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.
I want to say some smart things but, no smart things are coming out
*insert smart thoughtfully placed words*
I accept your thoughtfully placed words 😀
that’s true, we don’t have enough diversity and it’s quite sad in the end to really see that.
This is some heavy stuff for me. It challenges preconceptions that I was not even aware I had. I’ve had serious issues with casting changes that made no sense. “The character was originally (fill in the ethnicity), so why change it?” Never did I consider Iron Fist culture appropriation. Casting people of a different race than the original character didn’t make sense – I was focusing on “Hey, that’s not how the book did it.”
At the same time, I totally see how under-represented minorities have been in films and tv, though things are better now than a couple decades ago. I recall growing up watching westerns where the Native Americans were white guys in bad red makeup. Even as a kid it rang very false to me.
I’m a middle-aged white guy. I’m admittedly on the liberal side of the spectrum, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have those preconceptions I mentioned. Preconceptions that need to be challenged by articles like this. Unlike a good number of people, I’ve learned that things that make me uncomfortable need to studied and not ignored or brushed aside.
I’m all about diversity. I’m against racism, sexism, etc. But that’s the ground floor. What you are talking about is advancing diversity and tearing down the various “isms”. That’s the right direction.
Excellent article. Thanks for writing it. Your daughter is adorable.
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That’s not my daughter, but I’ve got similar pictures of my kids 🙂
Thank you for posting — but most importantly, thank you for listening and considering how this affects the way you have perceived the world. We all have implicit biases and often speak and view things from a place of privilege based on our own experiences — myself included. While I might feel issues of racism and sexism strongly, I am only just learning to better understand how the world appears to someone of disability or of a different ethnicity or of a different sexual identity or physical size. There is so much to learn but the world will be a better place if we are willing to learn and share and work toward a change that reflects who we are as a whole.
Thank you again for reading and sharing your thoughts.
If three years of blogging did one thing for me it was open my eyes to issues of representation. For ever step society makes in the right direction it seems the backlash gets louder (though hopefully coming from an increasingly smaller source). Good post all around.
Are you into musicals at all? The casting of Hamilton is absolutely genius; a mix cast of founding fathers working perfectly. I would be shocked if future showing of it don’t include women in the roles of Washington, Hamilton, and others without missing a beat.
Not familiar with it, but I have heard about it. There certainly are steps forward, but some of those steps have to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t want tokenism. I don’t want appeasement to earn my dollars. I want understanding of why this is how it should be from now on. For that, we still have a long way to go.
I’ve learned to look more critically at what I see on TV (or the movies) thanks to the posts I read over at Fangs for the Fantasy (http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/), which stress the (still far too few) examples of true representation, or condemn the (far too numerous) examples of the bad habits you quoted. Yes, things are changing, keep on changing, but some of those bad habits have deep roots….
Deep roots indeed. There is much digging to do!
Much digging indeed! It’s taken ages for women to be accepted in fantasy books hasn’t it! In fact I’d still say there was a lot of deep seated prejudices about that! So, yeah, still digging…. The other thing that you could add to this is the changing of book covers that then totally misrepresent the character in the book – and what I’m really getting at here is when the cover is changed to a white person when the character in the book is clearly not. WTF – annoying.
Love the pick – I also totally love that film and it just makes me chuckle (or guffaw) like a maniac!
The list of problems is vast. For every person who wants to wave the “but this is diverse” example, you just have to point to oooooh saaaaay Game of Thrones treatment of women and PoCs — which is exacerbated in the television show right there in front of our eyes.
Changing covers upsets me. I love that Goodreads at least lets us choose the cover that appears on our personal choices. I will always hunt for the cover that properly represents the book and get annoyed when I realize that I have to do this in the first place.