Representation. If you were to ask most Swarthmore students what the media we consume is missing, this is most likely what they would tell you. In literature, television shows, and movies, the people we often see are cisgendered, heterosexual, and Caucasian. This leaves a large portion of the population underrepresented. Numerous studies have shown that a lack of media representation is harmful to minorities.
“There’s this body of research and a term known as ‘symbolic annihilation,’ which is the idea that if you don’t see people like you in the media you consume, you must somehow be unimportant,” says Nicole Martins of Indiana University.
Hope Darris ̕̕ 21, a prospective anthropology major and talented actress, took the time to explain exactly how important this representation has been in her life. One of the biggest events that Darris has participated in this year was the Revolution Fest, or Rev Fest held on March 3, 2018.
“The arts is such a big part of my life and is such a powerful outlet for me. The Rev Fest was the first time I’d ever got to play the role of a black woman, let alone a queer woman, and it was such a great moment. Even though the play ‘HamLit’, an original play written by Alexis Riddick ̕ 20 and Maya Henry ̕ 20, was only performed at Swat, representation matters so much!” Darris explained. “Whenever I write I just unconsciously write from the point of view [of] a queer black woman, and it feels freeing as those are two aspects of myself that I have struggled to accept.”
“‘HamLit’ was such a fun experience ‘cause as previously mentioned, it was the first time I ever got to play a character so similar to myself,” Darris went on to say about her experience at Rev Fest. “I am honestly so honored to have been part of that production. Horatio was such a badass character who didn’t take shit from anyone. Horatio was a lot braver than I am.”
Darris also went on to discuss how art and representation has affected her throughout all of her life, particulary through the lens of her favorite artist, Amandla Stenberg.
“The reason I love [Stenberg] has more to do with who she is as a person rather than the work that she’s been in. When I was in junior year with chemically damaged hair that I hated so much, she posted this photo where all you could see were the roots of her hair and I just thought it looked so beautiful. It was one of the first times that I saw a black girl in the mainstream media loving and celebrating the aspects of herself that make her black,” Darris shared. “That simple post gave me the courage to chop all my hair off and start natural. Not to mention how she has never seemed to hide from the fact that she’s queer — it has made it so much easier to accept that part of myself.”
Her acting beginnings started when she was a child as well, from her elementary school production of “Cinderella.”
“I’d never seen a school show before, and I begged my mom to let me go, and even though we were an hour late (because I had dance), once I got to my seat I was so moved and amazed by the beautiful costumes, the story and the acting — I knew I had to be a part of it,” Darris said. “So the next year in the third grade, I tried out for the production of “Guys and Dolls” and I got a supporting role, Benny Southstreet, and from that moment on I knew that I had to have acting and theater in my life to some capacity.”
Darris’ stories of art and representation have shaped her not only as an actress but as a person as well. The roles she has played have given Darris confidence and strength in a wide range of circumstances.
“Playing the role of a powerful queer black woman was such an amazing experience and Horatio’s no-bullshit attitude has somewhat shaped how I act now,” Darris said. “In class if a student or prof says something problematic, I just tell myself that Horatio wouldn’t stand for this bullshit and neither should I. So I speak up when usually I would be too scared to.”