Developed by Clarkisha Kent, use this guide to navigate the terminology and historical context of conversation about representation in media. Art by Sarah Epperson.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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Introduction

The representation guide is important because you cannot solve a problem if you do not know it exists. Likewise, to tackle systematic problems regarding representation in Hollywood and beyond (that system from systematic ills like racism, homophobia, and etc), one must have the tools and most importantly, the *language* to do so.

Clarkisha Kent


Terms & Definitions

TermDefinition
ableismThe systematic discrimination against disabled individuals and the belief that they are inferior because of their disabilities.
anti-LGBTQThe prejudiced treatment, stereotyping, or discrimination of LGBTQ people.
archetypeA familiar character that has emerged as a result of many years of fables, fairy tales, etc.
cisgenderAn adjective used to describe a person who identifies with the gender they were assigned with at birth.
colorismDefined by author Alice Walker as prejudice in favor of lighter skin color and against darker skin color within and between groups and cultures.
counter-typeThe portrayal of a marginalized group in a manner designed to debunk existing offensive stereotypes. Counter-types often end up creating a new, still very limiting and restrictive stereotype.
demographicA tangible, research based characteristic of a population that may include race, gender, sexuality, disability, class, etc.
empty diversityA surface level attempt to include people of different backgrounds in a production while simultaneously centering whiteness as the norm. This type of diversity is empty because it prioritizes whiteness while positioning people of color (or other marginalized groups) as the “other.” See tokenism.
FatphobiaIntense disgust and hate in regards to individuals with fat bodies. Includes systematic means of oppression, like discouraging certain forms of healthcare due to weight, disqualification in regards to employment based on appearance and etc.
inclusionThe meaningful act of "including" marginalized people in institutions that they have historically been barred from. Inclusion requires the tools to enforce the necessary institutional changes that will allow marginalized individuals to thrive.
LGBTQAn acronym of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer. The acronym is often expanded to LGBTQIA+ which includes intersex, asexual, and other groups that fall along the spectrum of gender and sexual orientation.
lived experienceUsed to describe firsthand knowledge and impressions of living as a marginalized member of a marginalized group as they dwell among the majority group.
patriarchyThe institutional system that prioritizes men over non-men.
pop culturePopular culture is “the accumulation of cultural products such as music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television and radio that are consumed the majority of a society's population” (ThoughtCo 2018)
pop culture analysisStudying cultural aspects of mass media (such as film, TV, advertising, etc).
queerAn adjective used by some people whose sexual orientation is not exclusively heterosexual and/or whose gender identity is not cisgender.
racismprejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. See also, White Supremacy.
social mediaWebsites, applications, and platforms designed to enable users to create or share content across the internet.
stereotypeAn offensive and reductive image or portrayal of a specific demographic. Stereotypes are not based in fact but instead perception.
tokenismThe act of including only one member of a minority group in a production in order to avoid criticism about “diversity”/“inclusion” and to appear more progressive.
transgenderAn umbrella term for people whose gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth. Always use the descriptive term preferred by the person.
white privilegeThe institutional system of preferential treatment that favors whiteness.
White SupremacyThe simultaneous belief that white people are superior to all races of people (and should therefore dominate society) as well as a historical and institutional system of oppression that centers on the exploitation of peoples of color and their homelands by White people and European nations.

