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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Representing Lies

I recently watched Amazon MGM Studio’s film The Burial and enjoyed it. While viewing the movie, I wondered if diversity, equity, inclusivity, and accessibility (DEIA) may’ve played a role in casting decisions, as there were subtle tones of anti-white sentiment and overrepresentation of nonwhite characters.

While the charismatic black attorney Willie E. Gary, portrayed by the accomplished Jamie Foxx, is an actual man who worked on a case in the film, his female opponent didn’t actually exist. Unsurprisingly, the intelligent and fierce lead attorney—a black woman who was played by the talented Jurnee Smollett—was a DEIA fabrication.

In an interview conducted by one source, the interviewer asked “Was Willie Gary’s legal eagle nemesis a young female black attorney?” to which Gary replied, “That was made up.” Gary went on to admit that Smollett’s character was actually Richard Sinkfield, a black man.

So, why was Smollett’s character represented by the lie of a black female attorney? According to one source:

The basic definition of representation in the media is simply how media, such as television, film and books, portray certain types of people or communities. There are a number of groups who are underrepresented in most Western media. They include women, people of color, LBGTQA+ people, people with a range of body shapes and types, people of non-Christian religions, and differently-abled people.

Smollett’s character was replaced by a black woman, because of DEIA standards of representation. Per Amazon Studios’ casting requirements:

Certain groups remain largely invisible on screen, particularly characters from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ roles and characters with disabilities.

Shoehorning a woman into a historic role that was actually occupied by a man is an example of representation. It is one thing to race-swap a fictional character, as was the case in The Little Mermaid (2023), though one wonders about lying in regards to actual historical characters.

To use another example, in the biographical drama Hidden Figures (2016), three black women were portrayed as having essentially been the reason why the United States (U.S.) was able to win the Space Race. However, according to one source:

“You might get the indication in the movie that these were the only people doing those jobs, when in reality we know they worked in teams, and those teams had other teams,” author Margot Shetterly explained. “There were sections, branches, divisions, and they all went up to a director. There were so many people required to make this happen. ... But I understand you can’t make a movie with 300 characters. It is simply not possible.”

Lying through representation may simply “feel good,” to borrow an overused and inaccurate colloquialism. If the contributions of white people are something creators of film deliberately want to exclude, then retrofitting the story with nonwhite characters will result.

What does it say about a society in which group X is deliberately excluded while group Y is intentionally included? In the Jim Crow South, group X was represented by black people while group Y concerned whites.

If one is to conclude that discrimination of that era was a moral blight on U.S. history, how is it then acceptable to practice modern day discrimination through representation of group X relating to whites and group Y concerning nonwhites?

One may ask, “Deric, it’s a movie, so why do you care?” I invite people to think critically, challenge their beliefs, and see beyond what they initially observe. Moreover, I don’t consider lying through representation as beneficial to society or individuals.

While I make no demand that sex/gender or race/ethnicity-swapping shouldn’t, mustn’t, or oughtn’t to occur, I do question the utility concerning obvious pandering of this nature. Therefore, I think that deceptive portrayals like Smollett’s character, or those related to Hidden Figures, are disreputable forms of tokenism.

How about you, dear reader? Do you openly practice discrimination in your own life? Does such behavior serve your interests and goals? If not, I may be able to help.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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