The cast of the 2021 film, Eternals, present a panel at Comic Con. The superhero blockbuster became noteworthy for boasting a diverse cast. / PHOTO COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
One of the most integral aspects of creating an intriguing book or film is the originality of storytelling. Whether we read the words from a page or hear them from dialogue on a screen, the stories they tell can fascinate readers and viewers by introducing unfamiliar perspectives. As society constantly evolves, so do the film and literature, as they introduce new stories and recreate old ones. As Hollywood and the film industry continue to push out new and exciting stories to enjoy, one particular aspect of their storytelling has come under much scrutiny, especially in recent years. The diversity in storytelling is crucial, however studios may take that too literally, focusing on the quantity rather than the quality of characters from underrepresented demographics, such as women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, when writing and releasing projects.
Especially in the past decade, filmmakers and studios have scrambled to create more diverse movies, with their definition of diversity differing both in theory and in practice. In response to an audience that is apparently exhausted by media dominated by straight white men, these studios crank out as many projects as possible, each one attempting to demonstrate more racial and gender-based inclusivity than the films that came out before it.
There is of course nothing inherently wrong with this – as a queer autistic woman who is constantly curious about the world around me, I want to see a variety of perspectives in the media I consume. I am always excited to see new stories told, especially from people, cultures, and backgrounds I know little about. However, what really seems to be the problem, especially in today’s media, is the race to show as many races as possible.
Putting women, people of color, and queer and trasngender characters and creators in the spotlight is monumental in terms of creating more relatable and interestingng stories, but when these characters hastily put in to get “brownie points” to make the mostly white male studio executives look like stronger allies, rather than to actually amplify the voices of marginalized communities, the previously silenced storytellers become objectified prizes, as if they are nothing more than a quick and easy ticket to more profit and fewer backlash.
A more specific example of this phenomenon is superhero films, particularly the DC and Marvel blockbusters dominating today’s theaters and streaming services. Growing up, I idolized characters such as Black Widow and Blade. As a child, I looked up to these people, and while they were fictional, they were fascinating to me because they were fleshed-out, intriguing characters, who were not solely defined or restricted by their gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientiation. Now with Marvel suddenly pushing out more recent projects, such as “Captain Marvel” and “Eternals,” it makes me wonder – why did they wait so long to tell these characters’ stories, at a time where their respective films seem awkward and rushed? Were there “Jim Crow” laws for superheroes up until after the Infinity War, where most people with superpowers had to be straight, white, and male in order to defend the galaxy?
While a diverse cast of characters, such as those exemplified in movies like “Eternals,” permits a multitude of perspectives to be shown, it can also make a film complicated and messy to the point of being overwhelming. When these stories are also told through the perspective of an “ally” or made without the contribution of those who identify with the characters, the films and stories reveal what they truly are – a diluted, hasty cash grab. Now, don’t get me wrong, most movies nowadays are cash grabs, because almost nobody will buy a Regal ticket unless there is Marvel, DC, or Star Wars in the title.
Again, I love to see new perspectives on screen – but when those points of view are told by the same writers over and over again, who know little about the characters they create, their struggles, or their identities, the projects they release will come off as lazy. Not only will these films be cringeworthy and poor in quality, but also turn off members of marginalized communities from writing or seeing projects where they are represented, and even further divide society as a whole.
The point is, in order to create stellar, intriguing stories, diversity should be based on the pursuit of quality, rather than quantity. I would rather see people of my identity being represented rarely, if at all, as long as their stories are told accurately and to actually tell a story, rather than being constantly churned out to earn ally points and make a profit. The point of telling a story is to tell one that is fascinating and has not been told before, but substance always goes deep beneath the surface.