The Lack of Representation In Indie Films
Any lover of indie films - or any casual observer to be truthful - may have noticed the extremely, almost embarrassing, lack of something in indie films. No, it isn’t the lack of traditional blockbuster story structure, but the lack of non-white actors. In indie films non-white actors (who I will refer to as POC, people of colour, for the duration of this piece) seem to be mythical. It’s extremely discouraging to watch indie films and realize they have no place for POC and their stories. Sadly, contemporary indie films seem to have become a breeding ground for stories about privileged white teens and their ensuing coming of age stories, rather than the unconventional films the genre used to be defined by (compare 1995’s KIDS to 2016’s Edge of Seventeen). Admittedly, there are a lot of great indie films that chronicle the struggles, and stories of POC characters (Moonlight, The Last Black Man In San Francisco, The Farewell) yet those films are criminally under-marketed by their distribution companies and pushed aside to popularize other indie films, which - notably - all have white protagonists.
As an audience member, take accountability and ask yourself, do you support women in filmmaking? Do you support filmmakers of colour? There are so many young and talented filmmakers who will be underpromoted because they don’t have the privileges that other filmmakers were born with.
Now that we have acknowledged the lack of non-white characters in indie films, let’s unpack why it’s wrong. Firstly, the lack of black men being vulnerable in film has pushed a narrative that black men cannot be soft or fragile. For white men, indie films have provided a wonderful platform to display the beautiful side of their femininity. Indie films let white men know they can have alternative lifestyles and still be attractive, still be represented. However, for men of colour, their isolation from the “soft boy” character in film is basically a not so discreet way of saying that lifestyle just “isn’t for them”. Although the lack of dark skinned black men and women in film isn’t directly pushing the “thug” narrative (a narrative which says that black people are dangerous) it does contribute to it by not offering a counter narrative.
Secondly, the lack of POC in indie films supports the message that POC do not belong in alternative spaces. This message is especially unpleasant when you consider that many ethnic households are already adamantly against their children joining alternative groups as it is incredibly stigmatized to stray away from cultural norms. Many POC directors and filmmakers have been trailblazers for indie films, yet now in 2020, the finished product of their work - films that have been inspired by theirs- are white washed, modernized, and ultimately rebranded. Can you name as many filmmakers of colour as you can name white filmmakers?
Lastly, indie films with a predominantly white cast, and especially indie films with a white or part white main love interest, uphold white supremacist beauty standards. White supremacist beauty standards commend features like slim noses, light eyes, straight hair, and pale skin etc. and were literally invented to exclude non-white people. They are not so subtly pushing the false narrative that white people are the most desirable race. In modern times we should be celebrating all types of beauty.
In recent years, there has been an exponential rise of accurate representation in contemporary films, which has made our generation more open to other cultures, races and overall made us more accepting of each other. Considering the fact that indie films are supposed to be the most “à la mode” of all films, it’s unfortunate to see them falling behind in the representation department. In conclusion, I hope this piece can serve as a catalyst to contemplation on the lack of POC in indie films and why that may be. What subconscious biases breed in that industry? Why is representation better in mainstream media than in indie films? Hopefully, if you, the reader, happen to be a filmmaker you’ll change this.