Before I delve into what I hope is constructive criticism of Christian media, I want to say that I am thrilled on how far Christian media has come. The choices for Christian families on movies, print media, and radio has increased significantly since I was a child. My children have access to Christian apps which in my view is one of the coolest things. These are things that were non-existent when I was a kid. However, despite my gratitude at the expansion and growth in Christian entertainment and educational tools, I do want to call attention to a problem I do not believe is getting enough attention; that is the continued use of mostly Caucasian people and culture to represent characters, whether in movies, cartoons, or print media. I don’t want to belittle the willingness and the heart that our Caucasian brothers and sisters have put into making better Christian productions, much of which has been spirit inspired, but this is an area that we can do better and I believe that for the sake of the gospel, we must do better.
My eyes were opened to this issue only recently despite my Latin American origins. For many years I was oblivious to the issues that dark skinned people face because frankly, I am pretty light skinned. As is common for most Hispanics, I have both European and indigenous blood running through my veins. Because the European side dominates I am what many of my family members would call me, “blanquita,” that is white. But I married a tall, dark, and handsome Puerto Rican and our first child is dark skinned, just like her daddy. My second child was born looking more like me with much lighter skin than her sister and upon her birth, I heard words that stung. Family members would comment on how beautiful and “blanquita” she was. The implications behind those comments hurt because I knew that not one of those people had ever said about my first child, “Look how beautiful and dark she is.”
Fast forward several years later my oldest daughter asked me a question that unsettled me more than those insensitive comments by family members. While watching a Christian cartoon on an app, my dark-skinned child asked, “Mom, why are there no people in this show that look like me? Why are there no people with dark skin?” The implication behind my daughter’s questions was this, “Isn’t the Christian message for people like me as well?” It broke my heart to think how excluded my child must have felt at that moment from Christianity. It hurt because I knew that Christ meant for his sacrifice to be for all people regardless of their background or race.
The cartoon that my child was watching was a re-telling of a Bible story in the Old Testament. It is an illustration that could have been made to look historically accurate, but it was not. It is more likely that most of the people in the Bible were dark-skinned because of the geographical region of where most Bible events took place. Therefore it only only makes sense to try to portray them as such and not continue this habit of making them Caucasian. As Christians, our reasons for doing so should go beyond any social justice cry to do so. We are called to share the gospel with all peoples and if that is our purpose, why do we continue to exclude so many from the images that we portray and the stories that we tell?
Just by sticking to historical and cultural accuracy of Biblical accounts, we will appeal to much larger audience than is currently the case. And if we portray a fictional story or an event, let’s tell the story of Hispanics, or Indians, or Native Americans or African Americans or Asians that are Christians. This also means that more Christians from different racial and cultural backgrounds need to step up to the plate. We need to tell our stories and have movies, and books, and magazines, and apps that represent our cultures and our race and the way we look. Not for our sake, but for the sake of the audience. I know that if my child who has had very little experience with racism and and has been raised in a Christian home could feel so excluded, it makes me wonder how other non-Caucasian children feel to hardly ever be represented within Christian media?
In I Corinthians 9:20-22 Paul tells us:
“And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became as I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
If our goal is to spread the gospel to all peoples, then we need to do a better job of representing different cultures within Christian media. Kudos to those outlets that are making an effort in this area, and there are definitely some that are. However, in general, we need to be more intentional about it because in large part, we are ignoring the nations. Paul may not had had print media, nor cartoons, nor movies, but in the most basic sense, he understood that he had to conform to the culture of the people that he was reaching in order to appeal to them. If we want to reach more than just the Caucasian population, then we need to re-think how we are going to portray the Christian message through images. Those images need to speak to people and children of different backgrounds and say, “Yes, Jesus died for you too.”