“Have you ever been in a room and haven't seen anyone like you? Have you ever felt like you belong but have been told subtly, or not-so-subtly, that you didn't? The world is full of those rooms.”
In a stunning ad released by Netflix last year, actress Uzo Aduba from Orange is the New Black calls for more onscreen diversity. Titled “Make Room”, the ad closes with the tagline: “More room. More stories. More voices.”
That Netflix is taking diversity seriously is evident in the way it works with a large mix of actors, directors, writers, producers and stories that are often overlooked by mainstream film and television studios. Where else can you find a show in which the protagonist suffers from social anxiety disorder, has an emotional support dog, and his only friends are a girl in a wheelchair and a Hispanic boy? Besides having a diverse cast, The Healing Powers of Dude also breaks several stereotypes – the mother is a lawyer while dad is a stay-at-home-parent who gives up his career as an artist so he has the time to homeschool his son and help him deal with crippling social anxiety.
It is refreshing to watch characters of different ages, abilities, races, genders, and sexual orientation on Netflix: another series that has an actor in a wheelchair is Raising Dion that addresses the feeling of being invisible that disabled people often experience. And, the protagonist in Raising Dion is a black boy who at times is subjected to racial stereotyping. There are other shows, on different streaming sites, that tell the stories of marginalized groups – Transparent on Amazon is about a transgender parent coming out to her grownup children and The Mindy Project on Hulu stars a woman of colour in the lead role.
Mainstream film and television studios are often accused of not being actively diverse and inclusive because they tend to play it safe regarding what works and what doesn’t. However, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu don’t seem to care about preconceived notions of how stories must be told and by whom.
Streaming sites are boldly going in a different direction by breaking existing rules and prejudices, and making more room for more stories to be told and more voices to be heard. It is amazing and often eye-opening to watch the lives of diverse characters unfold, regardless of how they look and what they are able or unable to do. This is in stark contrast to mainstream media companies' assumption that black, Asian, female, LGBTQ+ and differently abled characters only appeal to viewers within those groups.
With an increasing reach across the globe, it also makes good business sense for not just streaming sites, like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu, but also for mainstream media companies and film studios to keep producing a wide range of stories with diverse casts and crews.
This is an exciting time for audiences as we watch the cloak of invisibility slowly lifting and the limelight finally shining on women, people of colour, those with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people.
Hopefully, mainstream media will be inspired by the success and popularity of diverse shows being streamed currently and make more stories from different perspectives instead of just dabbling in tokenism.
Have you watched any shows with diverse or inclusive storylines and/or characters lately? Let us know in the comments below.