Screen-based content’s power of delivering new realities and perspectives to unwitting audiences is undisputable. Society has benefited from the diversity of people, their backgrounds, and experiences, shaping a cohesive collective which makes up the population of the UK.
Despite this, there are still concerns about the lack of representations of people who have disabilities on our screens in the mainstream context. Paradoxically, none of the broadcasters and content producers are doing anything “wrong” either, they just need to go a bit further.
What do I mean by this? Well, almost all TV dramas featuring a ‘disabled’ character make the disability its main narrative focus. As with current affairs and the entertainment genres, it is rare to see a presenter with a disability presenting or fronting a programme which does not focus on a ‘disability’-related issue. We don’t usually get a sense of the personality of that character or presenter, as they are usually labelled by virtue of how they are portrayed on screen or what they feature in. Content producers now need to start incorporating these characters and presenters into mainstream programming.
This kind of approach applies to most of the other underrepresented groups of people on screen. I’m just using ‘disability’ because I’ve just successfully made a film featuring me but without making a fuss about my so-called ‘disability. By the way, I recognise that this article could be seen as being a paradox as it labours this very point and in turn could be seen to emphasise the ‘disability’ element.
Nevertheless, we need to move away from tokenism in the representation of difference. In a way, paradoxically, for it to work, we need to move on to representing the personalities rather than ‘the difference’ when portraying people labelled as ‘disabled’, ‘gay’, ‘black’, or whatever other labels we want to use.
We are moving forward though. For example, channel four is now looking for new presenters to host 150 hours of their live coverage of the Paralympic games in 2012. This is fantastic as it will increase the representation off those who have a “disability” on-screen. However, the presenters will still be fronting content to do with “disability.” I hope that these presenters will then move on to fronting more mainstream programmes.
When making custard, you need to mix the custard powder into a paste to slowly introduce to the milk constantly whilst stirring. If one puts the powder into the milk straightaway, you will end up with lumpy milk. To attain that full thick vanilla goodness, you need to mx the paste in carefully and at a constant rate. The same applies to diversity on TV – the ‘mainstream’ needs to be constantly introduced to new concepts and cultures, but a tokenistic quick approach only emphasises the gap of ‘difference’