Article based on a panel discussions at Capclave in 2013.
Think about the sci fi and fantasy stories or movies you have read or seen. How often is the main character a person with a disability, Latino, Asian, Black, and/or a woman? Look at the success of the movie Gravity, for example. The studio execs fought to change Sandra Bullock’s character’s background to make her married, not single and independent. Of all the super hero films out, why are the studios certain that Wonder Woman wouldn’t be commercial, while, for example, Superman and Batman are?
Day Al-Mohamed largely writes short stories and was the only panelist there with a companion, her guide dog. She stated that you will often see minority protagonist short stories appearing in literary magazines rather than mainstream ones, which is where she markets her work.
Emmie Mears grew up in a home with two moms and commented that often writers pen stories with gay characters, all of whom appear as flamboyant gay characters. Although, there are flamboyant gay individuals, there is diversity. People are people, and writers should reflect that in their stories, rather than stereotype.
Day Al-Mohamed mentioned that seventy-five percent of her main characters do not have minority backgrounds, but she intends to change that. After the session, I spoke with Day, who I first met at my first Darkovercon several years ago. I mentioned that the Alien and Resident Evil films are among the few popular films with woman protagonists. Day agreed, adding, that Alien came out in the 1980s and it was the block buster. She also thought, ironically, that in science fiction the aliens are often more diverse than the human characters.
Diverse main characters in science fiction and fantasy add depth and help connect stories with a more diverse audience. I recently read Dave Farland’s Daily Kick. Dave is the author of the best selling Runelords Series and stresses the importance today of appealing to readers who recognize a character like themselves. He stresses writers need diversity in the cast of characters, something I think about a lot when I’m working on a story.
Perhaps television is starting to address more white women protagonists in fantasy and science fiction shows. Once Upon a Time’s Emma Snow or the spin-off’s Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, the Sci Fi Channel’s Continuum, or BBC America’s Orphan Black, but all these characters are white. These shows cast often reflect greater diversity, but the question is are we approaching a turning point? As readers and writers of the genre, though, it may be the editors, the gatekeepers, who make decisions that are really the ones to sway… to believe and help us promote diversity. But that’s the way it always has been, hasn’t it? Unless our stories are so good, how could they pass up on them?
Author of Highmage’s Plight and the forthcoming Human Mage