The Weighty Viewership of the Marginalized

It was  announced earlier in the season that Fox’s freshman action/sci-fi drama Minority Report, starring Megan Good and Wilmer Valderrama, had their recently ended season order cut down to ten episodes. For those of us who are all too familiar with the drama that comes with liking a show with a small fan base – tracking Nielson ratings, analyzing timeslots, full seasons vs. shortened seasons – a truncated episode order after only a handful of airings is a well-spotted nail in the  proverbial coffin. For many fans the loss would not only feel premature, but like the death of a concept that many sci-fi fans of color have been longing for: a decent science fiction program that featured well-rounded characters that looked like them. It seemed like Minority Report wants to deliver, even as the numbers reflected a dwindling viewership.

As a person who still hasn’t found a deep, sustaining love for sci-fi just yet (with the exception of a few shows and comics), I never made it a priority to watch this show. In all honesty, it didn’t seem like something that I would actively seek on my own, even though I did spot consistent support through the show’s vocal fanbase. I did, however, make a promise to myself to give the show a chance whenever I had a free moment, as I often do with many other shows (like Quantico!). I still plan to, even if the ten episodes are all we’ll likely get.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little guilty. I harbor enough common sense and humility to know that the fate of this show doesn’t rest on my very unimportant shoulders, nor is it my responsibility to advocate, advertise, or recruit. I do, however, take it upon myself to vocalize my love for the entertainment that I do support and I’ve managed to lead plenty of people, friends and acquaintances alike, to shows and artists that they now consider favorites. Why couldn’t I have done that for this particular show? Did my lack of diligence contribute, in some very small way,  to its downfall? Knowing the exclusive climate of Hollywood, as well as the probability that we won’t see a show like this again for some time, should I have prioritized it a little higher than my stable, successful favorites?

It sounds silly because it is. Nobody should blindly support something out of a nonexistent sense of obligation and unless they have a major platform, it’s difficult for one person to sway viewership significantly in one way or the other. Despite all of that, many still feel this way, including me.

It’s easy to find yourself on the other side of matters, as well. Upon my first viewing, Beyond the Lights instantly become one of my favorite films and I found it very easy to get upset with the modest box office turnout. Isn’t this what so many of us who long for representation in the romance genre wanted: complex leads of color in love? Why didn’t we collectively put our money where our mouths were? I was very upset because us romance fans of color finally got the movie we’ve been asking for and, from my limited view, we didn’t show up.

It took me a while to spot the hypocrisy laced throughout my disappointment. I had to remind myself of my reaction when I first saw the trailer for the film. As I watched with my husband, we both came to the conclusion that this film about a pop star finding real love in a police office felt like a modern day retelling of The Bodyguard, which didn’t pique either of our interests. I had no solid plans to see it until I noticed a very emphatic endorsement from ReBecca Theodore-Vachon, a film and television critic whose opinion I value greatly. Now I can’t imagine a time when I actually had no interest in such a gorgeous film, especially one helmed by the incomparable Gugu Mbatha-Raw. I’m certain that there are scores of people who saw the same advertising that I did, came to similar preconceived notions, and didn’t have the luxury of being glued to their Twitter timeline long enough to have their misconceptions addressed. A person can’t be faulted for simply not being interested (I’d be remiss to add, however, that if you are one of those people who saw the commercials and decided to pass, PLEASE RECONSIDER. Beyond the Lights is currently streaming on Netflix).

Being a viewer who wishes to be represented more in the entertainment they consume can be tough. On one hand, we understand that these shows, films, books, plays, podcasts, and comics can only survive with consistent support. Also, if these mediums seem like they want to deliver something that we can possibly connect with, then great! Let’s hope that they get the support they need to continue to provide a product that’ll make people happy. On the other hand, the limited time that we are able to devote to leisure should be spent on things that we find enjoyable. Sometimes the two concepts don’t intersect and when they don’t, we’re then faced with a unique problem: instead of the studios and creators taking a moment to reflect on how they can improve their efforts on the next project, us – the marginalized audience – are essentially punished in the long run.

Did that femme-centric movie flop? What a shame. We just won’t allow another woman to direct it the next time around.

Was the Black, Latinx, or Asian moviegoer turnout low for this particular action endeavor? Okay. Let’s whitewash the next few films and meet the resulting outcries of dissent with a shrug and half-mumbled terms like “marketability” and “funding.”

Did that sci-fi show not draw in the diverse demographic that we hoped for? It must be because Black people don’t like science fiction. We’ll just leave them out next time.

The underrepresented are rarely given the benefit of the doubt and it shows throughout the Hollywood trends. For every chance we’re afforded, white male audiences are given hundreds. It’s shitty. It’s also very difficult not to internalize to some degree. It’s what pushes us to believe that it’s our “duty” as [insert here: women, feminists, Black people, LGBTQIA, etc.] to support the few efforts there are to feature or include us, whether they truly appeal to our interests or not. In addition, it’s often the driving force behind those who feel qualified enough to command support from others within their demographic (“It’s your duty as a feminist to see Trainwreck!”). Our support comes with an expectancy of labor unlike that of the predominantly white and/or male audience. It once again puts us on unequal footing with the rest of consumers because if that effort bombs, it’s typically assumed that we didn’t put in the “necessary work” to keep it alive. When you don’t  have to really worry about seeing yourself reflected in media, you’re rarely blamed when one example doesn’t do well.

While I would love to be arrogant enough to claim that I have widely suitable answers for all of this, I don’t. Besides, the onus falls on Hollywood to churn out quality projects that are truly inclusive. I’ll only suggest that we keep our eyes open for the things that interest us and make some sort of attempt to give it a fair shake, whether that means tuning in or seeking out reviews from trusted critics. If we like what we see, then hopefully it’s good enough to inspire us to spread the word. As a viewer, any additional campaigning that you feel like committing to is entirely up to you (and appreciated).

However, if that show or movie tanks, just know that the figurative blood of a dead production is not on your hands, nor your screen. It’s okay to say “I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but it’s just not for me.”

 

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