I write about diversity a lot. That’s no secret! And as you can guess, I speak about it in loads of different places. In some ways, that’s great! I try to help as many people as I can! In others, it just means that I get confused. I don’t know who I’ve told what to! So, I’ve decided that it’s about time I compiled all that info. And what better place than on my own blog?
These diversity FAQs is here to help anyone who wants it. I’m really not keen on forcing anyone to make their stories diverse. I’d much rather spend my time on the people want the things I want and avoid the stories of those who don’t care. Of course, It would be great if I could change someone’s mind! But I’m not going to beat a dead horse, so please don’t take this as me pressuring you. And I hope I don’t see 500 comments from people telling me they don’t want to make diverse casts, or that there is no diversity in their area. We can save those arguments for another time.
With that in mind, please feel free to ask any questions if you’re confused! I’m going to set up a thread on my forums to discuss this topic. You’re always welcome there. Plus, I’m always up for updating my FAQs with some new info!
So, here are my diversity FAQs. I hope they will help you!
What is Diversity?
In short, diversity means “a variety of different things”. So when we’re talking about casts in stories, we mean that you include a variety of different people. When a story is not very diverse, it means that most of the characters are pretty similar in lots of ways. Here’s a list of some of the things we’re talking about:
Nationality, Ethnicity and Race
It is hard to tell the difference between these three things from time to time. I’ll try my best to sum it up well.
Nationality is all about legal stuff. It’s the country that you’re a citizen of! That might be because you were born there, or because you decided to move there and gain citizenship. The chances are that you’ll have a passport for the country of your nationality. So because I was born in the UK, live in the UK and own UK citizenship, my nationality is British.
Ethnicity is about the more social side of things. It’s about the group of people that you have a lot in common with in terms of traits like language, heritage and culture. Often, you’ll also be from similar geographical areas in the world. This can then be split into even smaller groups, but that’s not important right now. Ethnicity is a little complicated and vague, but you might know it as the place where you have your “roots”. So even though I was born in the UK, my family comes from both India and Jamaica. That makes me ethnically Indian and Jamaican. I guess you can say I have a bit of ethnic diversity in my family.
Lastly, race is hard to define. It’s more about the physical side of things: traits you share in common that might make you resemble each other physically (like darker skin). Often, races include lots of ethnic groups in them. So I’m racially South Asian and Afro-Caribbean, making me biracial or mixed race.
In your stories, it does help with diversity to have characters who are white, of Anglo-Saxon descent and American. But only when you write about other races, ethnicities and nationalities, too! And an all-black cast isn’t a racially diverse cast, either.
Gender and Gender Identity
Back in the day, you’d be hard-pressed to find an adventure story with many women in it. Then, we would have needed more gender diversity for women. And in many ways, we still do today! Take The Lord of the Rings, for example. I love it so much, but there are very few women in it! That would mean that it isn’t a very diverse story when it comes to gender. It’s not very racially diverse at all either, but we’ll save that talk for another day. On some apps (like Chapters or Choices), we actually don’t have many male MCs.
In the past few years, the world has slowly become more open to people who experience gender differently from cis people. This includes trans people, who identify as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. But that’s only looking at gender from a binary sense! There are also nonbinary people who identify as something other than the two socially accepted gender binaries (man and woman). We have people who reject the idea of gender all together! There are so many unique ways people identify that I’d be here all day if I tried to list them.
And thanks to this openness, we can now pave the way for representation of different genders and gender identities in the media. Of course, having cis men in your story helps with diversity if there are other genders and gender identities present in the story. A story with only trans women in it isn’t diverse under these terms. We’ll talk about the other kind of diversity this adds to later.
Sexuality is all about who you’re interested in and attracted to. There are loads of sexualities out there! You can be straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, demisexual or asexual. And that’s not the full list! A lot of people who aren’t necessarily straight also like to call themselves queer. Other times, it’s used as a catch-all word for the rest of the sexualities (hence the Q in LGBTQ). It’s probably because the acronym is slowly getting bigger and bigger, which makes it harder to say and write.
Including people from all kinds of sexualities in your story helps with the diversity of sexuality. At the moment, straight people have the most stories written about them. Gay people are gaining some ground, though! In terms of bi characters, when they’re in the media, I often see them represented as sexually promiscuous, so that’s something that we might want to change in our own writing. Pan, demi and asexual characters don’t get a lot of stories at all! In fact, I can’t really think of any off the top of my head. And as I said in my post about writing LGBTQ characters, it’s not enough to queer-code a character. What I mean by that is when you make it seem like a character is gay but never actually say for sure.
