“I told myself that I had the right to be ambitious”: The day they finally felt represented on the screen

It’s a video that has been viewed millions of times since it was uploaded in mid-September. Smiling, fascinated by what she is observing, a little girl watches her television. On the screen : the trailer for the live-action adaptation of “The Little Mermaid” and especially the face ofHalle Bailey, the actress who was chosen to play the heroine. “She’s black like me!” enthuses the child as her mother films her. Particularly touching, this excerpt shows the extent to which certain racialized people or people from minorities still rarely have the opportunity to identify with the characters highlighted in fiction. However, seeing yourself represented on screen is not insignificant and can help in the construction of oneself. This is what those tell us who, like this little girl, one day had the pleasant surprise of finally feeling represented in a series or in a film. The opportunity to recall that, even if inclusiveness seems to be making its way into the minds of screenwriters, immense progress still remains to be made.

“When I was little and I thought of a princess, I imagined a white woman with an immaculate dress…”,Vanessa

As a black woman entrepreneur of Cameroonian origin, I remember that “Black Panther” was very important to me. This film is the dream of a strong Africa. He made me happy because, for once, the black characters are not presented as slaves or victims, but as powerful men and women, magnificent heroes, beings proud of their heritage and their colors . Wakanda does not exist in reality, but it is very inspiring.

Whether in the series or in the movies, the color black has often been associated with wicked or evil characters. Especially in Disney… If you watch “Aladdin”, “Sleeping Beauty” or “Hercules”, you will notice that the villains wear very dark outfits. Many children have therefore associated, in spite of themselves, black with something that is scary. Myself, when I was little and I thought of a princess, I imagined a white woman with an immaculate dress… I was very happy when I learned that Ariel, the heroine of “The Little Mermaid “, was going to be embodied by a black actress. Because for once, little girls will associate black with dreams, with magic.

I’ve heard people criticize this black Ariel for “reinventing a collective imagination”… What these people don’t know is that in Africa, there are also mermaids. During a trip to Cameroon, for example, I discovered “Mami Wata”, an aquatic divinity half-woman half-fish with black skin… To say that there are no black mermaids in legends and myths is therefore completely false.

“I have the impression that he is talking to me, and that no one else understands”, Élodie Petit

I’m Asian and I feel like I’m never represented. In any case, not in French productions, where Asians are either “servers in a restaurant” (there is a nine out of ten chance that there is a joke about the fact that the dish is made from dog, or that it ends in karaoke), or “martial arts teachers”. In both cases, they always have a very pronounced accent. The Asian is a source of laughter with us. I would like us to give them the roles of lambda characters in fiction, that we stop hiring them just to highlight their origins…

In the United States, they have taken the lead. I am obviously thinking of the role of Cristina Yang, played by Sandra Oh, in the series “Grey’s Anatomy”. There is also the movie “Crazy Rich Asians”. Even if it takes place in the posh community of Singapore (an environment very far from me), it made me very happy to see a romcom with Asians. I’m part of an influence network of Asian-descendant women in France, and when the film came out, I remember that they were all very excited. Many had found seats for the preview, because they were happy to finally see a mirror film.

I am half Laotian. I often say that we are a minority within a minority, because I really come from a very small country, often forgotten, and absolutely never represented. When I was a teenager, there was still Willy Denzey. But I never heard him say he was from Laos… More recently, I found out that Jujubee, one of the star drag queens of “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, was from Laos. On the show, he talks about it all the time. In particular because of having grown up as a young homosexual man in a traditional family. I like that he puts that forward, and I love it when he says a few words in Lao. Often, I have the impression that he speaks to me, and that no one else understands.

Like many people from a minority background, I mostly found myself following social media accounts. For example, I follow “Healing Out Lao’d” (@healingoutlaod), which speaks to the diaspora of Laos and which talks about subjects never addressed elsewhere, such as the traumas of war of the generation of our parents, and how this is is translated to us, the young people who grew up in the West.

“Seeing this episode, I understood that I could have a happy life”, Morgane Carfantan

At 15-16, I began to understand that I was attracted to girls, but I wasn’t ready to accept it yet. Perhaps because the series and films I had seen presented painful, difficult coming-outs…Even if I was lucky enough to have been raised in an ultra-tolerant family, I was afraid of being as sad as the characters I saw on screen.

Everything changed the day I saw the first episode of season 6 of “How I Met Your Mother”. To make it short, Ted, the hero, discovers by surprise that his ex-girlfriend is dating a girl. The two women in question are in a bar, they are kissing, the staging is super natural… Seeing this episode, I understood that, like these girls, I did not have to go through difficult trials , that I could have a completely happy happy life as a member of the LGBT community.

“This kind of character would have helped me a lot if he had arrived much earlier in my life,” Marion

As a little fat girl, then a fat woman, I saw myself represented for the first time when the series “Shrill” came out in 2019. Before that, it was the parade of heroines who were supposed to be fat (but wearing a 40), fat suits and too many stupid, mean, dirty, lazy, or just pathetic fat supporting roles.

It was when I got older that I started looking for the really big ones on screen, those who have a personality and a life. Yes, there was “Girls”, it was an important series, but it was not enough. There was also “My Mad Fat Diary” and “Dietland”, but the heroines of these series only existed by their weight… The real “eureka! I got it when I discovered “Shrill”. I found a heroine there, Annie, whose fact of being fat was not the main personality trait and who, in addition, rebelled against fatphobia. Her story was not “Annie is fat and therefore sad” or “Annie is fat and therefore wants to lose weight”. It was just a normal girl who lived her adventures as TV series heroines and who also happened to be fat. And this, without the slightest intention of apologizing.

It’s thanks to “Shrill” that I finally found a character to identify with, someone who wasn’t a counter-example or a pre-diet flashback. Watching the series, I thought to myself that this kind of character would have helped me a lot if he had arrived much earlier in my life. So today, when I hear fatphobic enormities, I breathe and think of the writings of Lindy West, the author behind the series. It’s better than sophrology.

“I said to myself that, like them, I had the right to be ambitious”, Canelle Conte

Being Métis, I had a lot of trouble finding myself in cartoon characters when I was little. All the princesses were white, blonde…I didn’t look like them. I wondered if I was weird, if there was something wrong with me. Everything changed, thankfully, when I first watched “Pocahontas”. I was happy to see a heroine with dark skin and long black hair, like me. So happy that I immediately wanted to dress like her and find a lover who looked like John Smith (laughs). This film was also important to me because it was while watching it that I had the idea of ​​asking my parents about my origins. Their answers helped me to understand who I was, and to gain a little more confidence in myself. Thank you Pocahontas!

The “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Scandal” series also inspired me a lot. Because, for once, two charismatic and powerful black heroines (played respectively by Viola Davis and Kerry Washington, editor’s note) were not summed up by their skin color. Watching the episodes, I said to myself that, like them, I had the right to be ambitious.

“I told myself that I had the right to be ambitious”: The day they finally felt represented on the screen – Elle