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Capturing family life on screen

Kyla Dwyer  |  06 August 2019

From Mary Poppins to The Incredibles, we’ve seen many depictions of family life in movies that centre on an ideal nuclear family – mother, father and children. While these stories can touch many of us, in reality family life can take come in many different flavours, shapes and sizes.

Stories have a way of connecting us with people’s experiences, and bring communities together. If African-Australian families were common fixtures in films and television, perhaps racism would be less prevalent. If low socio-economic families were featured, perhaps more of our community would learn to be compassionate and understanding towards people on the margins.

One of the most popular movies in recent years is Frozen, which features an all-white cast of characters and a typical nuclear family. By simply changing the skin tone of a few significant characters, a film like Frozen could help a young African-American girl to see herself in the film and feel acknowledged. It could help a young white boy to understand that the colour of someone’s skin is inconsequential in determining their character. These children could see that a stereotypical, white, nuclear family is not the norm.

Countless studies have found a link between the diversity shown on television during a child’s development and their willingness to accept those who may be ethnically diverse or come from an unconventional family.

In recent years, Disney is beginning to move towards a greater diversity in its depiction of characters and families; Moana depicted a fierce and loveable Polynesian princess and her family’s customs; The Princess and the Frog features an African-American family and a young woman dreaming of opening her own restaurant; and Maleficent, while targeted at an older audience, demonstrates the importance of found families – those who come together not through biological bonds, but emotional ones. 

These small advances are a good start in helping children across the world to be more open-minded, more accepting and more understanding of the enormous variety of families in our society.

Kyla Dwer of Kilbreda College, Mentone, was one of the student guest editors of the 2019 Australian Catholics Spring edition.


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