#this is not an exaggeration okay #children do say this #children do wonder why they can’t find themselves in the media #don’t fucking tell me it doesn’t matter #it matters so much #children NEED to see themselves represented #or else they grow up feeling inferior and not worthy
okay, story time: i’m a resident actor a children’s theatre company, and we just did peter pan. i was cast as peter because i’m the only one who looks young enough to play the part; but aside from looking young, i look nothing like peter pan. he’s this little white boy with reddish brown hair and i’m an arab/hispanic queer with black hair and freckles.
our company has a really devoted following, and these kids are reeeally young. after every show, we do autographs as the characters and have to keep up the act, because to a lot of these really young kids, we are who we pretend to be on stage. that terrified me. i’ve done autograph sessions in-character before, but never as such a well-loved character. who, again, is white. i was worried about what children might say.
over the course of the production, we must have performed for close to 500 kids, between the shows we did for families and the shows we did for school field trips.
and i distinctly remember one little white girl who came up to me with a DVD copy of disney’s peter pan, and she had this adorable tinkerbell dress on, and she just stared at me wide-eyed and after a while she said “i have all your movies!!”
first of all, if you don’t think that’s the cutest thing ever, please leave.
and when i asked her what she wanted me to sign, she handed me her DVD and said “by your face.” and she points right at this little white redheaded peter pan with pointy ears who is clearly not me, as if she can’t tell the difference… or she can, and she doesn’t care. similar things happened with different children, but it never lost its charm for me. on the contrary, it really warmed my heart.
by that same token there were many children of color who were affected by seeing a brown peter pan. a lot of them (usually older children) and/or their parents ask me how i got into acting, and if i had any advice for how to get into it. it meant a lot to me that there’s this whole generation of children of color who are going to pursue the arts, because even though i live in a very diverse area, our theatre landscape is still very whitewashed.
anyway, what i’m trying to say isn’t just that representation matters, which it does. what i’m also trying to say is that one less white face in the crowd isn’t going to hurt anyone. i feel like i’ve heard time and again that white people can only identify with white characters, and the whole point of my story is that that’s obviously not true. that kind of behavior, where people only empathize with characters who look like them, has to be taught. and that kind of behavior is racism.