And if you do it well, straight people can add to the diversity of the cast if they aren’t the only sexuality you write in! Diversity is all about variety, remember! Mixing things up is the key!
Religion and Beliefs
There are so many sets of beliefs out there. People tend to get caught up with the Abrahamic religions. These are Judaism, Christianity and Islam (listed oldest first). But there are so many other ones out there! In parts of Asia, people will also often be Shinto, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist, just to name a few. Then you have Africa and native people from the Americas and Australia. I’m missing out loads of others like Wicca, but you get my point. And, of course, you have lots of people who identify as spiritual but not religious, agnostic or atheist.
So there’s loads to choose from when it comes to diversity of religion and belief. Don’t feel like you need to be bogged down by the same old type of character who goes to Church from time to time but might not believe. Or whose family is Christian even if they aren’t. You can broaden your horizons here and learn about new and wonderful beliefs.
That’s not to say that the Abrahamic religions get represented enough. In fact, people tend to make lots of their religious characters extremist villains. And we often gloss over beliefs completely! It doesn’t matter if they’re religious or not. I don’t know Harry Potter’s views on if there’s a God! So maybe just having a character who tells or shows you what they believe is plenty of diversity!
Disability and Mental Health
Many, many people in the world suffer from a disability or mental health problems. Disabilities can affect people mentally, physically or both. To name a few, we have amputees, people with cerebral palsy, blind people and dyslexic people. On the mental health side of things, we have depression, anxiety and DID. Of course, there are many other things classified as disabilities and mental health problems. I’ll do a post on writing disabled characters at a later date.
When you’re talking about mental health or disabilities, it is essential that you do your research. So many people with serious mental health problems have been demonised in the past for being the way they are. Take DID! The film Split did a lot of damage to those who have DID. Why? Well, they never really had the media coverage to show what DID sufferers are really like when this film came out. They didn’t get the chance to show that they’re not scary villains. And so for Split to be a lot of people’s first encounter with DID? Well, it’s going to create a lot of misinformation and misconception. And first impressions count! So it’s going to take DID sufferers a lot of time and patience to debunk the myths.
Then you have the fact that lots of characters with physical disabilities in stories tend to be sad and bitter. They tend to hate themselves for being in a wheelchair or being blind. Some of them are geniuses, but they never seem to be happy. That’s a stereotype that it would be nice to break out of.
And as with anything else, people with no disabilities and mental health problems also add to diversity if they’re not the only people you write about.
Personality, Politics and Age
You might not know that the way your characters think and act, and what they believe, makes your cast more diverse. It definitely has a huge impact! And while it’s not the top priority of a lot of writers who try really hard for diversity, characters who think and act in similar ways can get bland. It’s great to be able to represent a range of political views and personalities when you’re writing! And if each one of your characters has their own way of speaking that you’ve thought about in depth, you’re well on your way to become a great writer.
What I mean by that is that a lot of new writers make all of their characters think act and (in particular) talk just like them. You need to be able to break away from this way of writing if you want to be good. All of the people in your story should have thoughts, feelings and mannerisms of their own. Show that you have a well-rounded character and it will help you in the long run!
Then there’s age. When was the last time you saw a romance about two pensioners? The ages of characters in your story should be varied. I mean, it doesn’t matter how much you struggle with other types of diversity. I can help you with that! But you 100% know people of different ages. Your parents? Uncle? Aunty? Grandma? Sister? Cousin? Teacher? There’s really no excuse for all of your characters to be 17 years old, or for the 17-year-olds to be the only ones that have an actual character. I’ve seen so many 2D parents who get no true personality. Why? Why are we focussing so hard on one age?
Ah. Social class is an interesting one. We don’t have as much of a problem with this as we used to in the past. But most of the stories out there are about middle-class people who, for the most part, don’t have to worry about things like poverty or homelessness. I don’t want to call them “first-world problems” because I don’t like to trivialise the things that people with “comfortable” lives go through. I’d be laughing at myself! I will say, though, that when most of the stories we tell are about middle-class people, it makes it seem like they’re the only ones with stories worth telling! And Dickens would disagree.
