For decades, citizens all over the world have fallen in love alongside characters played by Jeniffer Garner, Hugh Grant, Julia Roberts, and Sandra Bullock. We have watched, laughed, and cried to some of our favorite characters spilling coffee onto a stranger's plain white shirt. Since these characters are filled with quirks and flaws, why is it so difficult to find yourself in these films?
The genre of romantic comedy roared for over a decade from the late 1980s to the early 2000s, and it was displayed everywhere. Films such as When You Were Sleeping and 10 Things I Hate About You both came out during the heart of the rom-com boom and show just how popular the idea of unexpected love was at the time. The idea continues on today, seeing as these movies may have sold the public on absurd love stories. However, like most films at the time, they strongly lacked diversity and representation; primarily starring straight, white characters.
The lack of diversity in the film industry is no secret. In more recent years the issue has come to light all over the media, bringing light to the topic. Discrimination in films and entertainment have existed for as long as the industry had a name for itself. The problem is far from new, partly due to the lack of representation. Rom-coms fell out of fashion for almost a decade, but fittingly, the major rom-com nearing the end of the decade was Crazy Rich Asians. The movie made $238 million dollars in the box office, making it a step forward for representation in romantic comedies. And since its release in 2018, streaming platforms such as Netflix have followed along by producing films like the To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before franchise and Always Be My Maybe. According to Scott Meslow, the author of From Hollywood With Love, “A rom-com as successful and enjoyable as Crazy Rich Asians is, undeniably, a major and important step forward. But it’s also just one step forward.”
For as long as rom-coms have made a name in society, they have continuously portrayed a major lack in racial and LGBTQ+ representation. This is not only damaging to younger generations, who still struggle to find themselves in society, but it also reinforces the idea that you must conform to the societal standards of “love”. According to 34th Street, “Hollywood has always systemically underrepresented BIPOC and—even more so—queer BIPOC people. With tactics like whitewashing and a lack of initiative to hire more BIPOC actors in general, Hollywood is still far behind in adequate representation. The United States is an extremely ethnically diverse country, and Hollywood needs to be producing films that reflect this reality.”
Romantic comedies have more of an impact on our day-to-day lives than what’s normally expected from a corny romance film. The part they play in our expectations and satisfaction of our relationships and partners are majorly impactful. According to an article that came out in 2016, “Romantic movies have sidled us with both an intense need for a relationship and unrealistic expectations for these relationships”. One of the most harmful expectations that rom-coms give us is that your partner should know all of your wants and needs before saying them aloud. This idea can stem from movies such as Twilight, Set It Up, Nodding Hill…and basically every rom-com ever made. The expectations we can have are harmful, because in reality, no one can read your mind. It’s up to you to tell your partner what you want from them instead of holding them to unrealistic standards.
So continue to laugh, cry, and cover your face in embarrassment as your favorite characters write cheesy love letters to all of their childhood crushes. But just remember that the story on the screen is far from your reality.