As the debate around writing better diverse characters continues, one group is taking things to heart and refusing to make an effort: white male creators.
Yes, hashtag not all white male creators. Certainly of those refusing to write better diverse characters, they make up the lions share of examples.
Some notable examples include the Game of Thrones writers refusal to accept criticism of the way they wrote the arcs of female characters in S5; notably the gratuitous use of rape from a male character perspective for shock value and an utter lack of examining the female experience apart from… You guessed it: shock value. Some notable critics refused to continue reviewing the show after this.
More recently, Rob Liefeld, Marvel comics artist and creator took to Twitter after NYCC to defend the casting of a white male as Iron Fist because “the character is historically White.” Never mind the numerous fans both White and Non-White saying not making him Asian was a missed opportunity for diversifying the current MCU, Liefeld was adamant in his defense of historical accuracy. His exchanges with fans on Twitter are both smug and extremely blind to his own white privilege. While I think it is a stretch to argue his views are racist, his inability to accept criticism is certainly ignorant. Iron Fist can be whatever race and it’d have no impact on his character! Comics have changed the races and even genders of characters numerous times to positive effect.
While not as controversial, HBO’s new show Westworld also includes gratuitous rape and damsel in distress tropes to fuel its plot. This in spite of being co-written by a woman, Lisa Joy. The show is run and created by her husband, Jonathan Nolan. Variety noted in its review of the show “drama writers continually resort to rape, assault and murder of women to provide inciting incidents, or to make a show seem ‘edgy’ or to ‘raise the stakes'”
That writers continually rely on these tired tropes are precisely why many are so resistant to change. Why change something which works in their mind? Is it lazily employed, sure. But that’s neither here nor there so long as people are consuming your product by watching as viewers. The problem is it is already starting to get tired and thus uninteresting. And as people begin to criticize this style of writing as not only sexist but as lazy that is when writers ought to especially take notice.
Whether a criticism is about the poor portrayal of women or stereotypical portrayal of non-white characters, the reason many may not want to listen is because their job is hard enough. These writers may very well care about diversity, but in practice they don’t make the effort to address criticisms and in fact double down on the use of harmful tropes and stereotypical portrayals because it is what they’ve long gotten away with and made money from. They react defensively because they are merely trying to defend their work against any criticism. If they acknowledge the criticism, they will be expected to make changes and when you’re on deadline and up against a whole host of other more pressing story issues, diversity concerns will always take a back seat.
Is this fair? No. Of course not. It’s not a valid excuse so much as it is the likely one given — at least on a subconscious or internal basis. Writers, producers, creative executives who are largely white and male are probably not going to take the extra step toward assuring that their product is diverse or presents women in a better light. They just want to turn around their projects and sometimes that means hacking the storylines and arcs of its women and POC.
In 2016 this attitude toward defending hack jobs is unacceptable. Writers should always be striving to improve, to accept criticism and grow from it. Those who do not have clearly lost a big part of what it means to be an artist or writer.
Finally, we need to make moves to hire more women and non-white writers to writers rooms. Currently you’ll get one or two diversity slots and many times creators and White male EPs treat their input in a hostile manner — again not wanting to address their concerns. This was recently the case when an Adult Swim executive in charge of hiring writers noted in an interview that he won’t hire women because “they’re prone to conflict.” Good! Writers rooms shouldn’t be an echo chamber. In spite of addressing the criticism toward his sexist views, he doubled down on his remarks in an AMA on Reddit.
The entire industry needs to diversify to where no single person is strung out for daring people to be better. We need diversity initiatives across the board, from above and bellow the line, to the agencies, to the executive suites– we need more diverse perspectives! The face of America is changing, as is the world around it. You can either listen to their criticisms, or continue to ignore and condemn it. The choice is indeed yours, it’s your future. Try to be on the right side of it by being a better writer and creative tomorrow than you were today.