On Diversity in Media Representations, the Chicago Queer Performance Scene, Tonight’s LEX-I-CA, and Why I Think We Do What We Do.
Did you know that Toni Braxton played Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway in 1998? Why does this now seem like a strange and wonderful dream?
The diversity in the entertainment industry in the 1990’s was truly promising. I remember many TV shows about colored people, friends, and families - Living Single, Family Matters, Fresh Prince of Bell Air, In the House, Martin, House of Buggin’, Malcolm & Eddie, The Hughleys, All American Girl, The Single Guy, Sister Sister, Smart Guy, Moesha, the Parkers, and so many others, like that amazing multicultural Cinderella TV movie with Brandy, Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg, Bernadette Peters, and Paolo Montalban (a Filipino actor) as Prince Charming.
As a child of the 90’s, and coming right from the Philippines, it seemed to me that people of color were quickly breaking down barriers, that the stage was being set for people like me to dream big and achieve those dreams, to see ourselves in flashing lights, to experience that overdue equality. But something happened on the way to the 2010’s during which those barriers built right back up without our noticing. I think this happened around 9/11 and the terrorism hysteria, after which anything outside of the typical suburban, white nuclear family became threatening. This is the frame of mind that we have been in for the past decade, but I think and hope that things are finally beginning to change again.
In the queer Chicago scene, a lot of performers are young people of color (many of whom grew up in the 90’s watching these shows, listening to the music and absorbing a more diverse art and pop culture). A friend asked me recently why I think this is, and why now. I believe we’ve gotten tired of waiting for representation in mass media. The promise of the 90’s told us that we can be anything we want to be. When we stopped seeing, or fell short of seeing, our selves reflected on screen, we began to voice our dissatisfactions and take matters into our own hands. We are now in the process of creating our own micro-media, our own platforms.
Which is why social justice blogs are so important right now. This is a movement of people of various races, gender presentations, and identities, who are creating our own representation, because the larger society has failed on its promise. And this is also why, more than ever, is it important, not to police, but to see how we are being represented, and by whom. This is also why so much light is being shed on cultural appropriation. Why we are saying, STOP STEALING OUR CULTURE. We are taking back our stories, we want to tell it ourselves. We want our voice.
Tonight’s Salonathon presents: LEX-I-CA is a manifestation of this. Looking at the line-up of my fellow performers, I see the beautiful faces of the talented beings who are ready to speak, to sing, to dance, to tell it like it is. Who analyze how gendered and racialized bodies are gazed upon, and what fantasies of exotification and other-ness still apply and need deconstructing. We need this time. We need this space to speak. Despite the oppressions we’ve faced and continue to face, having a voice is very much worth celebrating.
See you all tonight.
Kiam Marcelo Junio / Jerry Blossom
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