Forms of Erasure

TermDefinition
ErasureDefined as the removal, destruction, or loss (accidental or not) of a fact, piece of information, or history. In terms of representation, it is most certainly the purposeful omission of a particular group or person from their narratives/history. Can also be referred to as narrative colonization.
“Bury Your Gays”Due to society’s rampant homophobia, queer characters are often portrayed as villains. In rare cases where queer characters are not portrayed as a villain, the is queer character is often punished for being queer with a story line that abruptly ends with death.
blackfaceThe use of theatrical makeup (including literal black paint), hair styling, affect, or dress used by a non-Black person to appear Black. Blackface is also used by non-Black people to capitalize on the appeal of Black culture. Blackface is racist.
brownfaceA racist form of theatrical makeup (including literal brown paint or bronzer) or dress used by a non-Brown person to appear as a member of the South Asian, Indian, [non-White] Middle Eastern, Arab, Pacific Islander or [non-White] Latinx community. Brownface is racist and is often used by productions to avoid casting a person of color belonging to the above groups.
ciswashing or cisgender-washingThe act of casting a cisgender actor as a person/character who is historically/canonically a transgender or gender nonconforming person. Often ciswashing results in the overtly transphobic outcome of cisgender women portraying trans men, or cisgender men portraying trans women — thus erasing and invalidating the realities of the transgender or gender diverse experience.
genderbendingThe act of intentionally casting a character who is historically/canonically one gender as another underrepresented gender. Example: Doctor Who portrayed as a woman.
lightwashingThe act of casting a light or fair skinned person of color as a person or character who is historically or canonically a dark skinned person of color. Example: Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. See sidewashing.
male gazeMedia curated for the straight male perspective. Example: Beer commercials featuring bikini clad women.
pinkwashingThe growing practice of advertising a corporation or other institution as LGBTQ+ affirming (regardless of whether or not it is) for the purpose of increasing sales. Pinkwashing often occurs during June which is Pride Month.
racebendingThe act of intentionally casting an actor of an underrepresented race to portray a character who canonically belongs to a privileged race.
redfaceThe use of costume and theatrical makeup (including warpaint, feathers, headdresses, etc) used by a non-Native person to appear as a Native, Indigenous, or First Nations person. Redface is racist and is often used by productions to avoid casting an actual Native, First Nations, or Indigenous actor.
sidewashingThe problematic act of interchangeably casting actors of color in certain roles for which they lack the cultural background or lived experience. Example: Casting South Asian actors as Egyptians.
white gazeMedia curated from a perspective that prioritizes whiteness. Also described as “the study of the other” because it frames whiteness as the norm, portraying all other experiences to be novel or bizarre.
whitewashingThe act of casting a white actor as a person or character who is historically or canonically a person of color.
yellowfaceThe use of theatrical makeup (including the racist use of epicanthic eye folds) used by a non-Asian person to appear as an Asian (most commonly East Asian) person. Yellowface is racist and is often used by productions to avoid casting an actual Asian actor.

Historical Overview

Generally, media representation can be described as the ways in which media presents, and sometimes interprets, various groups, peoples, and lived experiences.

The history of representation in media cannot be discussed without looking at the history of America as the global leader in film and entertainment thanks to Hollywood. Therefore it is necessary to examine the unsavory history of the United States and understand that the reality of American history is not as glamorous or charming as the surface level appeal of Hollywood. In truth, the history of the U.S. finds itself mired in racial, social, and economic injustices and inequalities.

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In short, America is racist. And misogynistic. And homophobic. And ableist. And frankly, the list can and does go on. These various forms of oppression extend to the way media representation manifests and is discussed in America. In the American context, media representation is created and interpreted through a White supremacist lens. This is a big deal since media greatly shapes perceptions of race, gender, sexuality and so on in society. And this is something many marginalized people have been up against throughout the 20th century. Even as we have made momentous steps toward self-determination, equality, and autonomy, the goal posts always move. These same groups have found that they have not been fully integrated or included into American society—especially if you look at oppressive tactics employed in media.

Racist, sexist, ableist, and queerphobic stereotypes that favor the majority. The fight to root out these subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) White supremacist ideologies from our media at-large continues.

Over the last couple of decades (and frankly the past century) table shakers within Hollywood have sought to change it from the inside, but changing an institution is always hard. You can see this in every “first” that is broken in terms of representation. Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win an Oscar for Best Actor in 1964 and decades later Halle Berry became the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in 2002. Representation is slow when you consider the inordinate time that goes by before that first is accompanied by a second. Or a third. Or a fourth. This pace prevents the normalization of inclusive representation in our world.

Of course, while broad inclusion has not arrived yet, greater strides toward this becoming a reality have been made in the past decade, but especially in the last three years. Movements like #OscarsSoWhite (created in 2015 by April Reign, a Black woman) have forced the lackluster representation of all marginalized groups (and the languid access that they are granted to these systems) to the forefront of popular culture and discussion. Institutional changes have been made (for example, the addition of more actors and actresses of color to the Academy in 2016) and are being made as we speak. And now with the emergence of movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp joining the fray, it would seem that these changes are bound to continue.

The Kent Test

Definition: a test designed to determine whether a film or any other piece of media has provided the audience with adequate representation of femmes of color. This is meant to encourage discussion on what good representation can look like for femmes of color and it is not the be all end all test (but it is a good place to start). The Kent Test is named after and created by culture writer and critic Clarkisha Kent.