It’s great to see different classes of people interacting with one another. It creates a very interesting dynamic in the cast with people who have different priorities and jobs coming together for a common goal. And that’s not to say that you can’t have a working-class kid studying to be a doctor or that you class dictates your priorities! Of course not! But class does help to shape our experiences a little bit. It’s the same with race, sexuality, gender and all of the other things I mentioned above! Together, they help to make the picture of a great character.
So try mixing up the classes of your casts! It gives you a whole new level of depth to your story. And who doesn’t like depth?
Who Are Minorities?
This is another term that you might have heard thrown around a lot when people speak about diversity. In fact, I spoke about using the word “minority” in place of “diverse character” in my post about the language of diversity because there’s only so much diversity you can get from one person. It’s a much better term and makes much more sense. Plus, it’s quicker to write!
So what does it mean? Well, we aren’t talking about the world population. I mean, we’re speaking about stories, right now! Not society! It’s all about how much certain people are represented in the media at large. You see, the ratio of women to men in the world is pretty equal. We wouldn’t be saying that women are a global minority! But when it comes to the media in the West, they feature less in stories than men.
As well as not being present as much in stories, minorities tend to have their voices heard much less. So there are fewer writers, artists, critics, celebrities and influencers from those backgrounds. This applies to LGBTQ people, different races, women, different ages and much, much more!
The term “minority” should never be used to shut up straight, white, cis men when they want to speak about issues. The point isn’t to stop them from talking. It’s about pointing out that there’s less stuff from minority people out there, so maybe we should take the time to listen to both people who are minorities and those who are not. Plus, showing that we’re missing out when it comes to representation. It’s about working together, not forcing each other out of the spotlight.
Why Does Diversity Matter?
For a lot of people, diversity is one of the most important things we need to focus on in the media today. Why? Well, our world is so mixed and diverse! It’s wonderful! If you live in a busy city in the West, the chances are that you pass by people of different races and ethnicities on a daily basis. Then there’s the fact that there are people of different ages, genders, gender identities, sexualities and classes in every place where there are humans (yes, there are gay people in Russia, too). So diversity helps us to match the truth of the world at large.
A lot of the people who fight against diversity will tell me that I’m the one focussing too hard on race or age and that they don’t notice those things. That worries me quite a bit. You see, a lot of the people saying this will write stories that lack diverse casts. It’s either a defence mechanism for this being pointed out to them, or they genuinely don’t realise that their mind defaults to “straight, white and cis” when they make a new character. Sure, it would be great to live in a world where we don’t notice things like race and gender. But at the moment, we do. So we need to deal with that and not hide from it! Even if you think you don’t notice these things, the chances are that you are subconsciously showing that they do matter.
If done right, diverse representation helps to normalise minorities and bust all those bad stereotypes. How? Let me explain.
Humans are amazing. We get used to things very easily. And we do it without even realising! Due to the fact that the media is everywhere, it makes us used to things regularly in a really subtle way. It’s up to us whether we make this a good or bad thing. At its worst, the media can help us to get used to awful things like nonconsensual sexual encounters. I bet that, after a few episodes of Food Wars, you didn’t even notice the weird stuff that happens when someone eats a bad meal. I know I felt the same way! It had to remind myself often that it isn’t funny. It’s assault, even if it is just the food doing it to them.
At its best, it can help us to get used to seeing a whole diverse range of people and empathising with their lives and stories. Even better, it can help us to see that we have a lot more in common with each other than differences. For example, say that you’re a straight guy who’s into sports. It’s going to be much easier for you to see that gay people aren’t so different if you are exposed to lots of media where gay people do or talk about sports. And there’s a huge difference between logically knowing that gay people aren’t so different and seeing it in action. Seeing is believing, after all! Then, once you are used to that idea, you’ll be able to apply it in your real life.
We call this process “normalisation” and it really affects the way we interact with one another in the real world.
When we, as writers, handle minority characters well, we can add to the cause of busting stereotypes. Yes, I know that a lot of people argue that stereotypes exist for a reason. They don’t come out of thin air! And they’d be partly right.
Sure, stereotypes come from a place of a little bit of truth, but there are so many people who belong in each minority group! We all act differently, too. Diversity of personality, remember? So putting all of your characters into boxes based on stereotypes can be quite restrictive to all of the minority people out there. In fact, not just the minority people! It’s restrictive to base any character entirely on stereotypes. Plus, it can create boring, overused caricatures.
