People Aren’t Props

I had a comment on my previous post from Sarah that made me want to elaborate a bit more on what I mean when I say I don’t like characters that are in stories solely for diversity.

I think it’s really great when media features diverse people by way of race, social class, sexuality, gender, etc. We definitely live in a mosaic of a world where there’s various people from all walks of life that we may interact with on any given day. Therefore, I think it’s highly important to represent that in the media. Especially in the digital age as we consume media at massive rates. I’m a firm believer that fear or hatred of another person due to their identity come from a place of not understanding. Therefore, I think that it’s imperative to experience and see the lives of people who don’t share the same characteristics as you may have. A good and accessible way to do this is through the media. However, the media isn’t always the best when it comes to fair and equal representation.

When I say I don’t like when creators use characters solely for the purpose of diversity, I mean that people aren’t props or boxes to be checked off. There are times when it’s appropriate to have a person’s race, sexuality, gender, etc. at the forefront of their character development, but that shouldn’t be all a character is. Admittedly, it can be a very thin line.

I’ll give the example of the “gay best friend” trope. However, you could put in any defining characteristic in place of the word gay and the effect would still be the same. Essentially, the gay best friend’s whole purpose of being in the story is to be gay. Their entire identity is wrapped around this one key feature and that’s how they are presented to the audience. Typically, the audience doesn’t get to know anything else about this character unless it relates to their sexuality. In a comedic setting, this usually lends the character and their identity as being the punchline to jokes. Thus, making their identity a joke. In a dramatic setting, the character typically has to forego a traumatic event that relates to their identity. Usually it is by way of shock factor, because the only way to get people to care about marginalized people is to show them going through immense pain apparently.

That being said, it is entirely plausible that there are people who are like the common tropes we see in the media, or who have gone through terrible hardships relating to their identity. However, if that is the only time people get to see marginalized characters, then it creates a very closed-minded view on what being a minority is. That lends itself to stereotypes which do nothing but harm to a community.

That’s why I strongly advocate for diverse creators, because a person writes best what they know. However, that doesn’t mean a heterosexual white person can’t write/create a transexual black character. It’s good practice to have diversity in mind when creating content, but you need to ask yourself why you want to have this character in your story. And if you are going to write about things specifically relating to their experiences as a marginalized person, then you need to do your homework and make sure you aren’t doing harm to a community.

If you are still reading this far, I applaud you and hope that you got something from this post. Have any thoughts? Let me know. I’m happy to discuss them!

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3 thoughts on “People Aren’t Props

    1. As I mentioned, it can be a thin line at times and sometimes people just aren’t aware that they are doing it. I don’t write narratives much, but as an audience member I sometimes find myself praising these stories and finding out later that they are problematic. No one is perfect, but we can all do better. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  1. I agree with you in regards to the subject matter. In addition, is not only about sexual orientation, they do it with minorities and religions. I am a minority but I’m as far away as my culture can be. I don’t follow the same religion, celebrate the same holidays or have same cultural beliefs. I don’t think just because your skin is a certain color, or you have a different sexual preference or religion you should be labeled under one category. Sure there is certain aspects that can be relatable, but what makes a person be them is their experiences. I feel that the media should stop putting people into label boxes. Great post!

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