Commentary

Six Bad Arguments Against Social Justice in Speculative Fiction

Judy and Nick from Zootopia talking to a sltoh.

The only thing more annoying than arguing with a sloth.

Watching the diverse casting of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and the amazing intersectionality of Zootopia, it feels like we’re finally making progress on the front of social justice in storytelling. People are realizing that stories and the lessons they teach mean something. But no matter how much progress we make, some naysayers will try to hold us back. They make the same arguments over and over again about how social justice is bad or just doesn’t belong in storytelling. Fortunately, they’re wrong, and knowing their arguments in advance will help you explain why. From YouTube comments to uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinners, these are six of the most common arguments people make against putting social justice in stories.

1. Representation Is Pandering

Sulu and Uhura at the helm. Literally flying into the future together.

Uh oh, an author made their protagonist black, queer, female, or anything else that isn’t associated with the dominant group. They must be pandering to whatever demographic their character is part of. That’s the only explanation!

First, let’s look at the definition of pander. From Merriam-Webster:

To do or provide what someone wants or demands even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable.

For now, let’s assume that this hypothetical author made their protagonist part of a specific group in order to draw in an audience from that group, and not just because it made the most sense for the story. That isn’t pandering; it’s expanding your audience, and in any other context it would be seen as a proper, good, or reasonable business move.

This argument is inherently hypocritical. No one ever accuses the countless stories that star straight white dudes of pandering to the straight-white-dude demographic, even though focusing on the dominant group to the exclusion of all others definitely isn’t proper, good, or reasonable. For a long time, minority audiences have been ignored or taken for granted. The current upswing in diversity is a course correction to address historical injustice, not an example of different groups being unfairly favored.

Even if someone hates any and all attempts to expand readership, it’s impossible to know an author’s motivation. Did Jeff Vandermeer cast an Asian woman as the protagonist of The Southern Reach because that was how he first imagined the character or because he thought it would draw in extra readers? Was Gene Roddenberry only hoping to get Star Trek better ratings when he conceived Sulu and Uhura? We can’t know, and as such it’s pointless to waste our energy endlessly dissecting such questions. What matters are the results, not the intent, and the results are more diversity.

2. Stories Are Meant as an Escape

A collage of Lord of the Rings Characters. Nothing serious going on here, all light and fluffy.

Speculative fiction is where I go to relax and get away from all the conflict in real life. Why would you bring all your arguments and your critiques into my happy place?

This argument has two distinct prongs. The first is that spec fic is meant to be light and fluffy with no serious discussion that might bum us out. That’s absolute nonsense. From the day Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a book about the responsibility humans have to their creations, spec fic has been about important ideas and issues. Fantasy is part of that, too, with the One Ring being an important metaphor for weapons of mass destruction whether Tolkien meant it to be or not. Anyone who says spec fic shouldn’t host serious discussions either doesn’t understand what they’re saying or has no respect for the genre.

The second prong of this argument comes from people who see spec fic as their refuge from the terrible hardships of the world. They don’t want that peace interrupted by important but sometimes difficult discussions. It’s true that this genre of ours is a place where many people can be accepted for who they are and all the weirdness they contain. It’s a beautiful thing, but there’s a trick to it: not everyone has an easy time finding such acceptance.

When someone from outside the dominant group* tries to find enjoyment and escape in spec fic, they face a number of obstacles. They might find a dearth of characters who look like them or be told they shouldn’t cosplay their favorite hero because they don’t have exactly the right body type. These obstacles come in many flavors, and they make it impossible for people to find the escape that spec fic supposedly provides.*

Spec fic fans who call for more social justice aren’t taking away anyone’s refuge; we’re trying to make it available to as many people as possible. Speculative fiction should be open to anyone, not just those of us lucky enough to already have the privilege.

3. Story Quality Is All That Matters

A collage of characters from Zootopia. Fortunately, the creators of Zootopia also wanted their story to be good.

Who cares if they cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi? It doesn’t matter if the actress is actually of Japanese ancestry, only that the movie is good.    

This argument pops up whenever a story is critiqued for putting a white person in a role that should have gone to a person of color or for including some kind of problematic plot element. It’s very clever, as it casts social justice as some kind of secondary concern, independent of a story’s quality. The person making the argument can then claim the position of enlightened defender, making sure stories stay good for everyone to enjoy.

