The past year has given us films that do an excellent job portraying the reality of an interracial relationship, but what about the reality of living life as a child of that relationship?
Over the years, we have seen a number of interracial and inter-ethnic relationships on screen. We could go all the way back to 1967 when Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner released, a classic film about a white woman who brings her fiancee, a black doctor, home to meet her parents. More recently, however, there have been films like Loving, which tells the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple who brought the legality of their union to the Supreme Court, which ultimately legalized interracial marriage. Get Out is another great, more recent film which put the idea of individual identity within an interracial relationship to the forefront. And this past month we saw the release of The Big Sick, a delightful rom-com that tells the true story of the beginning of Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s relationship. There are also various other TV shows such as Master of None which have portrayed interracial relationships on screen as well.
These are definitely not all of the films and TV shows that have ever portrayed an interracial relationship, but they are some of the most current in today’s cinema and most prominent at getting representation out there.
Although, something else to note about these stories is that they often fall into the category of “comedy” or involve some real life experience. And while true stories tend to aid in providing an authentic and relatable factor within movies, and even though comedy is a tool that helps us to make sense of the world, the fact that after all these years it’s still really funny (or horrific) to watch parents’ reactions to seeing their children in a mixed-race relationship shows that the subject is still pretty atypical to society at large.
This is not to say that those two genres are a hindrance to these stories. If anything, they are really efficient at enhancing them and bringing them to a wide audience. However, the popular use of those genres for these stories can be seen as a commentary on our culture’s feelings toward these relationships and how people perceive them.
In an episode of NPR’s On Point radio show last week, the topic was “Interracial Relationships On Screen.” During the episode, they discussed The Big Sick and other recent depictions of mixed race relationships on-screen such as the new season of The Bachelorette. But, one thing that really stood out from that episode was when guest Caty Chattoo, who helped create a documentary called Mixed said: “What’s still missing is portrayals of biracial children.”
This is very true.
While it’s absolutely wonderful that stories of interracial relationships are being told and put on center stage (and hopefully continue to be), one aspect of these stories that has hardly been addressed in film and on TV is the possible products of these relationships: multiracial, multi-ethnic children.
As a multi-ethnic individual myself, a daughter of a Mexican woman and a white man, I personally feel it would be really cathartic to see stories portrayed on screen that show the lives of other multi-ethnic, multiracial individuals and their day-to-day struggles. It would be nice to see stories that just get it, without glossing over anything. Because while being a person of more than one ethnicity definitely has wonderful aspects to it that I take great pride in, it’s not always the best of both worlds. You look different than one-half of your family, you don’t always speak the same languages (metaphorically and literally), you feel like you’re constantly having to explain yourself and pick a side. You’re expected to do everything and nothing all at the same time and to give in to one-half of yourself is to deny the other. And since my usual outlet for self-discovery is through mediums like films and television shows, I am always on the lookout for a protagonist who deals with these same issues.
When I began bingeing Black-ish about a year ago on Hulu, I came across the episode titled “Being Bow-Racial” which centers around Tracee Ellis Ross’ character Bow, struggle to come to terms with both of her identities as a black and white woman when her son brings home his white girlfriend. Throughout the episode, Bow goes back through her past to figure out why she feels such hostility toward Junior’s white girlfriend when she herself is half white. The episode shows her at various times in her life trying to fit in with both sides of who she is, and ultimately, after deep self-exploration, she is able to accept herself. Overall, the episode does an amazing job at portraying the identity crisis that constantly encases individuals of multiple races. Just when you think you have it figured out, sometimes you really just don’t know.
Not everyone’s experience will be the same of course, and some will have it much tougher or easier than others, but there are universal themes that most any individual who is of more than one race or ethnicity can relate to. For example, in the episode “Being Bow-Racial” there is a brief flashback scene of Bow as an elementary school student torn over which box to check under the Race/Ethnicity category on her test. Her teacher tells her to check “black” but she doesn’t feel completely comfortable doing so because she feels that disregards an entire part of herself. While my own experience involves being Hispanic and white rather than black and white, I could still completely relate to that situation. When watching this episode for the first time, and that scene specifically, I remember yelling at my TV, “YES. Exactly. Why do we have to pick just one?” It portrayed exactly what it felt like every year to take those standardized test in which you are categorized by only one part of you. You’re usually told to pick what you look like, but never to pick all that you actually are.
Therefore, from a storytelling perspective, films and TV shows surrounding multi-racial/ethnic individuals have the potential to provide great material for all sorts of genres and for all types of audiences. At the end of the day, these stories really come down to a matter of identity crisis and self-discovery amongst individuals, which is something that almost everyone has gone through in some form, even if it didn’t pertain to their culture. To be able to explore the experience that comes with being born into more than one culture on-screen, however, is something very powerful, especially to those individuals who live it every day. Eventually, maybe, as more stories of interracial relationships are being brought onto the scene, perhaps more filmmakers will be able to dive further into stories of what it’s like to live as a bi-racial or multi-ethnic child. Maybe in doing so, it will help make the still somewhat “taboo” idea of interracial and inter-ethnic relationships a little more accepted, while also making a significant difference in the lives of multiracial children (of all ages) to see themselves reflected and understood in their favorite mediums. And perhaps then will society begin to see us as whole people made up of different cultures, rather than constantly forcing us to choose a side.