I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend (my husband would argue that I spend every day thinking too much), and the thought patterns that stuck out for me were all connected to one thing; diversity. So inevitably I thought more about this, which is why you are about to read a post about diversity in fiction!
What is diversity? It seems to me that it is used to refer to skin colour so much that we forget what else it can be applied to. Diversity is simply a range of things that are the same but different. So a group of humans with different skin colours or sexuality or of different faiths, or gender.
So what made me start thinking about this? Well, without getting too excited and bouncy, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier is out on DVD today. I’m not allowed to buy it because it’s my birthday soon. While reading up on the latest Captain America comics, I discovered that…oh wait…
Are you ready? Okay. I discovered that Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, becomes the next Captain America when Steve Rogers dies (or does he?). This made sense. Bucky was there from the beginning and also exposed to the super soldier serum, and he was/is Steve’s best friend.
And then recently Marvel made two major announcements, practically in the same week. Thor is going to be a woman! And the new Captain America will be black!
First things first, Captain America. Fans will remember Sam Wilson aka Falcon from the amazing film that’s released on DVD today. One of the first African-American superheroes, created in the 1960s, passing the Captain America mantle onto Sam will be interesting. He’s not a super soldier in the Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes/Wolverine respect, he’s an average American military man who has seen action. He’s a modern day Captain America without the 1940s fuss of Steve and Bucky.
Sam won’t be the first black Captain America, despite all the hype. Isaiah Bradley became Captain America in the comics in 2003, made into a super soldier through Project: Rebirth. The character wasn’t integrated fully into the Marvel universe, being an almost token hero for the African-American community and was given a tragic ending. It’s quite sickening that this happened so recently, maybe Sam will be a more successful character.
I don’t care what colour Captain America is. The character is the important thing and the aspect of Captain America that always fascinated me was the anguish of a man finding himself in the wrong time. Steve has that, Bucky has that, Sam not so much.
Not to mention that no one has said about Bucky becoming Captain America. Has that just been forgotten now in the name of diversity?
How about a female Thor? You’d think I’d be happy about that – a strong female protagonist! Except she’s Thor, the male Norse god. Why do they have to make a male character a female? Why not just bring a goddess into the comics? A woman in her own right, not based on a male character. The Greeks had some amazing ones.
It shouldn’t be about colour of skin or gender. When a writer creates a character they often don’t have a choice about how they look or what gender they are. They can fight it but the character will, and should, always win in the end. This makes for more interesting and relatable characters.
I’ve just finished reading the third book in the Ketty Jay series by Chris Wooding (read them, they’re amazing) and this book, The Iron Jackal, focuses a lot on one of my favourite characters, Silo. Silo is a Murthian, a proud race of olive skinned people who are slaves to the black skinned Samarlians. See what Wooding did there? That background, along with Silo’s take on his second language and wonderful quirk of only really talking when there’s something important to say, makes this character jump out of the page.
I went to a talk with Ben Aaronovitch a little while back. It was all about fantasy and science fiction books and he was asked, basically, why he made his main character, Peter Grant, mixed race. He answered that he didn’t, that’s just who Peter is.
As I mentioned above, diversity also relates to so many other things, including gender. A lot of people say they want more female protagonists, accompanied by a hashtag declaring their support of diversity in fiction. Yesterday I accidentally watched Hocus Pocus. (If you visit this blog regularly, you’ll know I accidentally watch films a lot.) I love Hocus Pocus, it was one of my favourites when I was little. It’s the three witches, played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy, that always blow me away and even as a child I would get sad when they met their doom. These three witches are powerful, over the top, talented and funny. They are amazing, and I root for them every time.
(This video is my favourite part of the film.)
I’m currently reading a story written in the 1960s by a woman about wizards and witches. The witches are village folk, peddling animal and herbal charms whereas the wizards, who are all male, are great and powerful mages, learning their craft at a glorified wizarding school. I’m considering giving up on the story. I want my powerful magic folk to be both men and women, and why not? Where is Granny Weatherwax when you need her?
Diversity at the moment also especially relates to sexuality. As well as strong female protagonists and people of colour, there is a cry for homosexual or bisexual characters. Typing this I’ve just realised that I don’t think I’ve ever read about a homosexual character. That can’t be right… Maybe I don’t remember them because they weren’t main characters. That isn’t right either.
I think I’ve mentioned diversity in my own work before. How one of my characters struggled as a man until I relented and made him a her, where she flourished. I’m pretty sure one of my other characters is homosexual, after her reaction to the aforementioned character’s sex change. Maybe I’ll find out when I write the next book.
I tend to avoid mentioning skin colour unless it’s important to the plot or the character’s identity. I want my readers to make of my characters what they will.
How about you? Have any of your characters ever put their foot down about what sexuality, colour or gender they are?