Whether it’s clamor for a healthy same-sex relationship or demands for more people of color, you’ll often see people asking for better representation on TV and other media forms. These calls are completely valid because there have been countless times I had to watch something solely focusing on the reused, cliché narratives of the majorities, but barely remember the instances wherein I’ve seen myself and stories like mine on screen. However, I’m lucky enough to find some exceptions. In no particular order, here are five of my favorite remarkable minority female characters.
Amy Santiago, Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Melissa Fumero)
It’s common knowledge that Brooklyn Nine-Nine is God’s gift to humanity. With whip-smart jokes that aren’t at the expense of anyone, well-written scripts, personalities like Mark Hamill and Lin Manuel-Miranda demanding that the short-lived cancellation of the series be reversed, and unique scenes that set the show apart, the “B99 is so underrated” tweets weren’t lying at all. One of the aspects that make the show remarkable is the characters that breathe life into it. Probably the best example would be Amy Santiago, the 99th Precinct’s driven and meticulous sergeant. Though she’s seemingly the dead serious antithesis of goofy detective Jake Peralta, she quickly captures the hearts of many, including his. Santiago takes pride in both her ambition and nerdiness, making her a role model for girls of all ages.
Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, again (Stephanie Beatriz)
In case you didn’t get the memo, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is that great of a series that you don’t get just one, but two women of color to idolize! Rosa Diaz comes off as the witty motorcycle-riding, leather jacket-wearing badass trope embodied by a Latina at first sight and you’ll eventually find yourself switching between “God, she’s scary” to “I want her to run me over with her motorcycle!” more times than you could ever expect. However, underneath that tough and cold exterior lies an undiscovered soft side solely reserved for her closest friends. As secretive and aloof she may appear, there are numerous times where she’s portrayed as empathetic and supportive. Did I mention that she has one of the best coming out arcs on TV?
Diane Nguyen, Bojack Horseman (Alison Brie)
When people claim that 13 Reasons Why is a good portrayal of mental illness, I become the Will Smith showing off his wife meme, but instead of Jada Pinkett Smith, it’s the animated Netflix original Bojack Horseman. It chronicles Bojack and his friends’ misadventures, their character development (or lack thereof), and tackles taboo issues like Hollywood’s sexual misconduct, depression, mental illnesses, existential crises, feminism, and a lot more without showing unnecessary and triggering scenes solely for shock value. However, we won’t be focusing on Bojack here. The spotlight is shining on one of the few human leads on the series, Vietnamese-American (ghost)writer Diane Nguyen. A bookish third-wave feminist with an unsupportive family, Diane is usually aloof and enveloped in writing, but makes bold stances and ensures that her voice is heard when she feels it’s necessary. Diane, with her multifaceted personality and character arcs that make you empathize with her, is a realistic and well-developed character you can’t help but admire.
Zoë Rivas, Degrassi: The Next Class (Ana Golja)
For those of you who don’t know, Degrassi is a Canadian franchise that has spawned different installations of TV series throughout generations. It is the longest-running Canadian drama, with over 600 episodes throughout all its incarnations. Degrassi can be considered a pioneer of teen dramas, especially due to the way they tackle and talk about taboo issues other shows would usually shy away from. Zoë is first introduced in the Next Generation series, but I only get to know her in the franchise’s latest installation, The Next Class. Played by Canadian actress Ana Golja, Zoë Rivas embodies the HBIC trope at first sight, but her character becomes stronger, more empathetic, and more accepting of her homosexuality throughout TNG and TNC’s run. A sexual assault survivor and a victim who overcame the compulsive heterosexuality her homophobic mother has forced onto her for far too long, Degrassi’s Class of 2016 Valedictorian and Student Council President is the epitome of a character that’s been through enough and deserves better.
Elena Alvarez, One Day at a Time (Isabella Gomez)
Last but definitely not the least is the protagonist of Netflix’s original dramedy based on Norman Lear’s 1975 series with the same name. One cannot possibly find enough words to appreciate and describe the legend that is Elena Alvarez. Growing up in a Cuban household with her mother, grandmother, and younger brother, Elena is an outspoken activist eager to let the world know what she has to say. Late in season one, she comes out as gay to her family and is accepted by everyone except her estranged father (at first). Though she doesn’t speak Spanish and has relatively fairer skin than most of her family members (hence, the “Blanquita” and “wonder bread” nicknames), Elena takes pride in her Cuban culture. As a gay Latina, Elena is seen facing struggles and prejudice, overcoming them, and further endearing the audience that’s been rooting for her since the beginning. Minus the Cuban roots, watching Elena Alvarez onscreen makes me feel like I’m staring at my own reflection.
There is a tinge of tragedy and a dose of wonder in the fact that I and probably dozens of other people have to go looking for stories like ours in places we’ve probably never been to. My country’s (the Philippines) media fails to represent me and tell stories that resonate with me and other minorities, making me dive head first into foreign entertainment. None of the aforementioned characters share my nationality, ethnicity, or race (probably with a slight exception of Diane Nguyen), but I still see more aspects of me in them than the characters from my local TV series. More often than not, people think that representation is only limited to race and skin color, and while those are important factors, young women in minorities need more multifaceted characters with relatable personalities that go beyond the stereotypical archetypes that have been recycled countless times.
All series mentioned above are available on Netflix.