guest blog: #FirstTimeISawMe / dushant patel
“This Wednesday, the hashtag #FirstTimeISawMe was doing the rounds on Twitter and it set the tf team abuzz with thoughts. #FirstTimeISawMe is a campaign by Netflix to get people talking about the first time they saw characters they identified with. It exploded on Twitter – a quick search for the hashtag shows an overwhelming majority of tweets from people of colour sharing the characters from TV and film that they first felt a connection with. From That’s So Raven‘s Raven Baxter to Bend It Like Beckham‘s Jasminder Bhamra, the TL was packed with some of the most iconic characters that have graced our screens.
But it also got me asking “Why haven’t I seen myself?”
To start off, I don’t think the meaning of #FirstTimeISawMe is as simple as just seeing a character that looks like yourself on a screen. I think people were tweeting about the first time their lives and experiences were reflected in a character. In a world that’s constantly pretending marginalised people don’t exist in their own stories, it’s easy to see why seeing yourself represented is so important. As important as that is, it’s not something I’ve ever experienced.
Scrolling through the hashtag, I knew I wanted to contribute but also knew I didn’t have any moments like that. So I thought I’d be honest and it turned out that – of all my 92 followers – my colleagues were the first to relate.
My thoughts exactly. For now, I have to make viewing collages/composites. A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
— Natalie Ibu (@NMHIBUIsHere) August 2, 2017
same, out here like pic.twitter.com/sknvvO6Tmk
— Bhavini Goyate (@bhavinigoyate) August 2, 2017
I, like AD Natalie, have had to live a life of mixing and matching multiple characters to make the one who reflects me back to myself. In fact, I’ve done it for so long that I can’t remember the tens of characters my reflection is made of. A lot of the time, I look at a piece of art hoping to find myself in it, but, like Administrator Bhavini, I don’t see anything.
I’m still waiting for it to happen. The closest I’ve gotten is when went to witness Alok Vaid-Menon‘s WATCHING U / WATCH ME. It was an incredible show that spoke to many of the experiences I have as a transfeminine person of Indian heritage, but it wasn’t the first time I saw me. It was somebody else sharing their life on-stage – a life I couldn’t place myself in, even if it holds similarities to my own. We need artists to make work that truly speaks to us, that makes us see every part of us – from our gender to the pace we speak at when we’re nervous. That’s when culture stops failing us.
Yesterday, as we spoke about #FirstTimeISawMe, AD Natalie shared that any attempt she makes at seeing herself in culture means having to ignore one part of who she is for another to be recognised and reflected back to her. That’s a give-and-take we shouldn’t have to make.”
Dushant Patel is tiata fahodzi’s Trainee Audience Engagement Assistant Producer.