How TV, Movie, and Book Characters Have Influenced Gen-Z

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UPR chapter.

Everybody knows that generations are ever changing and their limits cannot be established to a T. Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, also known as Zoomers, iGeneration, centennials, ect., are the generation of those between the late nineties and the early 2010’s. Some say they start in 1995 or 1997 and that they end in 2012 or 2015. This generation has been marked by many things, like the Great Recession, war, and technology. This article will discuss the influence TV series, movies, and books have had on the personality, fashion, thinking, and overall social presentation of Gen Z.

As a proud ‘04 baby, I can say that our generation’s wit, irony, sarcasm, dark humor, among other personality traits, has led us to be a generation that cares about what is going on in the world and is determined to change the status quo, in topics that can range from politics to the perception of sexuality and gender. Gen Z is determined and promises to be a generation for the history books.


Our mindsets are largely a product of the characters on screen and in books that we’ve grown up admiring. For example, Alex Russo from Wizards of Waverly Place perfectly captures the wit, sarcasm, and main character energy that Gen Z denotes as iconic. The way she turns conversations around in her favor and wants was always captivating to see, like in the scene where Zeke (Justin’s best friend) says “I’m not leaving here until you like me,” and, in true Gen Z fashion, Alex responds, “Well, I’m not gonna like you until you leave.” While past generations may take this as mean and inhospitable behavior, considering they were in her house, Gen Z took inspiration from that to become people with no space for nonsense and that will not succumb to ultimatums. She is effortlessly funny and unapologetic about going after what she wants even if it affects her or those around her.

Similar to Alex Russo, Gen Z was OBSESSED with Jade West from Victorious. She was truly before her time, having embodied the Gen Z mindset as early as 2012. Starting with what we know of her childhood, it was not an extremely happy one. Unfortunately, like a lot of Gen Z kids who were raised by Gen X parents, Jade’s parents are divorced. In her Slap videos we learn that she tends to go against them a lot. For example, piercing her nose and eyebrow 45 minutes after her mom told her not to, and following her dreams of becoming a director and screenwriter, even though her father doesn’t believe in her. We can also see her relationship with her father and her childhood in her relationship with Beck. They argue a lot and she is sensitive to anyone but her boyfriend touching her (and Tori, but Nickelodeon didn’t have the gall). Another moment I personally love about Jade is that she is honest to her core with everyone but herself. Like in saying her iconic quote “Tori’s not my friend, I only tolerate Robbie, no one likes Trina, and Cat’s basically a pet.” Interestingly, she doesn’t consider the people she regularly hangs out with as her friends. While it is made clear throughout the show that she loves Beck, she still doesn’t express her feelings outright much, all because she is afraid to be abandoned again. Jade West was respected, albeit by fear, and much like Alex Russo, she never let anyone push her around, an attitude that strongly impacted a generation to never let anyone push them around either.

Blair Waldorf and Serena Van Der Woodsen, the iconic characters from the series Gossip Girl, have also left an undeniable lasting impact on Gen Z. Before millennials pass out, I would like to remind you that, while we might not have been old enough to watch it while it was airing on TV, thanks to Netflix, most of our generation has watched and loved Gossip Girl. These fictional Upper East Side socialites became symbols of upper-class glamor with a perfect combination of elegance and rebellion. We all yearned for a taste of that luxurious lifestyle, with exclusive parties, designer wardrobes, and even the oh-so complicated relationships. We strived to have their independence, confidence, and drive to chase their dreams and protect their friends, even if they were pissed at them. Blair’s shrewdness and determination encouraged us to embrace our ambition and be unapologetic while chasing what we want. Meanwhile, Serena’s charisma and star power showed us the importance of staying true to ourselves amidst social expectations, and that redemption is always possible. These two VERY complicated best friends have overcome mutual treason, trials against people who wished to see them collapse, and a boy from Brooklyn who almost ended the Upper East Side in its entirety. They taught us to strive for success, embrace individuality, protect our friends, and always look impeccable while doing it. My favorite blonde and brunette left an undeniable mark on the values and aspirations of this generation.

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Continuing with movie characters, I have to start with Sharpay Evans from the High School Musical franchise. While Disney tried to make us believe she was the villain of the story, I always saw her as an example of perseverance. Sure she was kind of mean, but she had every right to be. Her theater program had been overtaken by jocks and nerds who never in their life wanted to pursue theater like she did, she was robbed of the lead role in the musical because of a girl who was late to auditions and stole the boy she was after, and her family vacation spot was also ransacked by the Wildcats, a group of jocks she wasn’t even a fan of. Through all of this, she was the epitome of confidence, ambition, and unapologetic self-expression. She captivated us with her larger-than-life personality and a fashion sense too good for the 2000s. Sharpay became a role model for us to embrace our individuality and pursue our dreams without fear or hesitation. This blonde bombshell taught our generation the importance of being true to oneself, even in the face of adversity, and highlighted the power of determination. She instilled in us a sense of empowerment and inspired us to break free from societal norms to fully embrace our unique talents and aspirations. Finally, through Sharpay Evans, Gen Z learned that success is not solely defined by conformity, but by embracing their authenticity and pursuing their passions with unwavering dedication.