You see, normalisation can happen here, too. Then you end up with people telling you that you don’t “act black” or that you give off “gay vibes”. What do those things even mean? How does one “act” a skin colour? It’s stupid. We don’t all have to act the same way even if we have things in common. Sure, our experiences might be similar. But how we choose to react to them plays a big part in who we are, too.
So while sometimes a stereotype might be true of one person, that doesn’t mean it fits everyone from that group. Representation can help us to bust this idea by showing lots of different people from that group acting in different ways. Perfect!
But Why is Diversity a Big Deal All of a Sudden?
While this is a valid question, it’s not quite what’s happening. We’ve been fighting for representation in the media for decades – centuries, even! There have just been a few big changes that make us notice is a lot more than we did before.
For one, we can now be heard better than we ever were in the past. In places like the US and UK, there’s much less discrimination, which means that people are more willing to hear us and give us a platform. That means that we can reach a much higher number of people and possibly make them care about our cause, too. Then there’s the development of the internet. We spread our messages to the wider world quickly, easily and (pretty much) for free. There’s Twitter and YouTube. We can make blog posts and join forums. We can mobilise together easier, which makes it harder to ignore us and easier for us to learn from one another and become better activists.
So we now voices we can use to spread our messages. The internet has been amazing at opening opportunities for minority people to become critics, influencers and creators on their own. Now, anyone can review a film or book and get noticed. You don’t need to find out what critics think at the back of newspapers anymore. The saying “everyone’s a critic” really does apply.
Then there’s the fact that there’s more out there to critique now. We have more mediums that we’d like to be a part of! Books, films and art are one thing. But now we also have comic books, interactive stories, video games and vlogs. And there are more platforms for us to create on! Like Wattpad and Tapas. We know what we want and we have the means to express it.
But We’re All Equal Now, Right?
To some extent, yes. In the eyes of the law in a lot of Western countries, we are definitely equal, which is a great development! But at the same time, the ones carrying out those laws are only human and they are subject to their own prejudices and stereotypes. Don’t tell me that you’ve never gone past a group of young people in hoodies and felt uneasy. I have. I think most of us have. It’s those kinds of innate biases that can have a huge impact on the way that we treat others and how effective the equality laws really are. This, in turn, impacts how we represent them in the media.
Say you’re in court and the guy on trial is young, has loads of tattoos and is wearing a hoodie. Like most people out there, you’ll probably make a lot of assumptions. You’ll most likely find it easier to believe that he’s guilty than innocent. And it’s ok to admit that you have this bias! In fact, it’s a good thing! When you admit this, you can acknowledge it and lower the effect it has on how you treat his sentence. It doesn’t help when people like him are often portrayed as the bad guys in the media. That normalisation has helped you to get used to the idea of people like him being criminals.
Then there’s the fact that we didn’t get equality very long ago. If we want to have just as much representation as straight, white, cis men in the media, that’s going to take time and dedication. We also need to make a conscious effort to get there. It shouldn’t be about replacing people. It’s about catching up!
Does a Story Need All the Diversity to be Diverse?
No. Straight up. Most people won’t appreciate you cramming their minority group into the story just to make the cast diverse. That’s not the point at all! Plus, that’s a lot of stress and pressure to put on yourself. It looks especially bad when you cram so many different minorities into one person that it just ends up seeming unrealistic.
Then there’s the fact that diversity is a natural part of the world we live in. That means it should be natural in your story, too! If you’ve chosen a specific geographical area for the location, why not choose minority groups that are representative of that place? It shows that you understand the setting of your story and you care about opening your eyes to the perspectives of the other people around you. Choose a few minority groups and take the thought and care to get them right.
It is going to take a conscious effort on your part to diversify your writing when you start on this road. However, the more time you spend on it, the more natural it will become for you. Soon, you won’t need to think about it at all! Normalisation! So keep up the hard work and, as I said in my post about writing diversity well, it’s a good idea for new writers to focus on a character’s purpose in the story before even thinking about what makes them unique.
Do I Need Diversity In My Story?
The short answer is that you don’t need to do anything. It’s your story and I’m not your mother. You just need to be prepared for the criticism that you might get. If you’re ok with that, then the rest is up to you, really.
