On “Diversity.” And other rambling thoughts.
First off, let me start with a thank you to everyone who took the time to read, follow, and comment after the last post. The response was a little more than overwhelming and I am so grateful to each and every one of you as readers. No comes the hard part – keeping you around. 😉
I took the week off from my day job. Not just because I needed a bit of a break and time to myself, but also because I wanted to play “real writer.” I have some deadlines coming up at the end of April and May and figured that if I took a week off now to write and edit, I wouldn’t be scrambling as much toward the end of next month. So far it’s working. I’ve managed to tackle a few things, write a few thousand words, and make some decisions about what to submit for the “diverse writers” workshop that I’m applying for this year.
I have this fantasy, you see. I do dream of writing for television. I don’t know if it’s because I didn’t really watch TV as a kid so I’m not obsessed with the idea of visual storytelling that’s done in a chapter format, or if it’s because I’m just obsessed with the idea of my stories getting out to as wide a range of people as possible. Could be both. Could be more than that, could be something totally different. I’m sure if I was pumped up on caffeine I’d have a different answer but I’m out of coffee, broke, and all I have his this really tasty cinnamon-apple tea. Hmmmm. Okay, where was I? Oh yes, TV.
Anyone who has ever turned on a TV and paid attention for more than five minutes knows that the format has a diversity problem. Especially the networks. The primary cast of characters across the board are white, male, twenty and thirty something, heteronormative, and ablebodied. When women are brought into the mix they are primarily blonde and thin. If you’re looking for a perfect example of the problem with broadcast media, look no further than CBS’s new comedy which is replacing the long running How I Met Your Mother. CBS’ Friends with Better Lives has a nearly identical cast doing typical, stupid things. At least, that’s what the trailers give me. And the problem is not limited to sitcoms. NBC’s Hannibal recently killed off one of it’s female (and Asian) characters, the long running procedural CSI was once populated with female techs and people of color and now features an all white main cast with only Alimi Ballard to show the diversity of Nevada. Props do go to ABC’s Once Upon a Time for having a female heavy cast and for casting Alexandra Metz as Rapunzel and Sinqua Walls as Lancelot. But these are not long term storylines. Law and Order SVU is yes, headed by the talented Mariska Hargitay, but for a precinct in New York, it’s an awfully white one. Other shows such as Sleepy Hollow and Brooklyn 99 are definitely upping the ante for the rest of the networks, but there’s a long way to go before even cable catches up. And all of that before we even get to queer characters or characters with disabilities. For more information, check out GLAAD’s annual report on minorities in media. They look at queer characters, people of color, people with disabilities, and then put it all into an easy to read report that all network VP’s should have stapled to their foreheads.
Which brings me to my point. For the second year in a row, I am applying for one of the network’s “diverse writers” positions. For the record, all of the major networks have some kind of diversity application process and as a queer woman, I definitely fall into their guidelines. There’s a part of me that really appreciates that the networks know they have a long way to go, that they have woken up to realize that they aren’t hiring enough diverse voices for their writing rooms and director pools. They even seem to be noticing that they aren’t hiring enough people of color or actors with disabilities to populate the stories that they are telling. So wrapped in the privilege they are afforded, it’s hard for them to take a step back and realize just how much they do not represent the country in which their stories are taking place. And even now, seeing these programs, knowing they exist, I am stunned by the lack of representation for all populations and it looks like things aren’t going to be any better this year. I get that the goal of the networks is to make money and so they fall back on tried and true formulas that have worked in the past. But I wonder, have the networks realized that maybe if they’d change their processes, maybe if they’d consider everyone when writing a role or casting for a character, maybe if they’d actually bring everyone to the table rather than have to create “diversity programs” that we’d all be making a hell of a lot more money? But then again, without these initiatives, without bringing those “different voices” to the table, they won’t know what else is out there. It’s a nasty Catch 22, but guess what, it’s a completely fixable one.
This is of course not limited to the TV world. Three years ago, I was honored to be awarded an Honorable Mention from the Utah Arts Council for my first book, Shadows in the Spotlight. Since then, I have had only one agent interested in my crew of gay, straight, and bisexual rock stars who are battling AIDS and drug addiction, and even that ended in a rejection. And while yes, I’m sure that I could do something to make the story punch even harder and there are always things that we writers can do better, I’m finding myself swimming in a world of confusion this year as John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars comes to the big screen. Note that I haven’t read the book and what I’ve seen of Mr. Green’s youtube channel is informative and funny all at the same time. I even appreciate his posts on tumblr. But this is a white man writing first person from the perspective of a (straight, I believe) dying teenage girl. To me, that is a glass ceiling if I ever came up against one.
The frustrations that I as a bi writer who writes bi characters come across continue into my own publishing niche. Publishing companies are doing calls for more diversity, seeking out that which is different in our community – stories, for example, of bi characters. While I’m doing cartwheels at the chance to tighten up my first novel and send it in and hopefully finish the second one in their time frame, I can only sit back and wonder why it’s taken them to now to realize how much of society they’ve been blocking out.
So the never ending cycle of questions continues. After all, yes, I’m going to jump at the chance to apply for these programs or submit to these open calls. Of course I am! But why do I have to wait for their programs or open calls to happen? Shouldn’t they be wanting to change things, to bring everyone to the table? After all, the more people who are interested in your product, the more money we can all make.
And let’s not even talk about how impossible it feels to get a foot in the door with the TV world when you don’t live in LA. (Beyond the whole “that’s where it’s based” thing. That’s a given.)