“Until I saw people who looked like me, doing the things I wanted to do,
I wasn’t sure it was a possibility”
– Lupita Nyong’o
My motivations for creating fictiondiversity.com are twofold:
First, I watched Colin Stokes’ two excellent TED talks on gender and racial diversity in film. Mr. Stokes introduced me to Bechdel test, which serves as a lower-bound test for the representation of female characters in film. To pass the test, a movie must script: 1) at least two (named) female characters, 2) who speak to each other, 3) about something other than a man.
That’s it. A movie passes the test if two female characters say nothing other than good morning to each other. And yet only about 60% of the movies produced since 1970 pass.
The Bechdel test is not a new concept. Invented by Liz Wallace, it was popularized by Alison Bechdel in a 1985 comic strip. This was, however, the first I’d heard of it. I had somehow made it through several college film classes without ever coming across the concept. Sure, I’d been aware of the dearth of strong female role models in film, especially in my own favorite genres (sci-fi and superhero). But things seemed to be on the upswing. Now we had tough fighters like Agent Hill from The Avengers and great politicians like Padme Amidala from Star Wars (Ep I – III). But here’s the thing – even these movies do not pass the Bechdel test (okay, technically Star Wars Episode I barely scrapes by when Padme and Shmi briefly discuss something other than Anakin. But every other Star Wars film fails).
A friend confessed to me recently that she only ever identifies with the male characters in movies – and asked me if I thought that was strange. Of course it’s not strange. Male characters constitute 70% of the speaking roles we’re presented with in film. I also tend to identify with male characters. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I have to acknowledge that at least part of the reason for that identification with male characters lies in the fact that female characters like my friend and I (who pass the Bechdel test every day of our lives) are absent from our favorite fiction.
So died my ignorance.
Second, ABC’s new sitcom Selfie, the first (ever!) sitcom featuring an Asian male romantic lead (John Cho), was canceled after only six episodes despite showing promise (the remaining seven episodes are still airing on Hulu and the #saveSelfie movement is trending on Twitter). In contrast to the Bechdel test, Hollywood’s representation of Asian men is an issue that’s been on my radar for a while. As a teenager absorbing Hollywood’s beauty standards, I assumed I was not attracted to Asian men, and the statistics reveal I was hardly alone. Then in college I met the Chinese American man who was to be my husband. Suddenly attractive Asian men seemed to be everywhere – except in the fiction I consumed.
Like any good millennial, I turned to Google for a diagnosis and found other people asking these same questions (if this comes across as a ludicrously niche issue to you, that’s exactly the problem). There was a community of people in a relationship like mine as well as other diversity activists upset by the lack of diversity in the media. Selfie was like the answer to our prayers – John Cho! In a lead role for a romcom! Opposite a white female lead! Huzzah for racial diversity! Progress!
When it was canceled, my optimism died a little too.
A lack of diversity in fiction has had real consequences in my own life, and studies have shown that racial bias might be developed in part by the lack of diversity in children’s literature. Our country recently has been suffering the effects of ongoing racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, when our diversity ought to be our greatest strength. If diversity in fiction can play a role in developing this strength, then it’s of crucial importance.
At this point, Hollywood and the media do not seem interested in moving at the pace required. So again, I turn to the internet to talk about the need for diversity and to seek out the best fiction I am hoping that this blog can serve as an outlet for my desire to analyze and promote diversity in fiction.
These two particular issues, which impact me directly, precipitated Fiction Diversity, but I am hoping that this blog can serve not only as a platform for my own thoughts (which are limited to my own experience), but also as a place where others can share their own viewpoints and we can all share the movies, shows, books and other works of fiction that do explore the different forms of diversity.
Leave me a comment or tweet at me – let me know your thoughts.