The long answer is: if you don’t want to make your story diverse, I don’t think we’re on the same page about what diversity means. With the way it’s thrown around at the moment, you’d be forgiven if you thought that diversity is about packing all races and sexualities into your story and calling it a day. But that’s not what I mean, at all! Remember all of those types of diversity that I listed at the beginning of this post? If you mean that everyone in your cast is the same age, same gender, follows the same religion, has the same political leanings and comes from the same social class that sounds boring to me! Then there’s the fact that their personalities are all similar? Do we even have a story here?
Personally, I think this is just a case of opening up your eyes to the diversity that’s all around you. While I’d love for you to have characters of different races, it’s not the definitive way to ensure your story is diverse. It’s just a great go-to because you can see when someone’s black. You can’t see sexuality or nationality.
You don’t need to have a diverse cast, but you’ll be missing out on a lot of reads. And if you’re specifically choosing places in the world with very little ethnic or racial diversity just so you can avoid it, maybe there’s a bigger issue here.
But Why Do People Complain About My Story?
People will always complain. It doesn’t matter if you make your cast diverse or not. You’ll always find someone who’s angry about something. You can’t avoid causing offence to someone. Here are some reasons why they might be angry:
- They think there’s not enough diversity.
- They think there’s too much diversity.
- Diversity, in general, makes them angry.
- They think there’s no diversity at all.
- Your cast looks like box-ticking to them.
- They don’t know why they’re angry. They just are.
You’re not going to please everyone, no matter how hard you try. People will be angry over all kinds of things in your story. Not just diversity! If you try to make everyone happy, you’ll end up with a terrible mess of a story. So it’s important that you think about who you want to please. What audience member is your main priority? Is it the person who dislikes all straight, cis or white characters (they do exist. There are just fewer than people make it seem)? What about those who take awesome representation as a direct threat to them and their straight, white male-ness?
Neither of them is reasonable. It is reasonable to want to be represented, but not at the expense of other groups of people. No, not all diverse casts are forced. There can be a female and black lead duo in Star Wars. We should be able to get there without some people getting offended and crying about it. But at the same time, you don’t need to represent every single person in the world. It’s not your duty to make everyone feel special.
So just stick to the reasonable middle. They like diversity and praise it, but realise that you’re only human and there’s only so much you can do.
Should I Make My Cast Diverse?
As much as I would love to see lots of diversity in everyone’s story, that’s not my call to make. And while you might have readers who (rightfully) give you constructive criticism on this, they aren’t in charge of your story, either. As I’ve said before, they have a right to give that criticism and you have a right to disagree, but not attack them for it. So no one can tell you what you should and shouldn’t do with your stories, as long as you’re respectful of the guidelines of the platform you’re using.
But I will say this: in my year and a half of helping budding writers, I’ve met a lot who want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to ignore all the feedback from their readers. They don’t want diversity of race, ethnicity or sexuality. And they don’t see why they need disabled people in their stories, either. But when this makes a lot of their fans leave to read something else, they get upset. They expect people to stick around and read their work because they worked so hard on it when they didn’t give any consideration to what their target audience wants. That’s not how this works. If you don’t want diversity, you’ll find a lot of people won’t want your story. And that’s their right. You can’t tell them what they should and shouldn’t be reading.
And if you find your audience who doesn’t care or doesn’t like all this diversity stuff, all the power to you. I hope that this hatred of diversity doesn’t come from a place of bigotry, though. Or you might find that you’ll get left behind while we all progress and grow.
But Why Is It Suddenly Bad to Be White?
Whiteness is not bad at all! To be honest, if that’s your view of people who want diversity, I think you’ve been spending too much time on the radical side of Tumblr. Or maybe you’ve been watching too many YouTubers who hunt for those radicals and tell you that’s what all “leftists” are like. I made these FAQs because I don’t like it when new writers feel like they’re going to be judged for their whiteness. I don’t like it when people feel like they aren’t allowed any white characters in their cast.
White characters are an important part of diversity. It’s just about making sure that other people get their voices heard, too.
For a lot of minority people out there at the moment, it does feel like you need to be white to have your voice heard. Most politicians, authors, academics… most people with power or influence are white. And while I don’t want us to take their place, I think the world would be a much better place if we joined them. Some of us go about it in the wrong way, though, and end up looking stupid.
