It is said that representation is power, but what happens when others hold the means of production of our representation? What does it mean when Mr. Yunioshi of Breakfast at Tiffany’s lives on through the mass media’s commodification of William Hung? What can we conclude about the way in which the exotic “Orient” still finds its way into so many facets of everyday life, from food to casinos to pornography? America has come a long way in the last hundred years, but still has an even longer way to go as the same subordinating stereotypes and perceptions are reproduced over and over in the media.
One actress is proving the possibilities of a more socially conscious entertainment industry with each episode, movie, and production she partakes in. An actress, writer, and producer, Reena Dutt currently stars in The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else and has also appeared in movies, on television, as well as the theatrical stage. For Dutt, acting and film are powerful mediums for social activism and the chance to participate within these arts are not to be taken for granted.
“The more exposure we have to diversity, the more diverse people there are working behind the scenes, the more inclusive all these projects will become in normalizing what once was ‘foreign’,” said Dutt. “It really struck me that if we all did our part to normalize each other’s representation in the media, things will move along a lot faster.”
Dutt believes that diversity has come a long way in the arts and is perpetually changing.
“Even if the community is poorly represented in one project, at least they ARE represented which creates an awareness that we can build on, and hopefully a dialogue driven by someone with a strong opinion, said Dutt. “We went from Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Masi Oka in Heroes. Regardless of one’s opinion of quality, in a span of 40 years, things have vastly changed and they will continue to change.”
This passion for social activism stems from a conviction in the potential impact of the arts. According to the actress, the screen and stage are more than forums for entertainment and commodification.
“I love the idea that film/television, and now new media, allow artists in all capacities to explore situations or share experiences they wouldn’t otherwise be able to share without face-to-face contact with another human being,” said Dutt. “It’s another form of storytelling, and for me, acting is exploring people and situations that I am not familiar with.“
Currently, Dutt stars in a new web series, The Real Girl’s Guide to Everything Else, a show about a group of women of diverse personalities and their experiences dealing with their intersecting identities of gender, sexuality, and race.
“The thing about the series that truly sparks my interest is that the entire project normalizes diversity on so many levels – ethnic, sexual and gender,” said Dutt. “It surpasses the idea of stereotypes and shows the characters as fully developed people that are not limited to their backgrounds at birth.“
While bringing complexity to bodies that are all too often stereotyped, Dutt is also proud of the show’s ability to entertain its audiences.
“Even more exciting is the project gives our audience something to laugh at while they are learning about different people and lifestyles, without becoming a preachy educational tool.” said Dutt.
This multi-talented artist embodies the qualities of a role model for anyone in the arts. However, she has not gotten to where she is without her own inspirations. Among her role models are Judd Apatow, Mindy Kaling, and Salma Hayek.
“They all have stuck to who they are, their vision, their message, their personalities, their sense of humor, etc. and made things happen for themselves” said Dutt. “They haven’t cheated their own vision through this whole process, and have ultimately become writers, performers and/or producers, creating work they personally believe in.”
Not only has this actress, producer, and activist learned from her role models, her most important pieces of wisdom may have come from her experiences working in the industry.
“I had a day job as an assistant to a celebrity a few years ago, and she told me something that will always stick in my mind,” said Dutt. “Put your heart into it, love what you do, work hard, give the pursuit 100% effort, and everything else will follow.”
Dutt embodies a passionate artist who is convicted of the social and political power of the arts and challenges the subordinating perception of minority identities everyday. While there is still a long way to go, Dutt’s work suggests that the future looks hopeful.