Feb 11, 2022
8 mins read
As a minority (a gay Arab man to be specific), I've never been one to engage in the lack of representation debate because for me it was always more important to be told a good story. My mindset was, is and will forever be: Give me a good story and I honestly don't care about the characters' race, sexual identity, & gender. As long as the character is engaging, and the story immersive, then I am with you.
I've tried very hard to find a way around discussing this concept, especially due to the extremely anti-conversation and anti-nuance culture that we find ourselves in. I want to talk about it. I believe it should be spoken about, but how does one do so without finding themselves in trouble.
After remaining quiet and hesitant for so long, I feel like I have found the courage and strength to put my perspective out there and I have to say it as it is, damn the consequences.
My perspective is as follows: I do not agree with the enforcement of representation, inclusion, and/or diversity in creative works.
As a writer, I am already subjugated to so much in terms of what is expected of me, my work, and my stories. I really don't want anyone telling what I should or should not have in a self-chosen narrative. I do not want people, whoever they may be, telling me that my story is not valid unless it has more of this demographic, or less of that demographic.
I do not want my screenwriting software cough Final Draft cough counting how many lines male characters have versus female characters, nor do I want an algorithm to grade my screenplay on the basis of how representative or diverse that screenplay is.
This does not help me as a writer, on the contrary this hurts me and makes my writing so formulaic that it will be another cardboard cutout of diversity and inclusion without intention or integrity.
What do I mean by that?
I've seen what happens to series and films that just seem to have characters placed in their worlds to fill a quota. They, regardless of their efforts, never satisfy anyone.
Look at the CW's Supergirl and how every hero on that show was representative of some member of the LGBTQ community, with a different race, and yet none of these characters were actual, fully fleshed out characters.
The first season of Jodi Whittaker's Dr. Who had a character named Yaz, who happened to be a black lesbian, and incessantly had to remind the audience in practically every scene that she is a black lesbian.
This is not diversity, this is lazy writing and arguably more racist than not having her at all. What happened to having fully fleshed out characters that were not defined by the color of their skin nor by who they sleep with.
We used to promote that mindset. We used to defend the idea that one's skin color should not matter nor who that person slept with. What happened?
I never, once, looked at characters in movies, series, or books and thought I wonder why none of them were gay and/or Arab.
I didn't care. I was only ever in it for the story. I was only ever in it for the characters.
The recent reveal that Amazon Prime's THE RINGS OF POWER includes original characters played by actors who are of color has caused some serious backlash within the Tolkien fandom.
Those who defend the casting claim they've always wanted to see themselves within that world, and now they are. But my response to that is: forcefully putting characters that represent you in a world that doesn't belong to you, per say, is not fair to the original author, nor the integrity of the world that the author worked very hard on.
As someone who has always been inspired by what Tolkien wrote, I am writing my own fantasy series that is heavily inspired by Lebanese culture and history. I'd rather do that, than force my own world views onto someone else's art.
Now, this was me basically playing devil's advocate, as I honestly don't care about who they cast, as long as the heart and soul of the series remain true to the world that Tolkien created and that the existence of these new characters, who happened to be people of color, are authentic to the macro story.
At the end of the day, the characters in the series are original characters and the series has been approved by the Tolkien estate and on top of all that, the story is set in a time period that is known little of, in terms of the micro. So, there's a lot of leeway.
The "content is too white", "content is not black enough", "not brown enough", "not gay enough", "not feminist enough", "too woke" criticism is doing more harm than good.
The sad reality is, no matter what a writer tries to do, their work will never ever satisfy everyone. But if that's the case, then why cater to anyone or anything but the story!
I do not want a diverse character to be a check box on a list. I want the diverse character to be authentic, genuine, & real.
I want them to be layered, deep, flawed, & authentically exist in the narrative world around them.
I want them to matter to the world of the story and more importantly to the outside world that is watching the story take place.
When a diverse character influences the world of the story, it will indirectly influence the world watching that character, their journey, and the narrative.
When a character is used to fill a quota, it hurts representation more so than not having the character to begin with.
Another example of this is a television series by the name of ANNE BOLEYN, which recently aired on AMC.
If you know an ounce of history, you know for a fact that Anne Boleyn, the real Anne Boleyn, was born in Norfolk, to very caucasian parents, and was the second wife to King Henry VIII. Well, the recent series, cast Jodie Turner-Smith, a British actress who happens to be a person of color.
Same thing occurred in Netflix's recent VIKINGS:VALHALLA with the casting of Caroline Henderson as Jarl Haakon, a known male historical figure in Viking history who also happened to be white.
One would then argue, what about actors like Denzel Washington playing Macbeth, or Papaa Essiedu playing Hamlet at the Royal Shakespeare Company? An answer would be well that's Shakespeare, it's fiction.
And therein lies the key argument that most use: it's fiction, deal with it.
But, it is not that simple.
Turner-Smith is embodying a known white woman, who lived, had a voice, and died. Sure, she is playing her in a work of fiction, but it is a work of historical fiction. History is important. If you want to see an inclusive period piece heck, watch Bridgerton!
They cast the amazing Golda Rosheuvel, a black woman, as the Queen of England, and she is absolutely delightful!
But, casting different ethnicities and sexes to historical figures and arguing that - well it's a series or it's fiction, get over it - defeats the entire purpose of the existence of a genre labeled Historical Fiction.
Sure, the word fiction is there, but it exists mostly because of the dramatization of the dialogue, not the eradication or substitution of a person's identity.
Shift the example: would the world be accepting of Meryl Streep playing Maya Angelou? Chris Hemsworth playing Muhammad Ali? Leonardo DiCaprio playing Miyamoto Musashi?
There would be a bloody uproar and as well there should. It would be absolutely justified.
Lately, more often than not, castings have been done for clout and nothing more. If you think in 2022, that all these major companies actually care deeply about the "true cause", you're naive.
They care about the money. They care about appearing virtuous. They care about remaining safe and shielding themselves from the cancel mob, & cancel culture. It's about self-preservation.
If they cared about the cause, they wouldn't need all these click-bait articles about how diverse the cast of a new series or film is. They wouldn't push for the accolades. They would just let things be.
Instead, we get forced representation, forced diversity, forced inclusion all at the sacrifice of the story's integrity, the integrity of the characters, and most importantly the integrity of the storytellers.
It is not racist to have a mostly white cast for a story set in a time period and location where it was mostly white, the same way it is not racist to have a mostly ethnic cast for a story that is happening in a time and place where it was so.
To claim that it is, not only diminishes the weight of the word racist, but also does a disservice to all the creatives trying really hard to be as authentic to their voice as possible.
Do we need diversity? Of course we do. Do we need to be more inclusive? Of course we do.
All I ask is that it is done the proper way. Create original characters. Write about the magnificent people of color who existed in history. Tell their stories, that is how you make an impact. That is how you make a difference. That is how we make change.