I had a strange moment over the recent holidays. For a while I’ve been a bit suspicious over discussions about ‘representation’ – the need for minority groups to more widely seen, predominantly on screen. I’ll admit that the height of my suspicion over this sort of relatively political debate came when the movie ‘Black Panther’ was released, setting and breaking all sorts of records and opening up the discussion about representation.
But over these past holidays, I had a couple of moments that have changed my mind.
The first incident was in the car. My three children love singing along with songs, and the two youngest (daughters) are particularly fond of the Disney Princess songs. In particular ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen and ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana. Neither of them has seen the movies but they are familiar with the tunes. Them singing along in the car was nothing new, but I noticed that other songs which were equally played were not often sung to. Songs sung by male leads.
Then I noticed they gravitated towards another new song that I added to their playlist – ‘Gravity’ from the musical Wicked. Again, a song with two female leads was picked up quickly and often requested.
The second incident happened while Steph and I enjoyed a number of movies during our time off. We finally got to see ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. It had its wonderful moments of humour – especially in playing up the Singaporean accents and culture (which I am so fond of – wonder why!) – but also poignant dramatic moments between characters. And perhaps for me, an Australian Born Chinese person, those scenes were heightened through the complex layering of Chinese culture into those moments.
It wasn’t just a relationship between characters that I saw on screen, with this new addition of a culture that I was familiar with the impact was so much greater.
I think I get this issue of representation now. It’s not just about seeing the faces and culture on screen. It’s about having your story known and understood.
I think I also understand a little more why minorities desire greater representation on screen. Whether it be Crazy Rich Asians, Kim’s Convenience, Black Panther, or other characters who are not simply typecast but are given layered, complex, central voices (ie voices that reflect real people living in the complexities of real life) – having someone to visibly connect with is both reassuring and empowering.
And as a Pastor, I think the desire for representation cuts into the core of all of us. Each individual yearns and desires that our personal stories are known and understood – not just by other individuals, but I think there’s a yearning in all of us that we be truly known and understood by God.
This is what makes the incarnation of Jesus even more special. God has come to earth, in the greatest act of representation. He enters into our world, into our story, to live and breathe like one of us. In Jesus, then, we find our ultimate source of representation – one who demonstrates that God truly knows and understands our condition.
I think I get now that representation isn’t just a political thing, but something that all of us yearn for.
A female lead in a song connects with my daughters and gives them a voice to sing along with. The Chinese face and culture on screen connects with me individually and reassures me that I’m known and understood.
And the incarnation connects with us all, and reminds all of us that God is not distant – but that he knows us intimately, desires to connect with us, and give us what all our hearts yearn for: restoration into right relationship with him.