When some of us tell someone that they’re white so they don’t get it, we don’t mean that we think white people are stupid or shouldn’t speak. But would you write a book about the horrors of war without consulting a war veteran? You could, but I doubt it’ll be good. And what about a book on the experience of pregnancy? Would you do that without talking to people who’ve been pregnant? Again, it’s up to you, but I don’t wanna read that.
And no. I’m not saying that race is like war. But sometimes it’s good to listen to the people’s experiences before coming to conclusions yourself.
Does Diversity Work in a Medieval European Fantasy?
I’m not going to talk about the fact that Europe is right next to Asia and Africa. I’m not going to say that there were black people in all parts of Europe before the Medieval period thanks to Rome, or mention the playwright, Terentius, who was from North Africa, thanks to the expansion of the Empire into Africa. I won’t even mention the fact that trade and crusades brought different races together during the Medieval period. I don’t need to say any of that.
What I am going to ask you is why black people would be too unrealistic for a medieval fantasy when you have dragons and witches and magic all around? Why would that be the break from realism that bothers you? If you’re willing to accept that dragons breathe fire or that hair grows long enough for people to climb, why would you suddenly get pulled out of the story when you see someone of colour? It’s a magical world! If you want to make a diverse cast, of course, it works! Plus, it’s not like people of colour didn’t exist in Europe already. Arab people had been in Spain and Portugal from the 8th century.
But that’s just race. Yes, there were gay people. They just had a different relationship with sexuality back then. In fact, there were places in Europe where there was no word for homosexuality! And with all of the battles, of course, there were disabled people.
But that’s with me pretending that Medieval European fantasies are set in Medieval Europe! Westeros and Middle Earth are made up places. Of course, Guinevere can be black because Camelot doesn’t exist. If you make up a whole new world, you don’t have to stick to one group of people.
What Should I Do If I Don’t Know How to Do Diversity?
Many people I help ask this question. I understand why! With the way some people speak about diversity, it can seem like minorities are strange and foreign. But they don’t have to be! We focus so hard on highlighting what makes gay people gay, or what sets black people apart, but in reality, we have a lot more in common! So why not focus on that? Instead of thinking every story about a gay person has to be about their sexuality, or every story about a black person has to have racial injustice in it, why not just focus on another part of their character?
It’s all about a change in mindset. While you might need to make a conscious effort to include minorities in your story at first, there’s no need to let that affect how you treat them once you’ve thought them up! Just like all your straight, white, cis characters, we have loads of sides to our personality. I’m not just my race or sexuality. I’m a writer. A tutor. An editor. A blogger. And to be honest, I’d love for people to focus on those aspects of my personality.
The YouTube video below sums it up so well. While it’s not impossible for a non-minority person to write about the experience of being a member of that minority group, it’s not easy. So let’s focus on creating great characters who also happen to be part of a minority group.
You just have to change your mindset. Make your black characters more than just a black character. Have a gay character who goes on an adventure. Give them life. Make them 3D. Now only will it make your life easier when you’re not focussing on our differences, but it’s the kind of representation we need!
The Setting of My Story Has No Diversity. What Now?
I doubt it. But you’re not alone in thinking that! I’ve helped loads of writers who struggled to see the diversity of the world around them. But it is there if you keep your eye out and know what to look for.
You don’t need POCs in your story or the cast to be diverse. Sure, racial or ethnic diversity can be super handy. I mean, most of the time, it’s quite clear when you have cast members from lots of different racial backgrounds. They might have distinct skin colours or features that give it away. But that’s not the be all and end all. You don’t need racial diversity for your story to count. There are plenty of other minority groups that are underrepresented! And they can help you to create an authentic cast that matches your area of choice a lot more.
You might have heard of “box-ticking” before. Well, it’s really obvious box-ticking to put a character in a place where their ethnicity would be rare or unusual and never comment on it. I’m sure that if I went to rural Japan, people would notice my skin colour. I’d probably get some curious looks. So it’s unrealistic for no one to say or do anything in stories. If you have no plans to make the rareness of their origins a part of the plot, scrap it. There are other ways you can make your cast diverse.
Even in a place like Slovakia where most of the citizens are white, you have the Roma (gypsy) people. Then there’s people with disabilities, different ages and social classes, different sexualities, and even some different nationalities thrown in there! Hungarians and Czech people, for example. Where there are people, there is diversity. You just have to look for it.
Is It Ok to Have a Minority Person as a Villain?
