Alas, the final blog post for my first year at UBC. This year has been a rollercoaster ride to say the very least. With the ups and downs that any school year brings I can say that I am walking into the next fall term feeling enlightened and excited from my experience in the Global Citizens Cooperative Arts Program. Something that brought this all together for me was listening to my fellow classmates presentations during CAPCON. The first presentation I had the pleasure of seeing is the same one that captivated me the most.
The students Vanessa Chan, Caroline Cassinelli, Niki Konstantinovich, and Melissa Tan from the Law and Society stream presented “Avatar: The Bending of a Traditional Narrative”. Their presentation was on the subject of gender and race representation in television series for children, but specifically in the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender. It seemed fitting to respond to this presentation being that just the week prior two classmates and I were discussing the same topic of lack of proper race and gender representation in Hollywood movies and TV shows. The presenters broke down the topic into four sections; the concept of representation within television, the “whitewashing” of character whom are people of colour, the breaking of gender stereotypes, and the socialization of children through television.
As the Melissa Tan explained, a part of Avatar receiving critical acclaim was due in part to its ability to portray different races within the show. They continued to note that in the movie production of The Last Airbender, the creators of the film failed to do the same. The film resulted in the “whitewashing” of characters one character of colour (East Asian and Aboriginal). This important aspect that made Avatar: The Last Airbender innovative was now lost, which resulted in an uproar in its viewers. The presenter continued to note that not only was there lack of people of colour, but the only person of colour was the villain.
The breaking of gender-norms is becoming more relevant in television. Chan explained how Avatar television series was able to reverse the gender stereotypes one is accustomed to see, in this fictional world the female characters are the ones who display their strength and ruthlessness in their physical and mental ability. Contrarily the male characters are portrayed as characters with emotions and have those emotions be a significant part in them struggling with decisions and forming their moral compass. In the reversal of the stereotypes, the presenters explain, that any individual can have what is generally seen as masculine or feminine characteristic, no matter their gender.
They finish with the point that ties the importance of representation on television all together. They note that due to its potential to teach children, it is of the outmost importance in creating content for children that indicate the acceptance of other cultures, the widespread representation of people of colour, and finally content that breaks gender stereotypes rather than further encourage them. The message I got from their presentation is that television can be used as a powerful tool to demonstrate to children that it being okay to be different, but one should embrace differences to create a culturally diverse and accepting society.