If there was ever a character that I associated with my childhood it is Donna Sheridan from Mamma Mia, or as 7-year-old me liked to call her, the Dancing Queen. Portrayed by Meryl Streep, Donna Sheridan embodies a sense of independence, resilience, and woman empowerment. She was my first example of a free spirit, whose main goal in life was happiness. Donna’s life, having carved her own uncharted path, inspired Gen Z to wholeheartedly embrace their individuality and fearlessly chase their dreams. Her story acts as a poignant reminder that life is meant to be lived to the fullest, that the road to success may sometimes be paved with mistakes, and that true happiness lies in unapologetically embracing our true selves. Her character has left an indelible mark on Gen Z, instilling in us the confidence to take risks, urging us to recognize our inner strength, and teaching us to never be afraid to dance to the beat of our own unique drum. In a world that often pressures young people to conform, Donna’s influence encourages them to break free from societal norms, to be true to who they are, and to embrace their own individuality. Through her story, she has become a beacon of hope for Gen Z, guiding us on a journey of self-discovery, personal growth, and unwavering self-belief.

The final movie that I will be discussing is Lemonade Mouth. With this musical I can’t just choose one character because the core five represented many things that can be seen in Gen Z. For those that lived under a rock, in 2011, Disney released the musical film Lemonade Mouth, which follows five high school students (Olivia, Ren, Mo, Stella, and Charlie) who form a band to express their frustrations and fight for the students that were outcasts at their school. Each character represents different aspects and problems Gen Z kids deal with, from teenage rebellion to identity exploration. The film offered a powerful message of unity, encouraging young people to embrace their unique voices and stand up for what they believe in. This resonated deeply with Gen Z, who grew up in a time marked by social and political upheaval. Lemonade Mouth empowered and inspired young people to find their voices and break societal molds. Its impact can be seen in the various youth-led movements and the rise of outspoken advocates who have emerged in recent years, focusing on issues such as climate change, racial justice, and LGBTQ+ rights. The characters and story of Lemonade Mouth have undoubtedly left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of Gen Z, reminding us of the power we hold to change the world.

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Hermione Granger, one of the main characters in the Harry Potter series, has had a significant impact on Gen Z. Thankfully one of the kindest characters this generation looks up to, she serves as a role model for many people with her strong, intelligent, and determined nature. Hermione defies many traditional gender roles and stereotypes, encouraging young girls to be unapologetically ambitious and assertive. She shows no shyness in being smart and letting everybody else know it. Although this may come from wanting to prove herself because she is muggle-born (a witch or wizard with non-magical parents), it does not take away from the fact that she is an incredibly smart and studious character that encourages young girls to be the same. Gen Z, who were able to witness her growth throughout the book series and subsequent films, have been inspired by her resilience, loyalty, and the importance she places on friendship. Hermione’s impact on Gen Z can be seen in the increased representation of strong female characters in both literature and media, as this generation strives for equality and empowerment.

I think we can’t possibly talk about books that impacted Gen Z without talking about Percy Jackson. This book series perfectly mixed thrilling plotlines, relatable characters (even though they were demigods), and a clever mix of mythology and modernity. These books fostered in Gen Z a love for reading unlike many others. Personally speaking, these books not only fostered in me a love for reading, but also an interest and appreciation for classical mythology. Through Percy Jackson, a demigod protagonist who navigates the challenges of being both human and divine, Gen Z saw ourselves overcoming adversity, discovering our own strengths, and embracing our unique selves. The Percy Jackson books have sparked discussions on issues such as identity, friendship, and acceptance, all things Gen Z are constantly redefining and protecting.

Finally, I’m wrapping up this article with Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, my favorite book character of all time. Whilst I believe most Gen Z kids probably saw the movies, and while the books themselves are not my favorites, this character fostered in me and many others a revolutionary spirit. I believe this was the first book series that most appropriately captured the Gen Z activism, before Gen Z did it themselves. Katniss shows amazing resilience and determination in her fight against injustice, which is something Gen Z has known for a long time. Because we were born with the privilege of technology and a finer education, we are also the generation that has lived their entire lives at war, plagued by terrorism and a lingering economic recession. Much like Katniss, we have never lived in a world that doesn’t constantly have evil, unlike what our parents and grandparents remember. We all resonate with Katniss’ longing to change the world, challenge authority, advocate for her beliefs, and stand up against oppressive systems. Additionally, Katniss’ representation as a strong, independent female protagonist has empowered young girls, encouraging them to be bold, assertive, and unafraid to break gender norms. By embodying the values and ideals that Gen Z holds dear, Katniss Everdeen has become a symbol of hope and liberation for a generation striving to make a difference.

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In conclusion, characters from TV, movies, and books have had a significant impact on Gen Z. These characters have captured their imaginations, challenged stereotypes, and promoted inclusion and diversity. They have served as role models and given young people the ability to identify and connect emotionally with the stories and characters that have resonated in their lives. Through the influence of these characters, Gen Z has learned important lessons about the world, resilience, and the importance of fighting for what they believe in. Ultimately, characters from TV, film, and books have and will continue to shape Gen Z’s values, attitudes, and perspectives on their way to an uncertain but promising future.

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