Even in 2017, the market for films with women of color as leads is pretty tricky. Though the past six months have seen a winning streak of films with women of color at their center, such as Hidden Figures and Fences, some argue that even though women of color are getting spotlight, they’re still playing characters in inferior positions. Some have refuted this argument, claiming that any portrayal of blackness on screen is better than no portrayal at all. Still, if film is to have a future, diverse actors and stories need to be put on screen. Enter Everything, Everything.
It’s the film we didn’t know we needed until trailers hit social media earlier this year – an uplifting love story in the midst of trending action and mystery flicks. Stenberg and Robinson’s on-screen chemistry is undeniable, enough to make the audience root for Stenberg’s character Maddy even though half of the things Maddy does – which include jumping off a cliff into the ocean and jumping on a flight to Hawaii – are unrealistic for a girl who hasn’t left her house in over a decade and has the health of a child. Even the most unfathomable scenes still bolster the idea that makes Everything, Everything such a sweet love story in the first place: when you chase who you want or what you want, obstacles and realities become less concerning. Everything, Everything may be guided towards younger audiences but it has an important stake in the future of film. Critics may be quick to set this film aside as a lucky success in teenage love flicks, but when looked at closely, Everything, Everything is actually setting the stage for a much-needed turn in film representation for women of color.
Everything, Everything showcases the bright future for women of color that films covering racism call for. In an age where a ban against Muslim travel is being pushed and unarmed black men are still being killed by police, filmmakers and screenwriters aren’t wrong to publicize stories of discrimination. However, as much as we put out films showcasing discrimination, we also have to put out films showcasing how far women of color have come in American society. We need stories that say that to a degree, the bright future for people of color that films covering racism call for is here. Everything, Everything does this by bringing Maddy’s story to the table – the story of a modern black teen in pursuit of love, happiness, and adventure. Being a woman of color may come with heavy concerns but it also comes with the relatable, lighter situations of adolescence. Most importantly, being a woman of color does involve being happy.
When we avoid happy stories of women of color, we fail to acknowledge the multifaceted reality of modern youth in minority communities. For many communities of color, film representation tends to be more historical than modern. Fences followed a black couple in 1950s Pittsburgh. Hidden Figures followed three black women in 1960s Virginia. This year, Oprah Winfrey played Deborah Lacks in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, based on the woman whose cervical cancer cells helped create an immortal cell line in 1951. Although these stories need to be told, so do the stories of women of color in the 2000s. Being a woman of color isn’t just about knowing our turbulent past and getting others to acknowledge its modern consequences. It’s also about falling in love, coping with overprotective parents, and getting out of your comfort zone – experiences women across ethnic communities experience, and that are shown in Everything, Everything. Black lives matter, and so does black hair, black love, black parenting, and the other lighter topics the phrase embodies.
While it’s good to use film to raise awareness about grievances within communities of color, there’s no reason to close actresses and actors off from the opportunity to play characters that endure experiences that are altogether human. The future of film is diverse, and must have diverse stories too.