Media is finally encapsulating the realities of being young today
Though some directors have been accused of virtue signalling their way onto the silver screen, there’s no question that Gen-Z’s hyper-awareness has made media the most diverse it’s ever been.
It’s safe to say that representation on screen has notably increased over the last few years, though it hasn’t come easily.
There has been a divisive stance on how to best incorporate diversity into mass media, with quite a few instances making international headlines. The Snow White casting and Little Mermaid casting come immediately to mind.
As diversity amongst lead characters rises, it presents a sharp contrast to previous decades, where actors were selected based on a homogenous set of ideals — mainly that they were conventionally attractive, thin/muscular, heterosexual, and white.
This wasn’t then (and definitely isn’t now) an accurate representation of our real world, especially when 56 percent of the planet’s population currently lives in metropolitan cities known for being racially, ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse.
For the generation that grew up in a globalised world obsessed with political correctness, it’s no wonder Gen-Z has demanded media producers and marketing teams of all industries to get on board when it comes to depicting their lives, too.
Born on the cusp of the Gen-Z era, my childhood was defined by shows like Saved By The Bell, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (thanks older sis), but also iCarly and Hannah Montana.
They all touched on the difficulties of being a teenager, but most stuck to safe subject matter - heartbreak over teenage crushes, navigating family and friendships, and the odd ‘say-no-to-drugs’ episode randomly sprinkled in.
Today, the Internet enables young people to extensively learn about anything they want.
YouTube is teeming with informational videos, Reddit can offer advice for any insane scenario, and TikTok is full of ‘life hacks’, political ideologies, and relatable content.
In short, there’s no point trying to shelter Gen-Z from the weird, wonderful, and sometimes dangerous aspects of adulthood.
Most shows made for today’s teens venture where Disney Channel would have never dared during the years my peers and I were tuning in. For example, HBO’s Euphoria has been hailed for confronting drug experimentation and addiction in highschoolers, although the show has gained some criticism for glamourising them, too.
But each of Euphoria’s characters encompass facets of Gen-Z’s journey to redefine traditional views of gender, sexuality, and body image. It also points to the perils caused by mental health struggles, toxic relationships, teen pregnancy, violence, and persistent social media use.
Some critics suggest that the show is a vast exaggeration of teenage life today. But while all of Euphoria’s characters won’t stand as real-life experiences for everyone, it’s likely that at least one of these things have affected young individuals or their friendship groups.
It also doesn’t mean that these realities aren’t worth seeing on screen. ‘Media is a mirror’ said some long-gone sociologist, Ervin Goffman back in the day. He was onto something, too, because without real-word parallels, most series or movies are destined to fail.
Netflix has been named the most diverse and inclusive streaming platform by Gen-Z and Millennials thanks to its series like Sex Education, with its discussions of sexuality, Black gay lead, and multiple non-binary characters.
Bridgerton’s popularity is also an excellent example of how diversity matters. Today, even period dramas don’t have to be limited to all-white casting for viewers to stay engaged. Considering that the steam pot Regé-Jean Page was the pull for many lovers of the series, it’s a good thing diversity was part of the plot.
And just when we thought the looming climate crisis couldn’t be weaved into entertaining cinema, the platform’s film Don’t Look Up sent a not-so-subtle message about our human apathy in the face of impending doom.
While none of these series are completely perfect — and many shows will clumsily try to weave diversity into their storyline — it’s worth celebrating how far mainstream media has come and the hand Gen-Z has surely played in it making it happen.
Written by Jessica Byrne for www.thred.com