‘Love, Simon,’ ‘Black Panther,’ and Why Representation Matters

Gettysburgian media critic Jackie McMahon

Gettysburgian media critic Jackie McMahon

By Jackie McMahon, Staff Writer

It’s strange to think that there has never been a major studio film centering on a gay teenager, or a blockbuster movie centering on a black superhero, before now. In the 21st century, we may think that we’ve achieved equal representation in the media – undoubtedly, we’ve come a long way, but the fact is people of color, the LGBT community, and members of other marginalized groups are still often treated as side characters in the stories of white, heterosexual protagonists.

In the past, I’ve taken for granted the fact that I can turn on the TV or a movie and see white women like myself on the screen, depicted in a positive way. (Sure, the way the media depicts women is far from perfect, but there are still plenty of female-geared shows and movies out there for my consumption.) But even in the modern age, there are shows and movies with predominantly or even entirely white casts, or not a single LGBT character among them. Even when these groups are included, they are often cast to the side in favor of their straight, white counterparts, or depicted in a stereotypical way with storylines that center entirely around their race or sexuality.

That’s why recent films like the teen romantic-comedy Love, Simon or the Marvel superhero film Black Panther mean so much to so many people. Love, Simon follows the coming out experience of the titular teenage character, and instead of the character being ridiculed for his sexuality or suffering a tragic end, his family and friends accept him for who he is. Black Panther centers on a cast of well-rounded, strong, intelligent African characters with their own rich stories and developed personalities. The characters in these films are not defined by their race or sexual orientation, and are treated with the same amount of attention and care as any straight, white character would be.

Additionally, Hollywood executives have expressed concerns in the past that films led by POC or non-straight characters wouldn’t be as marketable to mainstream audiences, but Black Panther’s utter domination at the box-office has proved those concerns unwarranted. As of March 19, Black Panther has grossed $607.2 million in the United States and Canada and a grand total of $1.19 billion worldwide, making it the 14th highest grossing film of all time – and it hasn’t even left theaters yet! Meanwhile, after a decent opening weekend, Love, Simon has received praise from critics and cinema-goers alike. It is one of less than 80 films to receive an A+ on CinemaScore.

The impact that films like these can have is momentous, and their successes prove that films about POC and LGBT communities are accessible to all audiences. The best way to ensure that more movies like these will be made in the future is to support them – so go buy a movie ticket!

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Author: Jackie McMahon

Jackie McMahon '21 enjoys writing OpEd and A&E articles for The Gettysburgian due to her strong opinions about everything and her borderline unhealthy obsession with television. In her free time, she likes to binge-watch shows on Netflix, post on her Tumblr blog, and attempt to write a novel. She is passionate about feminism, cats and anything with chocolate in it. Her ambition is to someday become a best-selling novelist or a journalist.

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1 Comment

  1. Well-written as always Jackie!!
    I like BP but honestly didn’t think it stood out from Thor, Green Lantern ,Ant, Justice League etc. In fact, I thought the fight scenes were shot so tight that it was hard to follow along and not that effective. I thought the lead was good, but not that charismatic (as say the guys in Silver Surfer or Spiderman) and I thought the bad guy wasn’t as villainous (as say Loki in Thor).
    Maybe I’m mixing politics with art (but you write on both!): What do you think accounts for the commercial success of BP–its just that good as theatre? Or is more at work here? Another political/social question–do you think its good/healthy that our blockbuster movies are often time kids books/stories? Put another way, what does it say about America (escapism? infantilization?) that our top sellers are often things geared at kids that adults consume voraciously (Harry Potter, Spider-Man etc)?

    You need not respond–I know you are busy with class. Just thinking out loud.

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