From Shadow to Spotlight: Minoritarian Characters, Representative Failures, and High School Powerarchy in Teen Television
Year of Graduation
Level of Access
Restricted Access Thesis
Department or Program
Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies
This thesis examines representations of girlhoods of color and their character networks in contemporary teen television, which at first glance seem to be radically reinventing the script for minority representation today. They engage in feminist discourse, use social justice-oriented discourse in their scripts, and include more people of color, queer, and disabled people in their casts. Despite these television shows’ attempts to be subversive by representing diverse and seemingly intersectional networks, they are often caught providing ornamental diversity, wherein the presence of non-normative characters does not automatically qualify the show as sensitive to race, gender, and sexuality stereotypes. Focusing on two contemporary teen television shows: Glee (2009-2015) and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018-2020), I examine and deconstruct the gender, sexual, and racial power hierarchies present in these shows, and explore how these diverse networks are informed by ideologies of white supremacy and heteronormativity. I highlight how racial-minoritarian characters are almost always resigned to the status of secondary character, kept in place behind their white, cishet counterparts. I also offer strategies on how to examine character networks present in teen television, and I expand upon the critical, reparative, and political possibilities of developing relationships with fictional characters who embody minoritarian subjectivities.
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