When it comes to media and genre entertainment, diversity is more than just a buzzword for audiences and creatives. Allowing marginalized groups a voice and face in movies, comics, and TV shows isn’t just about optics, it’s about representation. When handled correctly, representation lets audiences see themselves in the characters on the screen or page, and allows creatives to give voice to perspectives that have long been neglected in mainstream media. By doing so, it can do what fiction does best—transport us to different places and gives us new viewpoints.
Proper representation does more than just allow fiction to more closely resemble the reality we live in, however. Many times, representation can change lives for the better, sparing people from despair, pain, and even suicide. For those who have never had trouble finding fictional characters that look like them and have the same preferences, it can be hard to grasp. But a little empathy and some personal stories can go a long way to help one understand how representation can save lives.
Alex and Maggie on Supergirl
Ever since Supergirl moved from CBS to the CW, it’s been given new life. The story has shifted, characters have grown, and the show has slowly been telling one of the best coming out arcs in the history of TV. Over the course of several episodes, Supergirl’s sister, Alex Danvers, slowly learned she had feelings for her friend Maggie Sawyer. Even then, she didn't realize she was gay, but soon began facing the truth about herself. The relationship had a rocky start, but it grew organically, with Alex gradually learning who she was and the proudly out Maggie eventually realizing the feelings she had for someone she thought was just a friend. More than just being a refreshing example of a happy gay couple on TV, a medium known for killing queer characters in states of bliss, it’s had a real world impact.
A few months ago, a Twitter thread by Mary Swangin began sweeping the Internet. The owner of a comic book store, she laid out the story of a young girl who came in looking for Supergirl comics. While it’s best to read the thread, the short version is that seeing Alex and Maggie’s relationship unfold and watching the former struggle with her identity helped the young girl better understand her own sexuality. For so long, she had felt lost and scared and was even on the verge of suicide, until she saw Alex’s story and it literally saved her life.
In recent months, the inclusion of gay characters in Beauty and the Beast and Power Rangers has done everything from garnering praise to shocking entire countries, but those movies both failed to actually present a three-dimensional gay character, despite their marketing boasts. Supergirl, meanwhile, quietly unfolded an honest and nuanced portrayal of someone coming out to her family and herself later in her life. And while not all stories will be as cathartic or life-saving as the one Mary shared, humanistic depictions of the LGBTQ community in media can do a lot to teach people acceptance for themselves and others.