Inclusivity in entertainment media means diverse writing, too

Matthew Metz, Staff Writer

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In recent years, Hollywood has begun to diversify its casting, including more women and ethnic minorities. Progress is being made, evidenced by the successes of films like Black Panther and Get Out. While this should be applauded, there is still much to be done. The writing of holistically diverse characters seems generally overlooked, and should instead be leveraged as a primary tool of inclusion and diversification in the entertainment industry.

Women often suffer from writing that does not truly appreciate the nuance they bring and the unique perspective these nuances can bring to entertainment media. Writers of female protagonists in movies, usually of the adventurous variety, can easily fall into the trap of “re-skinning” male archetypes, merely played by an actress. A common example is the “strong female hero,” where a character becomes emotionally stoic, self-sufficient and standoffish in order to seem powerful and independent. This is, in many ways, a type of male action hero, and one where women sometimes trade healthy femininity for forced masculinity. Such archetypes are not necessarily bad, but they easily deny the healthy emotional depth that women can bring, squashing otherwise accessible dimensionality. Films from Wonder Woman to Captain Marvel have received varying levels of criticism for this reason. 

Even male heroes in general lack healthy levels of diversity in writing. As mentioned above with women, male archetypes are often emotionally suppressed and stoic, unmoved by different narrative situations. Entire decades of male protagonists, specifically in action movies, have been defined by this trope. In other genres, cavalier attitudes, undue aggression, and casual disrespect of women and less dominant men are regularly used, with little variation. However, less male archetypes exist that deserve more exploration due to their storytelling potential. J. K. Rowling’s Newt Scamander exchanges dominance, competitiveness, and aggression for empathy, principle and care for the misunderstood as his driving motivations. Another example is the BBC’s Bodyguard protagonist David Budd, who begins the story as a closed-off military veteran, but learns to receive help from others in a subversive commentary about mental health. 

The recent proliferation of films made by and starring African Americans, such as Get Out and Blackkklansman, are encouraging examples of how to holistically include and engage that demographic’s unique perspectives and experiences in modern entertainment. Showcasing the way African American culture has evolved through a history of systemic racism adds depth and offers challenges with which viewers can grapple. Rather than being limited to specific filmmakers and subgenres, Hollywood should normalize such cultural engagement and writing with all ethnic groups and genders, so as to draw out their nuances in ways that both enhance the quality of film and appropriately depict the represented demographics. 

Though slow, the increasing diversification of characters in entertainment is something to be encouraged. By engaging aspects of diversity from the beginning, with character writing, this process will be further edified, increasing the quality of the depicted diversity.