When Jordan Peele said he wanted to exclusively make black stories, some people got angry; but let’s discuss why we actually need more diversity.
Before starting, I want to offer a disclaimer for all the White people reading this, especially White men: this post is probably going to make you uncomfortable. That’s okay, it’s an uncomfortable topic. But I’m going to ask you to try and listen what I have to say any way.
This isn’t an attack on you. Your skin color doesn’t make you a bad person, I don’t think your life is easy, free from pain, or that you’ve never struggled because you’re White. I’m not accusing you of anything, and this isn’t a personal attack. If you feel yourself getting angry or defensive, step away and take a break, come back and finish it later. I’d also recommend checking out this feature from Teaching Tolerance, even if you think you know everything there is to know about racism. These links are also helpful.
HELLO FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Being excluded sucks. There’s nothing quite like the pain of being left out or told, “Sorry, but we don’t have anything for you.”
As a half-Black, queer person, I’ve gotten used to not being included. For me, it’s an accepted fact that I will rarely see romances like mine, people like me, or stories about my experience on the screen. If I go into a bookstore and ask for a work of fantasy with a queer, black protagonist, I will be given the look. The, “Why are being so difficult?” look. The, “Why do you want something so weird and obscure?” As if gay black people don’t exist, or I just asked for a book about string theory and turnips in ancient Mayan.
Shopping for my wedding was depressing. What should have been a fun experience turned into a painful reminder that my marriage was “niche.” Wedding paperwork, matching Mr. and Mrs. glasses, photo ads, everything was geared towards straight couples. When I had to explain, repeatedly, to confused shop employees that there was no groom, I once again received the “look” and found myself apologizing for being “difficult” as I crossed out “groom” on all the paperwork and replaced it with “bride”.
My mother had a similar experience when shopping for wedding cake toppers back in the 80s. She wanted a White bride with a Black groom and received nothing but glares for daring to ask for the same thing non-mixed couples got all the time. In the end she bought a cake topper with a White couple and colored the groom in with magic marker, hoping no one would notice how crappy it looked.
I’m still pretty lucky, I pass as White, which means I don’t have to put up with anywhere near as much bullshit as my dad and darker family members do. They’re all too well aware that “skin tone” never means their skin tone and decent hair care products are hard to come by.
When you’re not straight and White, you’re not the default, and you’re used to being left out. It sucks, but we get used to it, even though we shouldn’t have to.
So, on the rare occasions people like me do get to see ourselves in stories it’s a BIG. FUCKING. DEAL.
Like a lunar eclipse during a meteor shower and the aurora borealis. It’s such a rare occurrence to see ourselves in books or on screen that when it does finally happen, we all freak out and celebrate and make sacrifices to the diversity gods.
When Get Out was released in theaters, it was like Christmas for Black horror fans, but without the crushing debt and stress. Not only was this a Black horror movie, it was a good Black horror movie. It won awards.
If you’ve watched Shudder’s Horror Noire documentary, you know it’s pretty slim pickings when it comes to Black heroes in quality horror movies. Even more so when it comes to Asian-American, Hispanic/Latinx, American Indian, LGBTQIA, and disabled heroes. Yes, there are some out there. But compared to the selection of films with straight, white heroes, it’s like we got stuck with the choice of freezer-burned vanilla or chocolate ice cream while everyone else gets to go crazy in the Ben & Jerry’s factory.
YES, IT’S A REAL PROBLEM
For those of you who need a little more proof than my say so, here’s the data from the University of Southern California to back it up. For the linkphobic, let me summarize; From 2007 to 2017 (the year Get Out was released), the number of White characters in top-grossing films hasn’t change a bit.
Over 70% of film characters are White, while only 12.1% are Black, 4.8% Asian, and 6.2% Hispanic/Latinx. If you’re Middle Eastern, American Indian, or Mixed Race, well, get used to never seeing yourself on screen.
You’re also pretty screwed if you’re LGBT or disabled. Out of the top 100 movies of 2017, less than 1% of the characters depicted were gay, bisexual, or lesbian, and none were trans (keep in mind roughly 10% of the population identifies as something other than cisgender and straight) and only 2.5% of the characters were disabled (even though the