In an industry gatekept by nepotism & whiteness, I have to seek my own creative catharsis

Learning to be selfish when creating art

As Hollywood slowly crawls towards a better, less discriminatory future, I’m getting older and running out of patience.

No matter where I go, I see media reflecting a society that centers on whiteness, no matter how “inclusive” they claim to be.

Growing up, I was filled with a silent frustration towards almost every show and movie I interacted with.

There were always caveats and conditions to representation: you can have a Black character, but they’re only treated with respect within the narrative if they’re light-skinned. You can have Africans, but only if they are stereotypes or props for a white saviour narrative. You can have a woman character, but only one, and she will be sexualized or exist purely to be a love interest.

My younger self was filled with an equal mix of anger and spite. So, I started drawing and writing.

I drew because, even before I really understood what the male gaze was, I still felt the sting of it. I felt uncomfortable with how it manifested in children’s media, and I couldn’t stand what I was watching on the screen.

I had a multitude of frustrated feelings and notes, but nowhere to put them, so I put them on the page. I started writing creatively because the shows, movies, and books I consumed seemed so nonsensical in the way they neglected marginalized characters. That experience of being sidelined hit home for me. They were full of the wasted potential and experiences I related to.

I love fantasy. Some of my favourite books featured large casts of young characters designed for relatability—except for the fact that few of them ever looked like me. Few of them actually reflected my identity and my struggles as a Black first-generation immigrant.

I still have some of my old writing, where I just re-wrote a scene or re-outlined a story to let my favourite character—often the mistreated Black woman in any given show—express the justified anger that the narrative wouldn’t let them feel.

Hollywood has changed a lot in the past decade. In some ways, diversity in media has improved significantly. A few years ago, it was the norm to regularly see shows and movies featuring nearly all-white casts—and the showrunners and directors who received the most accolades were nearly all white, too. 

The current push for diversity on screen doesn’t erase the the film and television industry’s history of racism. The CW making Batwoman Black doesn’t erase their years spent neglecting and abusing Black women on- and offscreen—and it doesn’t change the fact that their representation is still lackluster.

Onscreen representation means nothing when the writing is poor and still positions people of colour in the background. It means nothing when plotlines are offensive or pandering.

It feels shallow, as if characters exist simply for a social justice spotlight, lampshading social issues and serving as a way for the writers to say, “We see you! We hear you!”

I don't feel heard. I don’t feel seen.

Even in the cases of shows led by Black creators, at some point they either get cancelled or become focused on educating white viewers instead of speaking to us. Onscreen diversity means nothing when people of colour can’t have full control over their own projects, when the writer’s room is still predominantly white, and when executives continue to whitewash important narratives.

Every new show that has caught my attention seems to come with the same conditions to representation I grew up seeing, whether it’s colourism or centering the trauma of existing in a racist society in every storyline.

In an industry gatekept by nepotism and whiteness, I have to seek my own creative catharsis.

I want a movie series of Black wizards. I want more Jedi that respectfully portray frequently appropriated cultures. Most of all, I want future shows and movies to be made by creators of colour who value centering people of colour in their narratives—rather than pandering to white sensibilities. 

I want more shows like The Get Down, which balanced gorgeous visuals and social commentary and softly reimagined the history of hip-hop culture. I want more shows like Chewing Gum and Insecure, that speak to Black women’s experiences and don’t fall into colourist tropes by centering the most racially ambiguous people they can. 

I want Black-created and Black-focused narratives with Black leads that don’t just tell stories of poverty and police brutality.

But as Hollywood slowly crawls towards a better, less discriminatory future, I’m getting older and running out of patience. I’ve already run out of patience.

So, I write because it feels like the only person who cares about my opinions about media is me. I write because I have a multitude of ideas and stories to tell, ones that subvert what I see on screen. I write in the hopes that one day I’m going to release my work and give someone else like me the same kind of emotions that a film like Black Panther gave to me.

I draw, paint, and design because no one else will. And the subject matter of what I write pertains to my own interests.

I was taught in my art classes and in my English courses to imitate the styles of white Renaissance-era artists. I draw the people who were historically excluded in art: people like me. While I study white writers and white narratives throughout history, I write about everything and everyone else that has been excluded.

And while I hope to break into the industry one day, knowing the reality of what happens within it, I need to understand that my art is first and foremost for me.

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