Indo-Caribbean representation in TV and film is practically non-existent. A quote that I often keep in the back of my mind from Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman, that says,
“the relative silence of coolie women in the sum
of total of history reflects their lack of power.”
When I think of this quote in the aspect of media representation, the silence of Indo-Caribbeans, (whether its actors, directors, or writers) reflect the lack of power they have in this industry. The first time I saw a person who looked like me on television was the actress, Melinda Shankar. She played a character named “Indie” in How to be Indie, a series that aired on a kids network in Canada. I remember the joy I felt when I learned she was Indo-Guyanese like me. As young as I was, this show heavily impacted the pride I felt for my background.The only thing that confused me was why she was just playing an Indian character, rather than an Indo-Guyanese character.
I couldn’t relate to Indies family as much as I hoped. Her family would speak with an Indian accent. Melinda Shankar’s roles on other television shows achieved this as well, for example with Degrassi. The popular Canadian drama had Sav (Raymond Ablack) and Alli Bhandari (played by Shankar), an Indian brother and sister duo, who were both played by Indo-Guyanese actors.
Melinda Shankar on set of DeGrassi
My earliest memories of seeing a brown girl on television would be from the endless Bollywood movies I loved to watch with my grandmother. They had that early 2000’s charm, with bright sarees and long silky hair. I’d love to watch these films, regardless of me not understanding a single word. I would sing along to the songs I didn’t understand. But a part of me felt like I still couldn’t relate to them, because I couldn’t.
Indo-Guyanese culture isn’t the same as the culture portrayed in Bollywood flicks. Minorities on television and film are stereotyped often. People tend to rely on the media to learn about society. Having these types of roles for minority groups does nothing good for them, it just reinforces stereotypes against them and negatively affects these group’s reputation in society.
BUT, Why is good representation so important?
When Marvel’s Black Panther was released, it garnered an overwhelming response at the box office. With an all-black cast, audiences felt connected and empowered. Black audiences had positive representation in this film, and the response by viewers echoed that positivity. Seeing people who look like you in the media that you consume helps you feel understood.
The Indian representation we do see in TV and film does not accurately represent those of Indo-Caribbean backgrounds, as Indo-Caribbeans have a culture that is only specific to them.
Indo-Caribbeans often feel an identity crisis. Indo-Caribbean actors exist, the only problem is that nobody is writing Indo-Caribbean characters into films or TV shows. We need directors to hire more Indo-Caribbean actors. We need more Indo-Caribbean writers to be let into the writing room. It’s a process that could take some time, but it would be worth it. Just think of all the empowered young Indo-Caribbean girls if they see a strong Indo-Caribbean woman on television. Or, young Indo-Caribbean boys seeing an Indo-Caribbean superhero on the big screens. That, to me, is powerful.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rebecca Dass is an Indo-Guyanese sociology student in Toronto. Her interests include writing, photography and media representation for racialized communities. ig: @rebeccatanisha