Of course, it is! The thing about diversity is that it applies to character roles, too. It’s not healthy for anyone to only see people like them doing good things. It is our responsibility to be good people, so it’s great to show that by portraying minorities in lots of diverse roles. It shows that we can be whoever we want to be and act in any way we choose. Diverse roles show that being black or gay or disabled or Muslim doesn’t define who we are or how we act. We do.
The real problem arises when you fall into the same old tropes. You see, lots of minorities have been portrayed as the same kind of villain for decades now. The creepy, queer-coded, effeminate male villain whose scariest factor comes from how gay or “unmanly” he is? Well, it as done in The Powerpuff Girls when I was a kid, and more recently in Sherlock with Moriarty.
So when you’re making a minority character a villain, it would be nice to see that you’re breaking tropes. Try to avoid the ones that have been overdone to death and make sure that they’re not evil because they are a minority. Or make sure that their scariness doesn’t come from the fact that they’re from a certain minority group. After all, Thanos’s scariness had nothing to do with the fact that he was a purple alien. It was his ideology and strength. If we can do that for fake aliens, why not for normal people?
Why Do People Complain About Diversity in the Media?
Diversity in the media as a whole is a different ballgame. While I can excuse individual writers and just avoid their work, I can’t give a free pass to the companies that help to define what’s considered normal for stories. Companies can always do better.
The thing is that there are loads of amazing minority writers, actors, producers, artists, etc. They’re just as good as their non-minority counterparts, but their work just doesn’t get to see the light of day in the same way. Of course, this is changing right now. Loads of Hollywood film studios and book publishers are now going out of their way to make sure that they don’t turn a story down just because it’s not the “usual” narrative because they realised how much money they can get. But this discrimination does still happen! Minority writers are often told that their stories are just not as “relatable” and asked if they can make their MCs straight or white or able-bodied. That’s just not on.
People tell us that we need to write our own stories and be the change we want to see. When we do that, we have fewer opportunities out there for us! These are things that need to change. The media we’re exposed to all the time should reflect the world. Not just one part of it.
But if you’re talking about the people sitting on YouTube and complaining about Finn being black or Anita Sarkeesian “ruining” games, it’s because they’re spoilt and they don’t realise they’re the exact same as the people they’re complaining about. They cry that SJWs are “ruining films” but fail to see that the media is a capitalist market. At the moment, diversity sells. They either need to get on board or get left behind.
Is Black Panther Diverse?
This probably isn’t a question you’re going to ask, but I want to address it anyway. I loved Black Panther. I thought it covered some really interesting and relevant topics and put black superheroes on the same level as their white counterparts. However, when it comes to the level of diversity in the cast, there’s really not a lot!
There are very few non-black characters in the whole film. Sure, there’s a lot of diversity of the ethnic subgroups living in Wakanda. We also have some cool women. But most of the cast is black. It is safe to assume that they’re all straight. They come from the same country and speak the same language. The hero and villain even have pretty similar political views: by the end of the film, they both know they need to help black people all over the world. They just choose to go about it in different ways. If we were just looking at the cast, this is a film that would do well with a few more white characters. But that’s not the point.
You see, a film like Black Panther doesn’t need to have a really diverse cast to be progressive. That’s not the kind of diversity it’s offering to us here! It’s the fact that it adds so much minority representation to the MCU at large. It’s a small part of a whole picture. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that it helps to diversify the superhero film genre as a whole!
That’s what makes diversity so great and versatile. It can be applied to a whole film franchise if you do it well. You don’t need all the diversity in one story. It can help to write a series and make it relevant… if you know how.
I Want to Make My Cast Diverse. Where Do I Start?
It’s great that you want to jump in! I admire you! I know it seems scary at the start. I’ve most likely given you even more questions to think about. But the best place to start is by watching some good diversity in action. Watch some of the newer Marvel films. Why not have a crack at The Dragon Prince? It’s amazing! Keep your eyes and your mind open.
Once you’ve done that, check out some of our other posts. We have one on the language that can get you in the right mindset to write good diversity. You can check out our guide to LGBTQ characters. We have a broad post about how to write good diversity in general.
Once you’ve had a read, do some research, write and take feedback. Criticism is going to be your best tool throughout all of this. While you might make mistakes, you can show that you care by listening and taking the advice into account. We even have forums you can ask questions on if you want to! The more you write, the easier it will get.