Better foster representation on screen starts with more foster experience behind the camera.
Since the beginning of modern entertainment, media production and consumption has shaped personal mindsets, community standards, and societal trends. Throughout its history, Hollywood has also had significant influence over the minds of consumers, wielding its power to shape ideas across the globe.
When it comes to foster representation in media, it’s easy to point out common stereotypes, such as foster youth as troublemakers or foster care as the backstories for adult characters portrayed as drug addicts, criminals, murderers, sex workers, and others. Culturally, we don’t need to stop using these narratives, but rather, we should continue to ensure the diversification of representative stories seen on screen. What’s not often talked about is the transformation taking place in the entertainment industry that, I believe, is the key to healing trauma and bridging our communities in the future.
As new stories are told, the accurate breadth of representation for foster individuals has been advancing. In recent years, there have been great examples of moving the needle forward through mainstream content like The Fosters, Instant Family, and Shazam!.
These stories portray the real humans behind the word “foster” and, in some circumstances, even portray them as the heroes. Furthermore, they are filled with characters that have intersectional identities, motivations, and lifestyles on screen for large audiences, which helps to shift perspectives about our community. Not only do these media projects change the audiences’ mindsets toward foster care by touching the hearts of viewers, but they’re also healing for those with their own experiences in the foster care system as they get to see themselves in the characters on screen.
By the same token, a parallel movement has been growing behind the scenes through initiatives designed to spread positive awareness of foster care, such as Fostermore, a collaborative coalition of media and entertainment entities like Disney/ABC. These initiatives include casting former foster youth in foster roles and consulting with people who have foster experience on relevant projects to accurately represent our community. The most impactful among these initiatives are the foster-specific internships in production, casting, development, and more.
These transformative experiences are designed to increase representation in Hollywood, both on screen and behind the scenes, by allowing those with lived experience to participate in all steps of the creative process. Other programs doing this work include PBS SoCal’s To Foster Change (2016-2020), The Television Academy Foundation’s Foster Forward summer internship positions, Better Youth’s Real to Reel Film Festival, as well as Tiffany Haddish’s She Ready Internship Program with Ready to Succeed. All of these movements represent a fundamental shift in the understanding of the foster community’s place in storytelling, and how we collectively move together into a more diverse representation of the human experience in entertainment.
As a young boy growing up in foster care, I turned to the arts as an outlet for the experiences that I was going through. I began to dream of making it big one day and leaving my circumstances behind. Since moving to LA, I have been able to participate in the majority of these initiatives. I would consider my career and understanding of this industry to be a reflection of the people, productions, and studios that have supported me. I am forever grateful for the opportunities that I’ve been given. My journey shows the promise of these programs — not only for their specific intent, but also for healing.
Growing up in foster care is no easy feat, but, often, those with foster care experience begin to believe the stereotypes they see in the media. I’ve frequently doubted myself and my capabilities, despite the opportunities I’ve had. Nonetheless, with the connections I have made and the skills I have developed, I plan to continue transforming this space for my “siblings” who are currently growing up in the system, alongside those who raised me to be the creative I am. This industry has played a major role in my growth by allowing art to heal me. As I look to the future, I am confident it will do the same for many others.
To the foster youth that want to get into entertainment: In my experience, Hollywood has always been about innovation. At the core of it all, people are really just looking for a good story to tell. Realize that you are worth it and that there are people that do care. This craft has healed me, and it can heal you, too.
This article is published in partnership with the Youth Voice program, which provides writing opportunities to young people across the country with experience in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.