The obvious hole in this argument is that social justice supporters* also want stories to be good. There probably isn’t anyone out there who actively wants stories to be bad. Except maybe the people who keep producing Transformers films, but that’s beside the point.

Think about a person saying that they don’t care if the dialogue is well written; they just want the story to be good. Sounds pretty silly, doesn’t it? That’s because social justice is one facet of a story’s quality, like plot or character development. Better social justice improves a story, the same way that better worldbuilding or fight-scene description does.

We do see one major difference between social justice and other story qualities: a lack of social justice has a negative impact in real life. When a story passes off creepy stalking as romantic, that reinforces unhealthy attitudes already present in our society. When a person of color can’t find anyone who looks like them in the gallery of great fantasy heroes, it sends a message that those with darker skin don’t belong.

At the same time, stories that feature strong social justice themes help make our world better. When Terry Pratchett wrote Monstrous Regiment, a book about the evils of entrenched sexism, he brought the issue to the attention of readers who might never have thought about it before. When Zootopia based its entire plot around intersectionality, it gave a bunch of kids* their first glimpse at the complicated nature of discrimination in our society.

I don’t know about you, but those sound like good stories to me.

4. There’s No Reason for a Character to Be X

Benjamin Sisko from Deep Space Nine There was every reason to cast Avery Brooks as Sisko

Why would you want this character to be bisexual? What plot relevance does it have to make her Hispanic? You need a strong reason to make a character stand out from the dominant group, or else you’re doing something bad.

This argument often goes hand in hand with accusations of tokenism. The argument contends that if an author doesn’t have a plot that necessitates a minority character, then there shouldn’t be one. Any such character would clearly have no role in the story and thus be a token. The assumption is that characters exist in some kind of default state from which any social-justice-minded storytellers must alter them.

Spoiler alert: characters have no default state. They don’t exist until we think them up. Luke Skywalker didn’t spring into existence as a straight white male; George Lucas decided to make him that way. Heck, Lucas even decided to make him human. Authors don’t often think about these decisions, but they’re made any time a new character is created.

The real question to ask is, “Is there any reason this character shouldn’t be a minority?” In the vast majority of cases, the answer is a resounding no. Speculative fiction deals in the fantastic and the strange, so there’s no justification to only have characters from within the dominant group. Even when writing in the real world, when realism is a concern, authors always have opportunities to include minority characters in major roles. With most minorities badly underrepresented, storytellers have a moral obligation to do so.  

Occasionally, this argument will come from well-meaning people who think that a character’s minority status must be important to the plot, or else the author is trivializing it. In this line of reasoning, if a trans character’s gender isn’t a source of conflict, it erases all the hardships faced by trans people in real life.

This version of the argument still doesn’t track, because people shouldn’t be defined solely by their minority status. Great stories are told about the difficulties characters face being outside the dominant group, but we also need stories where that isn’t an issue. The short story Judgment Day is fantastic for taking on the evils of racism, but that doesn’t mean Deep Space Nine isn’t a great show for portraying a black space captain in a universe where no one thinks that’s unusual. 

Note: This section has been edited to remove the word “chosen” when referring to a trans person’s gender.

5. Advocates Should Make Their Own Stories

The cast of the new Ghostbusters film. You got a spare hundred million or so to make your own movie?

Why are they forcing women into Ghostbusters? Why don’t they just go and make their own giant franchise about busting ghosts, and they can put women in that one? I’m not against social justice, I just think people who want it should make their own stories instead of messing with the ones we already have.

This predictable refrain appears whenever someone suggests an existing franchise be modified for more inclusivity or when a storyteller announces they’ll be doing so. The torrent of rage over the all-female Ghostbusters film is a visible example. Scan the comments of any post about that film, and you’ll find a host of critics who insist they’re not sexist but just want the girls to go be in a different movie.

This argument’s big stumbling block is that very few people have budget to make a film just lying around, let alone one with the production values audiences now expect. And because of the film industry’s intense dislike of anything that’s not from an established franchise, the chance of new blockbusters featuring diverse casts is low. As such, saying that social justice advocates should “make their own movie” isn’t a real suggestion.

