Published : Thursday, October 18, 2018 | 12:58 PM
As Westridge’s Upper and Middle School students filed into the first Student Voices Assembly of the school year, they were greeted with a slideshow of posters from recent blockbuster films highlighting the highest paid actor from each film, the majority of whom were white and male.
“For our first Student Voices Assembly of the year,” said Student Voices Representative Oona L. ’19, “we thought it was important to talk about representation because it is something that is applicable to everyone. I believe that diverse representation is important because it gives all of us the ability, no matter who we are or where we come from, to understand that we matter.”
Caroline P. ’19, Student Voices co-representative, introduced the theme by dispelling the myth that conversations about representation in film are no longer necessary due to high profile box offices hits such as Marvel’s Black Panther, or Crazy Rich Asians. According to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s study examining portrayals of gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ+, and disability in 1,100 major films released between 2007 and 2017, the percentage of female characters who speak in a film has barely risen in the past 10 years and 70.7% of all speaking characters have been white.
Other students went on to highlight pioneering women of color in film, including producer/screenwriter Shonda Rhimes and director Ava DuVernay, the first black woman to be Oscar-nominated for best picture and documentary feature, who students quoted by saying: “Diversity is not one in the room. Diversity is not two in the room. Diversity is not three in the room. True diversity is half the room.”
Next, a number of students shared personal experiences of seeing their culture represented in media. Paloma S. ’19 took to the podium, describing her deeply emotional reaction to watching Coco, a fantastical film centered around Día de los Muertos (“And I’m not an emotional person!” she insisted). “Growing up without seeing my culture represented in media,” Paloma said, “made me feel like my experience wasn’t important, so much so that I used to feel embarrassed to pronounce Spanish words or even my own name with a Spanish accent.” Watching Coco, she added, was one of the first times she realized that she could be proud of her culture, and that her heritage was something to be celebrated.
McKenna B. ’21 shared a personal testimony about her experience watching DuVernay’s 2018 film A Wrinkle in Time, saying that growing up as a mixed-race, half-African American female, she had often felt like she didn’t belong anywhere. Though she had always felt a kinship in spirit with Meg O’Keefe, the white, blonde main character of Madeleine L’Engle’s book by the same name, when McKenna saw Meg portrayed as a half-black girl in DuVernay’s movie, she said she felt suddenly like she was seen – like she mattered.
Another student spoke on her recent experience watching Crazy Rich Asians (a comedy-drama starring an all-Asian cast), and one anonymous student’s testimonial on the film Love, Simon (a 2018 romantic comedy centering on an LGBTQ+ protagonist) was read aloud.
“Inclusion is one of our school’s core values,” said Elizabeth J. McGregor, head of school, “and as a community we work to advance diversity and inclusion on our campus, but the voices of our student leaders in our Student Voices groups are the most powerful, as this assembly demonstrated. All of us in the audience were able to reflect and take something away that will encourage us to look at the world in more thoughtful ways.”
Westridge School, 324 Madeline Drive, Pasadena, (626) 799-1053 ext. 200 or visit www.westridge.org.