The first time I heard someone take issue with the absence of any fictional character who “looks like me” was on the twitters, when someone (forgive me, I can’t remember who it was anymore [Edit: Remembered! It was Anil Dash]) complained that there was no one in Harry Potter who “looked like” his child. My reaction was, “so write your own Harry Potter and make your child happy.” It struck me as an infinitely silly complaint.
At the time, I didn’t have any idea where this point of contention came from. I never thought any characters looked like me, and it didn’t trouble me in the least. But the call continued, and appears to have resonated with many who complain about the lack of black or transgenders or Aleuts in films, television and books.
My initial reaction was that this was a rallying cry that people latched on to because it served their purpose, but that they didn’t really care and weren’t really “hurt” by it. Obviously, every story can’t involve every identity group. Is the absence of an Hispanic cast member a cause of pain, of outrage? Does having the same skin color or genitalia make you feel like Denzel Washington or Meryl Streep? It doesn’t make me feel like Robert Redford, though we’ve been confused on occasion.
But this issue has not only persisted, but has never really been questioned:
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay spoke at the New Yorker Festival last fall about breaking into a movie industry that she said “wasn’t made for me.”
Her thoughts on the industry’s historic lack of representation prompted us at Race/Related to ask: When was the first time you saw yourself represented on the silver screen?
Is my inability to grasp the “no one looks like me” issue a white male privilege thing? Is this a red herring, a disingenuous argument that people have seized upon despite not truly believing or caring? Do you relate to people on the screen because of your race or gender, your ancestry or religion? Do you suffer the degradations of not seeing yourself in a Harry Potter character?
Much as I don’t see it, this may be a blindspot of mine because there is no shortage of white men in the movies. I can afford not to relate, whereas the absence of others on screen does make others feel marginalized, erased, as unworthy of being the hero of the movie. Does it matter whether people “look like you”?
*Yes, it’s Wednesday, but that happens sometimes. Tuesday Talk rules apply.