But what about stories that aren’t on film? Theoretically, anyone can write a novel if they can spare hundreds of hours away from work, child care,* or whatever else occupies their life. The argument is still silly though, because nowhere else do we expect people to make their own version of a product they aren’t happy with. If someone says they want more leg room on their flight, the response is never to demand that they build their own plane.   

People ask that products and services they purchase be changed all the time, and it’s rarely a problem. They might not always get what they want, but no one ever denies them the right to ask. This argument is also hypocritical 100% of the time. Sift through the social media history of anyone who uses it, and I guarantee you’ll find them complaining about some aspect of a story they didn’t like. Why didn’t they just make their own?

6. People Won’t Buy a Story With Social Justice

Finn and Rey from Star Wars. Pay no attention to this obscure film no one saw.

Look, we’d all like to put more social justice in our stories, but storytelling is a business first and no one wants to buy this PC-hippie nonsense. Of course I’d buy it, I’m not prejudiced, but it just won’t sell well overseas. You know how those people are.

This argument is the final fallback position of those who don’t want social justice in stories. Instead of attacking social justice as an idea, they attack its practicality. This argument is disturbingly common even though there’s no real evidence that it’s true. Every social-justice-oriented story that fails is held up as proof, while the successes are ignored as aberrations. Perhaps the popularity of films like The Force Awakens and Zootopia will dampen the enthusiasm for this argument, but we shouldn’t hold our breath.  

The second half of this argument is the bizarre assertion that “foreign markets” in particular dislike social justice stories, and it’s disturbingly widespread. Thanks to some leaked emails from 2014, we know even high-level film executives think this. In reality, there’s almost no data to support this conclusion, and what little there is could easily have been caused by other factors. While people from outside the US are just as capable of bigotry as we are, it’s foolish to assume they are more so without any evidence.

More importantly, this argument would still be terrible even if social justice stories did sell poorly. If we are to be a moral society, we must sometimes do things with no immediate payout. Nearly every step forward in civil rights and social justice has been nay-sayed by those who claim it will cost too much. If we give in to those voices, we will never move forward.


As speculative fiction authors and fans, we have a responsibility to make our stories part of the solution to inequality. It’s vital that we keep pushing either by writing social justice into our stories or demanding the same from those who manufacture our media. Along the way, we’ll run into those who push back against social justice because they’re threatened by it or they just don’t know any better. Don’t let their bad arguments prevail.

P.S. I just published my first game. In it, the PCs have to figure out who they are, solve a supernatural mystery, and avoid their doooooom. Get it here.

Read more about

 

Comments

  1. 3Comrades

    One more but more for fantasy…

    Having Diversity is Unrealistic.

    People are less likely to argue this for sci fi but lots of people feel that because fantasy/spec fic has historic themes or inspiration that different groups don’t fit into that. Not only does this push the narrative that minorities have only recently been accepted (and giving credit to the idea that acceptance isn’t “normal”) but makes the story worse And fails to capture real historic complexity.

    • Cay Reet

      I’d actually expect more diversity in a fantasy world. When humans aren’t the only sentient species around, there simply should be lots of characters who look and act very differently, be they human or just humanoid.

      It makes no sense, for instance, that a fantasy world shouldn’t have inhabitants with darker skin tones, since the amount of melanin in the skin corresponds to the average level of sunshine in the area. Every fantasy world should have areas where there’s a lot more sun, which means every fantasy world should have people with darker skin. I actually like the Sun Tribe in ElfQuest exactly for that reason: It really made sense for elves who have lived in the desert for generations to have adapted to that through darker skin. It set them apart from all other tribes, but they were not considered ‘lower’ than the rest. (If anything, the Wolfriders sometimes were considered ‘less’ Elven, because their past made them mortal, unlike all other tribes.)

      Yes, humans don’t all have to get along fine, just because there are other species, too, but that doesn’t mean that a fantasy world should only have one phenotype of people.

      • 3Comrades

        Yes! This is exactly why so many of the “evil” fantasy races bothered me. Many were given darker skin and put underground. Logic and science means they would have become paler than their counterparts, not darker.

        I love seeing diversity in Fantasy, but it often feels that it’s nowhere to be found due to this idea that it somehow doesn’t belong. I can’t help but tie this to Tolkien as so much fantasy tries to emulate him without differing too much, so any deviation from his mold is sometimes treated as needing extra explanation even more then the usual.