Instructions: Add points in accordance with the following elements of the Kent Test. The lowest number of points a film or other piece of media can achieve is 0 while the highest number of points is 8.

Discussion Guide

After reviewing the above corresponding list of terms, use this guide to have a discussion about representation in media.

Additional Resources

The following list of databases, social media accounts, websites, and etc are good starting points for individuals interested hearing different perspectives on representation in media:

  • Queer Women of Color Media Wire: “a media advocacy organization and online platform that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender, and intersex people of color around the world.”
  • The Critical Media Project: a resource for educators, activists, and people interested in media that encourages media literacy and discusses the politics of identity. It breaks down discussions on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class and etc.
  • Bitch Media: A nonprofit feminist media organization that encourages and provides thoughtful feminist critiques in regards to mainstream media and pop culture.
  • The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film: “Research center at SDSU examining the representation and employment of women in film and television.”
  • Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: “Founded in 2004, the Institute and its programming arm, See Jane, are at the forefront of changing female portrayals and gender stereotypes in children’s media and entertainment by working within the entertainment industry to dramatically alter how girls and women are reflected in media.”
  • Sapelo Square: Award-winning blog that produces, documents, and archives the Black Muslim experience in the U.S. to shed light on its global impact.
  • Wear Your Voice: An Intersectional Feminist Magazine Centering The Voices of Black & Brown Queer Women, Femmes, Trans & Non Binary People.
  • The National Hispanic Media Coalition: “A non-partisan, non-profit, media advocacy and civil rights organization created to advance American Latino employment and programming equity throughout the entertainment industry and to advocate for telecommunications policies that benefit Latinos and other people of color.”
  • REMEZCLARemezcla is your source for emerging Latin music, culture, and entertainment.
  • MuslimGirl: Taking back the narrative around Muslim womanhood.
  • Dismantling Arab Stereotypes: “An online exhibit and blog whose mission is to challenge media portrayals of Arab Americans and demonstrate the integral role Arab Americans have played in U.S. society since its inception.”
  • Autostraddle: Autostraddle is an independently owned online magazine and social network for lesbian, bisexual, and queer women as well as non-binary people.
  • After Ellen: “Founded in 2002, AfterEllen.com quickly became the largest and most comprehensive website dedicated to the representation of lesbian/bi women in popular culture.”
  • The Root: “a news, opinion and culture site for Black influencers founded in 2008, under the leadership of Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. The Root provides smart, timely coverage of breaking news and thought-provoking commentary”
  • Colorlines: A daily news site that centers race in art and culture; as it pertains to gender and sexuality, in pop culture, and etc.
  • Asian Americans Justice Center: “Founded in 1991, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC works to advance the human and civil rights of Asian Americans, and build and promote a fair and equitable society for all.”
  • Nerds of Color: “community of fans [of color] who love superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy and video games but are not afraid to look at nerd/geek fandom with a culturally critical eye.”
  • Nerdy POC: A publication dedicated to POC who love anything nerdy!
  • Geeks of Color: “a community of Geeks that strives to be a leading voice in the fight for Diversity & Inclusion in all aspects of entertainment”
  • Every Single Word Spoken: A Tumblr site dedicated to highlighting the lack of inclusion in movies by cutting all dialogue spoken by white characters.

Meet the Contributor

IMG_3012Clarkisha Kent is a Nigerian-American writer, culture critic, columnist, and up and coming author. Committed to telling unique and inclusive stories from nigh-infancy, she is fascinated with using storytelling and representation not as a way to “overcome” or “transcend” her unique identities (as a queer Black African woman), but as a way to explore them, celebrate them, affirm them, and most importantly, normalize them and make the world safe enough for people who share them to exist.

As a University of Chicago graduate with a B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and English, she brings with her over five years of pop culture analysis experience, four years of film theory training, and a healthy appetite for change.

Her writing has been featured in outlets like The Root, Into, BET, Equality for HER, The Establishment, HuffPost, Wear Your Voice Magazine, and Essence. She is also the creator of #TheKentTest, a media litmus test designed to evaluate the quality of representation that exists for women of color in film and other media.

Currently, Kent is working on finishing a novel about a Black female outlaw and a TV comedy pilot about an immortal familiar.

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