We’re now in the age of intense Internet-based social activism, thanks to the World Wide Web and social media for providing an effective and efficient platform for the unapologetic call for representation in the entertainment industry. Social media has made it so much easier to spread the word far and wide and since this movement took to practice, we’ve seen a lot more satisfying changes than ever before on a daily with social platforms like Twitter. This particular platform makes it possible to spread informed opinions to millions of people across the world in just seconds upon posting. In thread format, an exposition protesting injustice is now a surefire way to intimidate powers that be into prioritizing fairness in how the world is represented, especially on screen. The wagon is hot and rolling and minority revolutionaries are at the helm.
With social media and social networking at its prime, and Black people, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other marginalized groups growing impatient with the abuse they’ve had to endure for years, content architects and authorities no longer have a comfortable place to hide their discrimination. Minorities are demanding they not be sidelined and be afforded the gaze they deserve in works of fiction.
No day goes by without a creator, organization, industry and its authorities being made to account for their indifference towards the despotized population. As an author or publishing house, a filmmaker or production studio, there’s no more room (to pretend, out of rooted disregard) to be ignorant of the world around you which clearly includes Black and queer people and women. Choosing not to stay conversant comes with consequence.
The marginalized population has grown very tired of asking to be recognized and respected, and is ready to do things on their own terms. They’ve cultivated a ground where they can publicly hold accountable those who insist on rooting them out from the rest of the world by overlooking their very existence. The industry will soon enough have no choice but to play ball if they want to stay in the game. It is a long way to go, sure, but finally minority voices are being heard with regard. We now have movies, including 2016’s Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences centering on Black people, queer people, and women. These movies have each had a significant impact on how Black people will be regarded and represented in the film industry moving forward, demonstrating Black people are worthy, impactful and adequate enough to be at the center of stories told on multiplexes and our home screens. These 2016 cinematic wonders alone are ample evidence the right doors are being torn down.
Online activists’ call to diversify movies, TV shows, and other forms of fiction and media has undoubtedly opened doors for content where people of color, women, and queer characters can be focused on and given significant agency without proximity to white/male stories or a semblance of the “white savior.” It’s become apparent our stories are both valid and consistently anticipated enough to be told independently.
Take for example the impact Wonder Woman had on superhero movies as the first film of its kind to be led by a female hero. Hidden Figures — a film led by a Black woman with two Black female supporting leads — pulled some great numbers at the box office and went on to earn three Oscars nominations including Best Picture. Moonlight, a movie with a predominantly black cast and a queer lead, won Best Picture at the 2017 Academy awards. Again, our stories are irrefutable; they pack authenticity and immeasurable power.
To new and older content creators out there, prioritize minorities in your upcoming stories. Give them a voice. Have an open mind. Tell global stories. Stop turning your nose up to intentionally disparage people who are different from you. Patience has thinned for ignorance tasked by storytellers and fiction can’t be fair and honest if these very content producers keep getting away with turning a blind eye on Black and queer people, can it?
Being inclusive in the future can also help avoid shuffling around to patch holes in the lack of acknowledgement of minorities in your content, which you will inevitably be held accountable for. Harry Potter, for example, is now subject to this fate. During this past year especially, the saga’s author, J.K. Rowling, has fervently insisted several characters in her beloved fantasy series belong to various marginalized groups. This, from my personal perspective, is her bending to the pressures of online revolutionaries who threaten her future as a creator. The last thing you’d want as a beloved artist is to be called out for not embracing the world as it is; Rowling quickly learnt this. Though her methods to aid her injustice were misguided and bordered on exploitation, by presenting herself as progressive and socially apt, she’s secured her future as a storyteller. By carving her characters into the relevant social climate, she’s made sure her stories are never abandoned for her own witlessness. Moving forward any content lacking representation also runs the risk of being discarded because of this same reason.
This is also why originally white comic book characters such as Deadshot and Nick Fury were made black in their franchise films, pandering to a social climate unwilling to compromise any longer. The Star Wars franchise has been doing its part to rectify their white-and-male-congested franchise to appeal to a wider, more diverse audience, too. Their efforts were seen in recent films, The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the latest episode, The Last Jedi. We’re now witnessing a Star Wars where POC and women are at the forefront, depicted in roles with more agency than just sidekicks — something I never thought I’d live to see. Diversity now weighs so much on the reception of a piece of content that content creators stand to lose a lot more (acclaim and profit) when they refuse to realize marginalized characters in their works of fiction.
With movements like #OscarsSoWhite and the massive attention placed on the race and gender pay gaps (with colleagues even calling for wages equal to their white/male counterparts), it’s safe to say we’ve successfully disrupted the system.
Black and queer people have always needed stories they can relate to, depicted by people who look like us, thus it’s overwhelmingly awesome we’ve pushed hard enough for our dreams to be realized. Big movie studios like Disney, Marvel, Warner Bros., and DC are now roused to provide time and care to refresh characters to offer diversity within their respective cinematic universes. Marvel Studios, for example, is not known to take their female characters seriously enough to make movies centering around their stories, but due to the uncompromising social disposition they’ve had to bend to the will of online visionaries. This finally resulted in them developing their first woman-led movie for 2019, Captain Marvel, a spirited move also influenced by the critical acclaim and global success of the woman-directed, woman-led Wonder Woman. There’s also plans to finally make a Black Widow movie, which has been in development for almost a decade before this new age of activism kicked in.
In the multiplexes and small screens, people of color, women, and queer individuals now have the following characters to related to: Finn from Star Wars, Black Lightning, Wally West, Anthony Mackie’s Falcon, Don Cheadle’s War Machine, Michaela Pratt, Oliver Hampton, Anissa “Thunder” Pierce, Nico Minoru, Alex Wilder, Valkyrie, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Earnest Marks, and Dr. Bow, to name a few.
Ultimately, it would be uncalculating for content creators to refuse to diversify their ideas in order to equally depict the lives of people from all walks of life — especially those who have been previously, for centuries upon centuries, sidelined. To that end, here is my point simplified: if your movie isn’t inclusive, then you sure as hell are not going to get away with your narrow-minded worldview as much as you would’ve before. Again, it won’t take a day, but I’m personally proud and excited by the fact we’ve gotten so far, and that our stories won’t be left untold without someone being held accountable for the lack of representation.
By: Lerato Serumula