Sunday Musings: Representation Matters
More than once here at BiblioSanctum, I have complained about or praised a book for its lack of or inclusion of diverse characters. I write reviews where I am compelled to point out where diversity shines or fails. Why? Because I can’t help but notice it.
Because it matters to me.
It matters to me that I’ve spent much of my childhood rarely seeing myself as the hero. I love Luke Skywalker, but why does he and people who look like him get to save the galaxy while people who look like me get left at the wayside, or worse?
“When I go to the movies, read books or comics, or watch television shows, I am acutely aware of the fact that I rarely survive apocalypses, I’m the first to die — especially if I get a close up, it’s unrealistic to have me live in the same part of town as dragons. I am a slave, a thug, a maid. I’m just a token, a sidekick, maybe even an exotic girlfriend.”
I wrote that after seeing the movie Annie with my daughters–a film I was determined to take them to the second I could because here was a chance for them to see themselves on the big screen and know that they could have a happy ending too. “She looks like us,” they said, the first time they saw the trailer. I’ll joke about the many, many tropes that exist in the various forms of media I partake of when it comes to people of colour. I’ll laugh about the thesaurus GRRM undoubtedly consults when he wishes to describe the people from the other side of his world in Game of Thrones.
But when I heard my children say those words, I burst into tears. That’s how much it meant to me that my daughters could see themselves in the hero portrayed on the big screen. Because, lucky for them, they are still young and naive and innocent and have not yet come across those who would rather reduce or erase their presence with completely ridiculous excuses like “historical accuracy.” Historical accuracy my ass. And while you’re at it, writers, do your research and learn that women can exist in historical fantasy without rape being your go to method of dealing with them.
Yeah it makes me a little angry, these excuses that try to tell marginalized groups what our place is and should be in society thanks to a complete lack of empathy from those who make the excuses. The lack of understanding when LGBTQ groups protest Another Dead Lesbian, or Black people have to explain why “#AllLivesMatter” is part of the problem, or queers, women, or PoCs need campaigns to let their voices be heard, or PoCs ask why characters of their own culture are replaced by others, or their entire culture is appropriated for the sake of entertainment. Discarded. Set aside. Refrigerated in order to advance the main character’s story. A main character who isn’t us.
Oh yes, times, they are a’changing. But not fast enough to truly represent the society we live in now. Now kids can look up to Rey and Finn as their heroes in the new Star Wars, but we still have to fight to keep heroes of a different shade and gender and ability and sexuality in the spotlight and explain that diversity is not a “trend.”
Representation means something different to each of us, but by no means are we saying that Luke Skywalker doesn’t deserve to be the hero that he has been to so many. It just means that we’d like to see him share that spotlight. It means we want to be the hero too.