Currently Cultured: A Win for The Virgin and The Marginalized | The Golden Globes 2015

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Did you guys watch the Golden Globes on Sunday?

A few friends and I sat around the TV with snacks and wine, cheering on our favorite contenders and wishing Amy and Tina could steal all of the airtime they were so compliantly sharing.

Earlier this year, I dove headfirst into the subject of pop culture, following the Internet’s commentary of it all which made watching the Golden Globes this year infinitely more fun. For better or worse (and it does get worse), pop culture is an integral cog in the engine of our social atmosphere. It’s influences creates narratives for the stories we internalize. I’ve grown more aware at how uniquely important these messages in shaping our experiences and ultimately, what kind of lives we believe are possible for ourselves.

My favorite winner at the Golden Globes this year was 30-year-old Chicagoan, Gina Rodriguez, who recognizes both her responsibility to these messages and the privilege she has in being a part of their craftsmanship. I enjoy the divinely original plot line of the tv show she stars in, CW’s Jane The Virgin, and the relationships that unfold among her Latino TV family are often reminiscent of my own. This familiarity is a unique thing to experience while watching American television.

Rodriguez’s award acceptance speech brought an added level of kinship as she acknowledged a community of Latino actors often stereotyped into maids, lawn care specialists, and trophy wives, as ones who deserve to be cast as the heroes of their own stories.

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In her role as Jane the Virgin, Gina Rodriguez has pioneered the story of a young woman who is thrust into a life-altering situation and consistently succeeds in her own way beyond it. She’s feisty, endearing and above all, vulnerable with the full experience that her character would journey – Making Jane the Virgin not only a delight to watch but also, an intensely personal character. Which one of us hasn’t had a dream diverged in our twenties? Maybe not due to being accidentally artificially inseminated (….) but a dissatisfying job, or health concern, or cross-country move. Jane the Virgin suggests that one can navigate life’s uncertainties with honesty and a steadfast commitment to one’s own dreams, even if those dreams change along the way. This is a message worth carrying into homes across the country and a character worth watching which leads me to the point that, whether they are familiar to my own experience or not, trailblazers in television matter.

There is no clearer example of this than in that of Nichelle Nichols’ breakthrough role as Lieutenant Uhura, the communications officer on the original 60’s Star Trek television series.

Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols was one of the first African-American women to be cast in a role beyond the stereotypes available to women of color at the time. She considered leaving Star Trek after one season and changed her mind upon meeting Martin Luther King Jr. who praised her character and urged her not to “abdicate her position.” Nichols remembers King pointing out to her that she was, “changing the minds of people across the world, because for the first time, through you, we see ourselves and what can be.” Rodriguez shared a similar sentiment with Buzzfeed news decades later when she said, “If you start to see yourself in the worlds of television and film and on billboards and in magazines — everything we’re driven by as a culture and a society — you start to think, ‘Why not me?’” And this adage remains true.

Nichols continued her role on Star Trek and in 1968, shared what is remembered in history as the first inter-racial kiss on national television, merely ten years after Richard and Mildred Loving were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman to travel in space, praised Nichols as one of her role models and said it was Nichols’ representation of her likeness on on Star Trek that she lead her to believe she too could orbit space someday.

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I would be amiss not to mention Laverne Cox, an American actress and pop culture favorite best known for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on the Netflix original Orange is the New Black, for which she became the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy in an acting category. This milestone occurred merely four months prior to 15-year-old Leelah Alcorn’s suicide – Which Leelah explained in her last blog post that she was driven to by the pain of growing up in a community lacking acceptance towards transgender individuals. Laverne Cox has spoken openly about Leelah’s untimely passing, acknowledging the power that representation has for young adults in relieving the burden of their differences.

It is my hope to live in a world where media reflects the myriad of opportunities available to the diverse. What would we learn about one another in watching the experiences of people different from ourselves play out on screens in front of us – That they are human? That they are exceptionally talented? That our capacities for loss and for love are not unique to one race, orientation, or gender? The spectrum of representation I am imagining may not happen anytime soon, but if the Golden Globes (which brought attention to the issues explored in Transparent, Selma, and The Normal Heart) is any indicator of trend, I’ll keep watching until it does.

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