Every single time there’s a casting outcry, or a supposed ‘ban’ on something, social media goes into meltdown. Writers will make the claim they ‘can’t’ write certain things and this signals the ‘death of storytelling’.
B2W calls BS. It’s time for these writers to face facts. Diversity literally makes storytelling better. Here’s just 5 reasons why.
1) No one Wants ‘The Same-Old, Same-Old’
It’s true that everyone wants ‘a good story, well told’. It’s also true that makes a story ‘good’ is a matter of interpretation. That said, audiences are literally bored with certain types of characters and certain types of stories. Those are literal facts, backed up studies and sales.
Don’t believe me? Then do some research, Google is your friend. Why not start here … I called the below up in less than 30 seconds.
- Hispanics, Asians Provide Highest Rates Of Moviegoing In The US
- Films With Female Stars Earn More At The Box Office
- Put More Black Actors In Your Film And THIS Happens To Your Ticket Sales
- MPAA Report: 52% of Movie Audiences Are Women
- Diverse Casting Leads To Box Office Success, Study Shows
That’s just thinking about films, gender and race. There’s plenty more facts where those came from. There’s also other things to consider, such as novels and TV. Or other communities, such as disabled or LGBTQIA audiences. And beyond!!
Whilst data and creativity can make strange bedfellows, there’s no denying its link to what audiences literally want. It’s our job to entertain as writers, yet huge swathes of audiences have been underserved. Time to change that and the facts back this thinking up.
But where to find all this stuff? Why not start with The Broadcaster Audience Research Board (UK), or The MPAA (USA). For data with a more personal touch, I always recommend the work of producer Stephen Follows. Stephen crunches numbers by the ton and provides fantastic insights for creatives. Check his site out, HERE.
2) It’s Really About VARIETY
When we say ‘diversity’, what we really mean is VARIETY. This means …
- Filmmakers & other roles
Variety is literally the ‘spice of life’, so obviously variety is also the same secret ingredient that makes stories better too. That is just common sense.
Switching the ‘usual’ character tropes around is a great start, but it can’t be everything. Doing all we can to amplify marginalised voices has to part of it as well. Think you can’t do much? Think again. Every one of us can do our part to bring people in from the fringes. Even if it’s just a retweet on Twitter for a marginalised writer, DO IT.
3) Hijacking Others’ Stories Is Not Cool
Whenever there’s any talk of cultural appropriation, writers all over social media freak out. What’s more, certain commentators – *coughLionelShrivercough* always get wheeled out to pontificate on ‘the death of storytelling’ (again).
Yet all writers are familiar with the notion of highjacking. The literal dictionary definition is ‘to take over something and use it for a different purpose’. This is how writers might highjack others’ stories:
- Via the ‘white saviour’ trope, where a white character helps BAME people in a self-serving manner (especially if said white saviour didn’t exist in a true story, or their actions are exaggerated)
- Writers writing stories about people that are especially meaningful to that community (true stories, but also myths and legends), especially without consultancy from said community
- Writers writing stories about people based on their assumptions about said communities, without proper research or critical breakdown of tropes that have gone before, such as these typical diverse character mistakes
This is just the start. There are many, many clangers writers can drop and ‘highjack’ others’ stories. But ultimately it comes down to this …
- Diverse characters, written sensitively and with proper research and outreach, are great.
- Highjacking others’ stories wholesale? Not great.
So be a better writer by NOT highjacking. Simple.
4) Dominant Writers Need Different POVs
White faces and male faces are dominant in the industry. The same goes doubly for white male writers. Trebly for white, male, straight writers. Quadruply for white, male, straight, able-bodied writers. And so on. It’s a kind of scale if you like.
The more you are ‘on’ the scale, the more advantages you have. As white people, we must understand the current system was designed with us in mind … It was made by people who look like us, for us. That’s why we are dominant. Again, just the facts of it.
I know all this may seem unfair. I get it. As individuals, it can feel like the odds of ‘making it’ are astronomical … That’s because the odds ARE astronomical. We all have to work for everything we have.
Now imagine working just as hard, but not receiving your due – maybe not even being asked to the table in the first place! – because the system is not designed for you. That’s inequality. So, no writers – you are not being excluded.
Lastly, as empathetic and well-researched as *any* writer can be, we can’t possibly know everything. Sometimes, someone’s POV from a different culture, way of life, or background is a real game-changer for a character or story. It’s exciting when this happens and can bring that *thing* that elevates writing to the next level.
So being aware of your own dominance can actually help you avoid number 1 on this list, ‘the same-old, same-old’ … This can only be a good thing for everyone, writers and audiences alike.
5) Empathy Is The Key
Writers should literally want to walk in others’ shoes. That’s surely the whole point of being a writer in the first place. That can mean thinking about our characters and the communities that inspire them, but can also mean our target audiences and even who gets to tell the stories. Hopefully, it means all of this.
Whatever the case, thinking critically but also with empathy makes us better writers as it makes our work more authentic. MORE: How To Write With Emotional Truth
These Are The Facts
- Whether we like it or not, the industry follows the money
- Our target audiences actively want more diversity as standard
- Co-opting others’ stories is not the done thing
- Dominant voices need to amplify the marginalised
- There’s opportunity here for more variety, authenticity and empathy in storytelling
- This is NOT the ‘death of storytelling’ – it’s actually the very opposite. LE DUH!
Totally agree with this post as a white-male-straight but disabled writer attempting to write a white-female-queer MC with a Tamil partner in a country (Wales) ‘oppressed’ by their English neighbours.
Your book is a crucial inspiration for me, Lucy – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35674108-writing-diverse-characters-for-fiction-tv-or-film
Hi Roland, it’s great to hear you’re picking up the mantle on diverse characters! And delighted to hear my book has inspired you, thanks so much for telling me. Best of luck with your project x