So I hang around Tumblr a lot, as many people probably do. I follow many blogs about books and writing, and one of the major topics that pops up is the need for diversity in books (here are the official tumblr and the official site of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign if you wish to take a gander at them). In their Mission Statement of their official site the campaign states:
We Need Diverse Books is committed to the ideal that embracing diversity will lead to acceptance, empathy, and ultimately equality … Our mission is to promote or amplify diversification efforts and increase visibility for diverse books and authors, with a goal of empowering a wide range of readers in the process.
Seeing the pro-diversity posts and words and pictures reminds me of the 1997 Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” with its multi-racial cast. It starred Brandy Norwood as the title character, Paolo Montalban as the prince, and many other stars such as the late Whitney Houston and Bernadette Peters. I loved that movie as a child and that love hasn’t waned at all. The movie was on the other day and my mother laughed at how excited I was to watch and sing along with it!
When I used to watch that movie, I found it a little silly that the kingdom had a black woman as the queen and a white man as the king having a son that was neither of their races, but only because I knew that wasn’t how generics worked. It had nothing to do with the fact that I couldn’t find myself relating to any of them (or Cinderella or the Fairy Godmother, for that matter) because of race or gender. The actors races did nothing to hinder my enjoyment of the movie. To me, every actor in that movie was there because he or she auditioned and got the part due to his or her acting skills. Race never crossed my mind.
Allow me to share this interesting tidbit in the trivia section of this movie on the International Movie Database website:
Brandy Norwood became the first African-American to play Cinderella. This version broke viewer ship records when it debuted, and it holds the record for the bestselling video for a made-for-TV movie.
The Oscars this year boasted nominations and winners with speeches that spoke of gender and ethnic equality, of diversity on the silver screen and the world. I feel as if somewhere we took a step backwards. How can a movie with a multi-racial cast break records almost ten years ago when here, in 2015, people are still fighting for that same diversity for movies, for television, for books?
I’m a white young woman, one who has always had an open mind, something that I feel blessed to have. When I write, I don’t really think much about my characters’ looks or race or sexual orientation. I do a lot of stream-of-consciousness writing and prompts to explore my characters — I’m one of those writers who firmly believes that characters come to life and have wills of their own. If one of my characters decides to be described as “darker than [his friend]” or that he is attracted to another man, that’s cool with me. To me, the character’s spirit is the most important aspect of the character and that’s what I choose to sift through and inspect when trying to relate to said character.
Then I picked up “In Real Life,” a graphic novel by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang about a gamer girl struggling to stand up for others inside and outside of a pixelated world. I consider myself a gamer and I’ve been dabbling in a few new fantasy stories of my own that have to do with those virtual worlds we love, so the graphic novel hooked me. Upon starting the story, I immediately found it surprisingly interesting how Wang drew the main character and her parents as a little heavier than the usual thin, athletic-figured protagonist.
Right after that feeling of surprise I was hit with shame.
Why the hell was I so surprised to see another body type portrayed in a book? Because we’re so used to seeing book covers portraying the usual thin, athletic figures of the imagined protagonists (and most of those protagonists are white, if we’re honest).
There’s a particular scene in the graphic novel is a simple image of the main character in the hallway by her locker. She’s off to the side, clad in an orange coat, while the rest of the hallway is dominated by other students. Tall students, short students, students with lanky bodies, heavier bodies, and thin, athletic bodies. The skin tones range from pale shades to brown hues. There’s even a student with what looks like two-toned hair, with one side darker than the rest. It’s not a big scene at all, but the diversity of the student body is so evident in the image.
I have a better understanding for the need to have diversity, to allow everyone to have someone to identify with. It’s about identifying with someone who shares your dark skin, your hazel-green eyes, your curvy figure. It’s about identifying with another man going through a divorce. It’s about identifying with another teen struggling to come out as a lesbian. It’s about finding your religion, culture, and ethnics portrayed in a strong and positive light for all of the world to see.
I do hope that, one day, needing diversity isn’t a thing anymore, that diverse stories are just as common as stories of “the white man,” and people can enjoy movies, video games, books, and the like due to the cast’s and story’s merits, like a movie of “Cinderella” that stars people identified as talented actors rather than as black women. However, until that dream of utter equality comes true, the world needs to continue its push to share and celebrate its beautiful diversity.