Diversity seems to be what everyone is looking for nowadays. Whether it's diversity hires or diversity in their schools, many people seem to be (finally) pushing back against the "all white everything" mantra. Maybe not in our day to day lives where white supremacy is still king, but at least the workforce and education are trying to disrupt the higher levels of society that have been historically reserved for white men . While many people have argued about the value of these quotas, it cannot be denied that without someone telling these large corporations and large institutions to look outside of the privileged circles that they live in there would probably be no diversity. So what happens when the “good old boys” gets broken up in the real world? Well, they turn to their safe haven of video games, comics and superheroes of course.
That didn’t remain “safe” for long either. As people of color and women were able to express interests in different education fields and career options, they also wanted to have access to forms of entertainment as well, and noticed the problematic way that that geek culture handled them. Women critiqued their sexist portrayals, people of color wanted to see more characters that looked like them, people of the LGBTQ community wanted to not be ignored, and none of them were quiet about their wants. For the white males who were told their entire lives (blatantly and discreetly) that “those people” have a certain place that wouldn’t affect their dominance, this was the last straw. The “Social Justice Warriors” had to be stopped. They responded in terrifying numbers with #Gamergate and by speaking out against changes to their beloved franchises. "Why couldn’t those people just be happy?" They asked. "They have a black president, women can vote and have careers, and gay people have all those shows and stuff, why do they need to take my comics and video games too?"
Well funny thing is people of different ethnicities, sex/gender expressions and sexualities actually like being represented, and considering how we’ve had decades of white male superhero after white male superhero they feel it’s about time to switch it up. Who'd of thunk it? With all the articles written, groups started, and conferences sponsored it's clear that regardless of what the “traditional geek culture” believes, there is a need for different groups to be represented in these art forms. The only problem is that not everyone agrees on exactly how that representation should come about. For the most part here are two splits as to how those of us who want to diversify “traditional geek culture” should go about it, and it can basically be summed up as either infiltration or extraction.
In military terms to infiltrate means to come into and take over enemy territory; which is exactly what a lot of people believe should be done when we talk about diversity. It makes sense: popular series is a sea of white faces so we implement a few black ones, a woman here and there and maybe even someone LGBTQ. This is a natural reaction to the number of people outside of the “traditional geek culture” who still love the environment. Take your favorite series, put in a few faces like yours and bam! Instant win. Of course, it's also an instant win for the comic/novel authors, movie studios, and video game publishers who all want to capitalize on the money in being diverse. As a result of this diversity race we often get major characters whose race, sex or sexuality are changed to get a quick buck and brownie points for being diverse, but without actually doing the work to actually make the story reflective of the newly changed character. Even worse, usually the changed character is turned back to “normal” or relegated to an alternate universe (comic books do that a lot) once all the publicity (and money) die down. That way even characters like John Stewart and Miles Morales who are separate black (and Latino, in Miles’ case) versions of popular characters can be shut out of the big screen adaptions for their more traditional counterparts. Infiltration sounds like a good idea, but how good is it when your infiltration can be undone so easily?
Which is why many other people prefer the extraction method. This involves people creating brand new characters and franchises that are fundamentally built around female characters, characters of color and of different sexualities and gender expressions. Some of them are extremely popular (like Wonder Woman and Blade), and some are much less well known. Either way, people in this camp prefer to create characters whose differences from the traditional hero are a central part of their identities. Here we see Afrocentric and Afrofuturistic characters, women who fight sexism and werewolves whose attraction to certain packs depends on the strength of sexual attraction. These stories don’t have to worry about their characters being “turned back” since they cannot be separated from their unique identities, unlike the traditional heroes and villains. But don't praise Michelle Rodriguez too quickly. Even though there are many of these stories being told very few of them have a fraction of the popularity the other stories do. It would take a great deal of support to make these fundamentally diverse stories as popular as their counterparts, and do we really want to wait for them to do so?
We’ve seen examples of both in the industry today. Michael B. Jordan recently clapped back against all the negative feedback he’s gotten for playing the Human Torch, a character who though traditionally white spends the majority of his time on fire and whose race only plays a (small) part in his family unit. We also see the revival of both the Black Panther and the Static Shock franchises, two stories and characters that cannot be separated from their blackness. Though we all have our opinions on which method is the most useful (myself included) the main idea here is that more and more people are becoming comfortable with expressing their love for comics, video games, superheroes, and speculative works in general, so whether the “traditional geek culture” wants to embrace it or continue to rebel against it, us diverse people are here to stay.
Do you think it's right that women, people of color and the LGBTQ community (and all their intersections) demand representation in the art forms they love? Which of the two factions do you fall into? Remember to leave your comments, questions, and concerns below and don't forget to like and subscribe!