The Problem With Teen Dramas and Lack of Representation
By Yorkabiel Desta '24
Source: HBO's Euphoria
The media has a big influence on everybody, especially the younger audiences. Growing up, we may not have the best or desired influences in our immediate environment, so we turn to the internet or films. For young people, especially minorities, it can be difficult watching shows with people that look nothing like you. And we might think as we are learning new things and the world is changing that people might learn to include others. But when we get films that show “representation,” it is often done poorly, usually playing into the stereotypes, further marginalizing the group rather than including them.
When we are watching teen dramas, we mostly see people over the age of 18 play the roles of teenagers. For example, on the popular HBO show, Euphoria, the oldest actors are 30 and 26 years old, both playing 17 year old highschoolers. Not only does this set unrealistic standards for teens by casting adults for these roles, but it also portrays the high school or teenage experiences in a glorified way. Millions of people all over the world are watching shows portraying this, and when given an over-saturated version of “high school,” it becomes a goal for young individuals that cannot be achieved within their high school career.
Another important thing the media fails to do is provide representation for different races, sexualities, genders or classes. Most important roles are played by white actors and actresses, and when we do get representation for minorities, they often embody stereotypes. This can be seen in Mercedes Jones, one of the only black characters in Glee, or the token black friends to the white main characters in Clueless and Goodluck Charlie. Adding the symbolic ethnic side character and whitewashing them does not mean you have representation in your film. The same goes for the LGBTQ+ community; adding the stereotypical “gay best friend” to fit your storyline also does not mean you have representation. And it gets much worse with the very little representation done for the disabled community. The 2021 movie, Music, about an autistic character outraged the community. Not only did they cast a neurotypical actress for an autistic role, but they also displayed harmful restraints on her character, something the autistic community has been fighting against for years. “Had the filmmakers chosen to meaningfully involve autistic people from the beginning, we could have told them how catastrophically irresponsible it is to encourage viewers to use [those kinds] of deadly restraints” (Zoe Gross).
Even though there are many shows and movies that do a less than adequate job with representation and portrayal of high school life, there is hope with the more recent productions. Shows, such as We Are The Lady Parts, with the main characters being Muslims, On My Block, with all of the main characters being POC, as well as She-Ra and Sex Education who have both done a great job of portraying diversity in sexualities. Young Royals also does a good job with including unlabeled, disabled, and gay representation.