  2. Patrick

    I’m perfectly fine with diversity but there is one aspect of this whole social justice issue I really don’t like. If someone criticizes some aspect of a diverse story, it get’s twisted around so that the critic is now a bigot. The new Ghostbusters movie is a good example of that. I saw the trailer and I didn’t like the protagonists at all. Why? Because they were goofy and unfunny! However, many social justice warriors will now assume that I am a misogynist. “You don’t like the female cast? Shame on you, you intolerant white male!” What? I don’t mind that the cast is female, that was not part of my argument. Am I supposed to like every character that is not a white male like myself, or else I am a bigot?

    Do you know the Angry Video Game Nerd? He made a video where he explained why he doesn’t like the new Ghostbusters movie trailer and why he won’t see the film in the cinema. In all of his arguments, he never ever mentioned that the female cast is a problem. But still he recieved a lot of hatefull response from the social justice faction. Urgh!

    There is one thing that some social justice warriors like to ignore: Prejudices againt white male also exist! It is even part of the some legal systems around the world.

    Black person attacks white person: Crime
    White person attacks black person: Racial hate crime

    As a white male, you are always under suspision to be a racist, a misogynist, a bigot or whatever. Guess what: Assuming that I am a racist because I am a white male is pretty racist. And this issue is rarely approached by the social justice faction.

    • Bronze Dog

      Generally people who make that complaint are the people who aren’t interested in learning how to express their opinion better. They think intent is magically transferred intact across communication. They aren’t interested in what the more subtle forms of bigotry look like (or deny that bigotry can be subtle), so they aren’t interested in distinguishing themselves from those subtler bigots.

      I’m a white male. I regularly hang out at social justice friendly venues, and I’ve *never* felt under assault. That’s because I pay attention to what people say, and self-correct my own bad behaviors. I listen to the reasons why people say a certain behavior is worrying, rather than look for some magic checklist of things not to do. I don’t go looking for excuses to storm off in a huff when my chosen words are subjected to criticism.

    • 3Comrades

      I get where you are coming from, but you are looking at it from the narrowest lens. Take the opposite of the Ghostbuster stance, tons of hatemail was given to the director and others working with the film ever since female leads were announced. Most of it largely centered on the leads being women and long before the sub-par trailer.

      What I am saying is the people who send in hatemail will always exist on both sides of the fence. It will always happen and these people are weird outliers. I find it inconsistent that one side will consider hate mail to be the norm of their opponents but only odd strange people when it comes from their own side.

      Basically, you are upset and blaming an idea that you admit holds merit, just because there are people who take it too far. That’s the equivalent of me saying you are a misogynist because you are against the film because some of the people against the film are misogynists.

      You are doing the same generalization you say is so wrong. You are taking it too far. Assuming anyone who cares about diversity is going to accuse you of all those things.

      As far as the crime thing you mentioned, you oversimplified it. No law calls white on black crimes hate crimes unless there is clear evidence the crime happened because of racial hatred. Nevermind that statistically a black person will have a longer/harsher sentence for the same equivalent crime that a white person commits, especially if a white victim was involved. It’s important to take in all facts of a matter before making blanket statements. Cherry-picking does not help anyone.

    • SunlessNick

      If anything in your post were to make me conclude you were sexist or racist, it would be your use of the phrase “social justice warrior.” Like “politically correct,” that’s a phrase that only exists to trivialise.

      • Patrick

        Then please tell me which phrase I should use instead. English is not my first language, and I thought “social justice warrior” is just an ordinary term in the English language. I didn’t know it is consided to be a pejorative.

        • Jesse

          I believe “social justice advocate” may suffice, but there may be better options.

  3. Hunter-Wolf

    Sigh … ok, i’m kinda glad you brought that up, i was recently thinking about the same subject, look .. i’m all for social justice as a movement and wish there comes a day where its core principles are the norm and we don’t have to put a label on it because it’s the exception, but that will never happen before social justice and many people who support it realize that they aren’t flawless and that any movement that wants to survive, grow and eventually achieve its goals must be critical of itself before it is critical of others and before pointing fingers and throwing accusations and labels at them.

