Over the past few years, the entertainment industry has been pushing for more diversity in films, video games, and other media. This includes writing characters from a wider range of demographics, such as race, sexual orientation, and gender. On the surface this is a great idea — it allows both the people within those demographics to have a larger bucket of characters to relate to, while also allowing creators to generate more interesting and unique combinations of characters. However, despite these benefits, big entertainment industry companies are still struggling to produce anything worthwhile.
The main problem is that these companies are not putting in the necessary effort to create diverse and interesting characters. Instead, they are simply shoehorning diversity into existing characters without thinking deeply about it.
Here’s an example:
Let’s say you had a gay black female party member within a story. Just by virtue of those three traits, they’d probably have a much larger worldview difference between someone who was a straight white male. As it turns out, that’s how it works in real life! And, those worldview differences can create some really interest character conflicts and dynamics between those two characters.
The only problem is that this sort of stuff takes work. Now, with every story conflict that comes up, you need to take the worldview of a straight white male and the worldview of a gay black female and see how things line up differently. If you’re working at a big publisher and trying to get something out in six months, you probably don’t feel like you have time to think about these things. You’d rather just create a gay black female character because the marketing department is telling you to, and just apply the straight white male mindset to that character to get the story out on time (or worse, apply stereotypes of those characters to make it “fit”).
The worst and most ironic part of all of this is that people have been doing this with fantastic success for decades, but with fictional characters! Do you know how much horseshit has been written about the dynamics between orc and elf races? Remember the impetus of Gimli and Legolas’ dynamic across Lord of the Rings? Oh, but you can’t do the same to real demographics, can you?
As a result of shoehorning, the minority groups that are supposed to benefit from these efforts are not getting anything but dirt. These characters flop, the publisher’s PR department calls critics racists, and now the person this story was supposed to help is caught in the middle of a race war. Great work, Disney.
It’s not enough to just shoehorn diversity into a character and call it a day. We all lose when big entertainment companies fail to bring in diversity — it is possible to create well-developed characters from diverse backgrounds that are still faithful to the original story, and in cases like these everyone wins. But you have to try. It is both difficult and necessary to understand the perspectives of others who are very different from you — hopefully big entertainment will learn that soon.