'First Time I Saw Me': The viral hashtag that is talking about diversity onscreen

Why this Twitter trend needs to rise above a hashtag and become a dialogue for authentic representation of content and characters

When Moonlight won the Best Picture award in the Oscars or the awards they bagged at the Golden Globe Awards, there were people who were applauding for inclusion, for encouraging the platform that supported the plurality of voices. The Barry Jenkins directorial is a film is a coming-of-age story about a young gay boy in Miami and spoke volumes about the need to incorporate diversity on the screen, especially given the racist times we live in.

The ‘Disclaimer’ that media houses are so efficient in throwing at our faces the moment a TV series or movie begins claims: All characters, places and events are purely fictitious, any resemblance is purely co-incidental…etc. etc. The only thing I see in the disclaimer is that they failed their audience when they forgot to cast an Asian character from the country they represent, or when they forgot to give enough lines to a coloured character.

People on Twitter are revealing the first time they saw ‘themselves’ on screen. From Lieutenant Uhura in “Star Trek,” Tia and Tamera from “Sister, Sister.” Susie Carmichael on “The Rugrats” to Parvati and Padma Patil in the Harry Potter series to the all favourite cartoon character of Kwame in Captain Planet, people are sharing their versions of their most relatable pop culture personalities. And as the Twitter birds are chiming stories of the first time they felt represented by a character on screen they are crunching tweets with the hashtag #FirstTimeISawMe.

What a lot of people don’t know is that the trending hashtag is part of a multimedia campaign launched by Netflix to promote its inclusion of actors from diverse backgrounds.  The diverse, layered and intersectional content from Marvel has had characters from racially different backgrounds including series like Luke Cage and Dear White People.

In a public statement, Netflix spokesperson Myles Worthington wrote

Seeing someone that looks like you and deals with similar things that you have to deal with is powerful because you inevitably feel like you can conquer your issues once you see someone else on-screen do it first.

It all began with a simple tweet by the Twitter handle Black Girl Nerds who urged Twitterati to speak about the #FirstTimeISawMe. Twitter users began flooding the social microblogging website with their first-hand experiences of a relatable character they saw on screen.

Or in the world full of porcelain white barbie dolls, seeing a coloured Disney Princess was like seeing a black barbie on the rack of a supermarket

When they saw a coloured Cinderella, people could suddenly realise that they could be a Princess too, and it wasn’t just a #WhitePeopleThing anymore

Parminder Nagra in Bend it Like Beckham, an Asian girl who could have the courage of pursuing her dreams and be a rebel

Kwame in Captain Planet

Aisha on Power Rangers

Miranda in As Told by Ginger

Static Shock was another character who had a caricature intact with skills and interests of his own, especially the nerdy ones, which a lot of people could relate to. No more keeping the coloured character as a side-kick without enough details given to the personality for character building.

Sulu from Star Trek was more than just a relatable character, it was someone that people could learn from and even helped people to decide what they wanted in life

Others were still waiting to see a fair representation on screen

From the casting of Jasmine in the latest Aladdin musical to the original representation of the Princess in the cartoon Aladdin and the magic lamp, people have not quite ended the debate of the truest version of how the Disney Princess should actually look like, but they relate to her nonetheless.

And while there is a rise in representation of coloured people in mainstream cinema and even television series that we consume everyday, there is still a large section of an Asian and Middle Eastern audience still hoping to see a truer representation of characters based in their countries who are more than just supplementary characters meant to only further the plot and not add value to the story.

Constance Gibbs of Black Girl Nerds, who collaborated on a video for the #FirstTimeISawMyself Campaign, wrote in a blog post, that it has got to do more with what you watch, and the inclusion of dark-skinned characters is something that will only come with time.

I think it’s still slow going, but it’s getting better — depending on what you watch. If you watch Netflix or ABC or even somewhat the CW, you may see someone who looks like you (but maybe not as a lead character). But if you watch a network like CBS, you probably won’t — no matter who you are.

Also Read: Disney’s hunt for ethnic Aladdin cast has India bursting with suggestions

But the fight remains, and it must surface above the average hashtag and Twitter trend process. Unless the audience sets higher standards, the bar will not raise itself for diverse content. And we can only hope that Netflix’ campaign can help further the process of committing to this growing trend.

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