy is the lifeblood of all good art. It is our responsibility to use our powers of empathy to bring people together, to understand themselves and others. Otherwise, what is the point?