When it comes to the media, the Original X-Man, First Class, Brother Malcolm said it best:
Like most children of the 80s, He-Man was not simply a cartoon but a way of life. From him I learned morals and values — such as telling the truth, taking responsibility, bigotry is wrong, respect the environment — and what it truly meant to be a Master Of The Universe.
From He-Man’s relationship with his twin sister She-Ra (most notably how they always worked together as a team and the writers portrayed them as equals), I learned that girls are just as awesome as boys and can easily kick just as much butt.
Little known fact. When my Mom was pregnant, I actually wanted a sister because I wanted the pair of us to go kick butt and save the world just like He-Man & She-Ra. And even at 5-years-old, I campaigned (albeit unsuccessfully) for my sister to be named Diana because as her big brother, I was going to make sure she was going to be both a princess and a Wonder Woman.
From Superman, I learned to be a mild mannered young man and what it meant to be a champion when the need arose. Maybe not leaping tall buildings, but helping others and trying to be a good person.
From Snake Eyes (G.I. Joe), I learned that knowing was half the battle. That and the coolest guy in the room is the one who knows to keep his mouth shut because actions speak louder than words. And it’s true, it’s always the quiet ones.
From Zorro, I learned what it meant to have a sense of pride in one’s people and to fight against a corrupt and oppressive government.
From Michael Jackson, I learned how to make magic of artistry to overcome scars of child abuse and and inspire millions.
BraveStarr was one of the first times I saw Native Americans depicted as something other than savages. His heroism was one of the catalysts that inspired me to learn more about my Cherokee ancestry.
Reasonable Doubts introduced the world to Tess Kaufman. Played by the talented and beautiful Marlee Matlin taught that people with disabilities are human beings and are entitled to the same rights and dignities that many of us take for granted.
Vanishing Son was one of the first times I saw a nonwhite male character in a sexy leading role. As a fellow person of color, I could relate to the struggles and bigotry said lead character endured. It also taught me, that as a nonwhite male, I don’t have to be the token or black best friend. I could actually take the lead and be the alpha.
The Famous Jett Jackson was one of the first times I ever watched a show where a black teen like myself at the time was handled with the same care and respect that’s usually reserved for white characters. Like Vanishing Son, it taught me that I don’t have to be relegated to the sidekick but I could be the leader.
When used responsibly, media can change lives and save them.
Willow and Tara, from Buffy, and Xena and Gabrielle helped me realize that love has no boundaries and being attracted to someone of the same gender is not horrible or an abomination.
As I began to come to terms with my orientation in college, Danny Roberts from the Real World: New Orleans was one of the first gay men I admired and looked up to as a role model. Cute, kind, intelligent, down to earth. He debunked virtually every bigoted notion society tries to qualify for queer men. He was proof that gay and awesome weren’t mutually exclusive.
However it was Queer As Folk that probably gave me the strength to refrain from taking my own life when I came out. It was through this series that I learned that God doesn’t make mistakes. I’m made in his image. And I deserved to be loved, just like everyone else does. It was through characters like Brian Kinney and Ben Bruckner that I learned to defy convention and to be the best man I know how to be. No excuses, no apologies, no regrets.
Static Shock put a shock to my system with not only a black superhero but a gay one in his best friend and crime fighting partner, Gear.
Merlin has shown the world that black women can be queens.
The beautiful brilliant Doctor Martha Jones proved time and time again that she was the equal of any time lord.
Captain Jack Harkness is a proof that a queer man can be an action hero and a bonafied badass.
It was Reginald Hudlin’s run on Black Panther that gave me and other black folks an escape to the world of Wakanda, which is our Camelot. Where being black is not a scarlet letter but a badge of honor. One made of vibranium.
Exquisite ladies Fallon Fox, Isis King and Janet Mock not only personify #BlackGirlMagic but also trans excellence.
Speaking of badasses, you know you’re one when you’re a dark antihero (who happens to be an unapologetic gay man) who is not only one of the most powerful characters but comics but is so hardcore he can justifiably call Wolverine, Deadpool, Sabretooth, Punisher and Batman a bunch of punks. Midnighter is proof that masculinity and strength is not limited to cis straight men.
As much as I strive to emulate Bruce Wayne’s inhuman indomitable drive, Cassandra Cain who has proven more that she’s Bruce 2.0 and the true heir apparent to the bat mantle.
It was Storm who made me proud to be of nubian descent. Regal, intelligent, beautiful, a leader of the superhero team of a comic book company’s flagship title. She taught me, that I am in fact the descendant of greatness and that my power is limitless.
When it comes to bigotry: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. it ultimately stems back to human nature: to fear, hate hurt harm that which is different from us.
So how do we end bigotry and institutional oppression?
The answer for me came last week in the form of a movie entitled That’s What I Am.
In the film, Ed Harris’s character wrote the answer in four simple words.
Human Dignity + Compassion = Peace.
Seems simple, though for many of us, the execution is easier said than done. But imagine what would happen if each of us remembered that.
Don’t think the media has a direct effect on the world, look no further than the 2008 presidential elections.
Dennis Hasbert, a black man, played President David Palmer on the hit series, 24. Geena Davis starred as the first female president on Commander In Chief. It’s been postulated that because of said portrayals, America entertained the notions of a black and female presidents, whether it was Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.
So why does media matter? Because there is power in perception. Especially the perception of marginalized people. And perception influences laws and policy: Jim Crow, women’s suffrage, DADT.
Diversity in media matters because it reminds the world that minorities are entitled to human dignity and compassion just like everyone else.
And you’d be surprised what one can absorb through the media. I know I was.