Story Musings: Diversity and Representation in Storytelling

This is something I’ve been pondering about for quite a while now as a person of colour myself. There’s been so much discourse around the idea of diversity in storytelling be it in books, movies, tv shows and video games that the arguments tend to revolve around the same ideas. Many have argued that the inclusion of more diverse characters is simply pandering to left leaning audiences which I disagree with completely. Being inclusive of all peoples is both the morally correct thing to do to provide representation to more people and the smart thing to do as a creator to reach more people. It helps to bring in more people and normalize the diversity around us. But the main thing to consider is just how that diversity is being represented in the media that we experience.

Most genres of fiction don’t really have a reason to disregard diversity and inclusion, but fantasy is what I’ve seen most criticized when it is employed. The main issue that arises with fantasy when it comes to diversity is that a lot of stories have the worldbuilding often started from the basis of one real world culture’s history. Because of the cultural influences that the worldbuilding is based off of, it constricts the level of diversity that some would find acceptable. Historically speaking, most of the world was isolated within in their own countrys’ borders and communities typically didn’t have diverse populations. Even today much of the world still has places that are predominantly of one culture or ethnicity. Typically there are two ways to go about this, one with more care and attention and the other, quite simply, is to just do it surprisingly.

The best way, in my opinion, for a writer to create a diversity in their story is to do the work needed to incorporate different cultures within the established world. There are a lot of great examples where the worldbuilding in fantasy allows for a diverse cast of characters. Those stories, however, rely more on their own creativity and inspiration while only taking slight hints from real world cultures. Take the world of Runeterra for example from League of Legends which was used to create the amazing series of Arcane. While it’s clear that the designs within the story can be attributed to real world cultures, it’s never so overt as to being specifically from one culture or another. It really feels like each area had it’s own unique culture and people. The worldbuilding also allowed for a meeting of the different peoples within the world and that never felt out of place. Arcane being set in the city of Piltover which is seen as an advanced metropolitan area, creates a setting that serves as a melting pot of people of Runeterra. Typically, in real life, these areas often have the most diversity as all kinds of people tend to come to these places.

Now the second idea is one where I find most of the problems with diversity and representation occur. The idea of just including a diverse cast of people without ever really addressing it. There’s still some care and attention needed here as it can come off as a bit strange and potentially offensive. Admittedly I thought this was the worst way to go about including diversity as I find most people have difficulty dissociating fantasy settings from their real-world counterparts and the racial characteristics associated with it. But I watched The Rings of Power over the weekend because everyone was criticizing it due to the inclusion of people of colour and Galadriel being a badass. What surprised me was that I ended up not finding it to be a problem at all but I could see how the inclusion of people of colour could come off as a bit strange.

Galadriel being a badass strong female character is just amazing. That will be discussed in the inevitable review of the series.   

I absolutely love The Lord of the Rings as that was a story I grew up with both the books and the movies. Now it’s only been 3 episodes in so far and I have to admit, it was a bit surprising everytime I saw a person of colour amongst the people of Middle Earth. But I think this is because of the precedence was set by the previous movies where it was basically all white people. However, something else I noticed, was that the adaptation was still faithful to every character that had already been established within The Lord of the Rings. This wasn’t a case of a character being remade as a person of colour rather it was adding people of colour to an already established story. Did it add anything to the story? No, their inclusion didn’t add anything about the worldbuilding or the story but neither did it detract from the story. While I would have rather preferred potentially expanding the world of The Lord of the Rings to include different cultures and ethnicities, I didn’t find any issue with it like I thought I would. I’m not 100% sure, but Tolkien originally created middle earth as like a precursor to Europe so there could have been work done to create or at least reference other parts of the world outside of that moment with the mercenaries from the east.

Writing a story with diversity and representation can be quite difficult but there’s something very important to consider. No matter what you do and how much effort you put into it, you can’t satisfy everyone’s expectations. The best thing a writer can do is to research the different cultures, ethnicities and sexualities they want to represent to make it a fair and respectful representation of those peoples. It’s never going to be perfect but it is something we need to normalize as inspiring characters and stories can help break down barriers that, for some reason in 2022, still exist.

– Raphael

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