Showing posts with label shailene woodley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label shailene woodley. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Are Diverse Characters and Representation Unnecessary? | YA Talk

If you spend a ridiculous amount of time on social media and especially tumblr, it's impossible not to see the constant debates on diversity. Especially popular franchises are often accused of portraying white-washed versions of the world that have nothing to do with reality.

What do you think about diversity? Does it really matter?

What do I mean by diversity?
  • Generally challenging stereotypes in literature
  • Including more POC, disabled, lgbtq*, and mentally-ill characters
  • Fighting heteronormativity (assuming everyone is straight until states otherwise)

What the problem is:
  • Excluding certain people purposely from receiving accurate representation in YA 
On the left and right I included some pictures of the YA heroines in the most recent popular book-to-movie adaptations. Notice a trend there? They almost all look like clones. I could probably find even more of these if I looked hard enough. 

Apparently, in order to be a YA heroine in a popular book-to-movie adaptation you have to be:
  • dark-haired
  • around 1,65-1,70m
  • dark-eyed
  • white
The fun thing is, this isn't necessarily the fault of the authors. Some of these originally were canonically diverse characters but were then white-washed for commercial success in the media.  

  • Giving people a wrong sense of what is "normal"
Shailene Woodley as Tris Prior
As a biracial woman, I hardly see myself represented in traditional media. Whether it's movies, books, or just advertisements. 

If you can't find a single character to properly identify with in media, you're probably going to feel like the odd one out. Of course it's impossible to make everyone feel included and represented, but is it too much ask to at least have a little diversity? I can't name more than five books at the top of my head that have characters in there that are specifically stated to be not white, not straight, not able-bodied.  

It has gotten so far that I as a reader assume everybody to be white and heterosexual unless stated otherwise. This is terrible and I absolutely feel ashamed of that if I'm being honest. I haven't noticed that I'm doing this until recently. To me the average YA heroine has a specific face. I guess that I'm not the only one, judging by the fact that the cast of the most popular franchises looks almost always the same.

I assume that everyone who is reading this would be surprised to see a girl in a wheelchair or an asexual black girl as a heroine. Don't tell me you wouldn't even notice, because that's not true. We are used to seeing the same faces / types of characters all the time that we don't even pay much attention to the fact the issues of other cultures are completely ignored.

  • Ignoring the Age of Globalization
You'd think that in a world where you can travel from one continent to the next in a day at will, there would be more intersection of cultures, people, habits and other things. 

The truth is, as a European I am rarely actively confronted with cultural diversity in media as I am in real life. 

Zoey Deutch as Rose Hathaway
(Vampire Academy)
If you look at your friends, I'm sure not all of them are Katniss Everdeens and Clary Frays. Not all teenagers are the same and not everyone has the same problems. There are so much different influences that you get as a citizen of the 21st century, yet none of them are represented in the media. Want to put it to the test?
  1. Name a book character wearing a hijab. Now name someone you know wearing a hijab.
  2. Name a book character with a disability. Now name someone you know with a disability. 
  3. Name a book character that's not a native of the country the book is set in. Now name someone you know that's not a native of your home country.
  4. Name a book character that's not heterosexual. Now name someone you know that is not heterosexual.
It's not like I'm making this stuff up. Different kinds of humans exist and it's a shame that some people don't even know about this because there is little to no representation. 

I wanna see different cultures.
I wanna see different people.
I wanna see new stories. 

I'm not talking about seeing a new dystopian or fantasy world, I wanna see real people going on those adventures.

What the problem is not:

  • Having white, heterosexual, able-bodied characters in the lead roles
Lily Collins as Clary Fray
(City of Bones)
I'm not saying that authors should only write about Black, Latino, Asian, or other characters, I'm saying that it's time to mix it up. 

There is nothing wrong with having a heterosexual white dark-haired girl 16-year-old girl in the leading role. 

But I'd like to see someone else once in a while. 

It's tiring to see the same people on the time, at this point I can assure you that I'd recognize at least one face in any upcoming YA book-to-movie adaptation, because I feel like the same actors are playing the same roles all the time.

What do you think about diversity? Do you think it's unnecessary?

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