    First of all, to put things in perspective, a short introduction is due, because no matter how anyone claims to be objective they will always have some sort of bias -myself included- so i feel the need to point out where i’m coming from in this conversation, both literally and figuratively .. i’m a straight middle aged male, Egyptian of middle eastern ethnicity and currently agnostic (formerly Muslim), so i’m not the typical American white male, but i’m a believer in humanity and its potential, that belief eventually led me into becoming an agnostic which in turn made realize how hard it is to belong to a minority living in any place where they aren’t welcome and aren’t represented, where they can’t express their identity and thoughts openly, where they have to watch every action and word they say lest they be prosecuted and scorned or even worse (by the authority or even family and friends), so to some extent i understand what the social justice movement is fighting against, as a matter of fact .. the reason i became agnostic is that i have that belief -like i said before- that all humans are equal, this belief is so ingrained into my being that it overrides everything else, when my religion demanded that i hate group (A), despise group (B), curse group (C) of people .. etc, not because of any fault or actions they made, but because of who they are, i couldn’t come to terms with that, so i cast it away after i struggled with it for years because i knew what cost came with this decision, now i know it’s even harder when it’s something you even have no choice in whatsoever like your race, sex or gender identity, something you are born with and have little control over, so i’m with you guys and i want to support your cause, but at the same time i feel it’s an obligation to be critical of the movement for its own good, for it to grow and to one day become the norm.

    To use a certain incident as a starting point, when James Rolfe (a.k.a Angry Video Game Nerd or AVGN) decided to make a video in reaction to the trailers of the new GhostBusters saying he won’t see the movie or bother to review it to make a statement about cheap remakes, he was immediately attacked and accused of misogyny and accused of being the evil white male, many feminist and social justice sites and blogs attacked him and i doubt half of them even bothered to listen to what he said in his video, this demonizing of any and everyone who speak their mind isn’t doing the social justice movement any favors, it paints the the movement as a cult of angry women (and men) who will pull out the pitchforks and torches and figuratively shred anyone who criticizes something they liked or consider part of their cause, that’s for the life of my not a very good sign and not healthy in any shape way or form (and one of the reasons why i cast organized religion away in the first place, cultish tendencies really can destroy any movement no matter how good their intentions are).

    But guess who else hated the new Ghost Busters, Danika Lee Massey (a.k.a ComicBook Girl 19), she spoke openly about why she hated the movie and why it’s a failure in a lot of ways, i have been a fan of her for a long time and i’m pretty certain that she is all for social justice and a strong advocate of a Star Trek like future (also a big fan of the ST universe), so there is no way she is attacking the movie because she is sexist against women and a misogynist or even a poor misguided woman who doesn’t know what’s best for herself (the packaged accusations sadly many supporters of social justice and feminism throw at anyone who disagrees or criticizes them), she knows what she is doing and she knows that no matter how desperate people fighting for a cause they should always draw a line they never stoop below, and that ranges from supporting a bad cash-in movie (that’s a continuation of several harmful Hollywood practices but with a new paint job) just because it has an all female cast or attacking anyone that criticizes them or something they like, she also defended James Rolfe and joked about how his attackers can’t accuse her of being a misogynistic white male (again the problem of demonizing an entire group of people for the actions or opinions of one of them).

    Another angle to examine Ghost Busters, you mentioned the new Ghost in the Shell movie and how they cast Scarlet for the role of Motoko (yeah, the contrast in the names is enough to show the irony), everyone who is in support of social justice was angry and considered this a case of white-washing (and they are right) done merely because Scarlet is famous and will bring in more funding to the movie, more viewers and sell more tickets, and to hell with the fact Motoko is a Japanese/Asian cyborg and should have been played by a Japanese/Asian actress or at the very least an American actress of Asian descent who can impersonate the character’s ethnicity closely (and Hollywood already does have talented Asian-American actresses), i argued for hours online with people who defended the choice to cast Scarlet and tried to my best ability to show why it’s a really bad choice, not just because it’s not fair for Asian-American actresses who didn’t get the role it’s also an insult to the fans worldwide who expected a somewhat faithful adaption of the original material they like, and the catch is .. that’s the exact same reason some people hated the new Ghost Busters, AVGN and ComicBook Girl 19 didn’t hate it because it has an all female-cast, no … they hated it because it’s the same Hollywood mentality that resulted in Scarlet getting a role that was far more suited to an Asian-American actress, with Ghostbusters basically the producers in Hollywood (or rather Sony here in this case, or both) saw that there is a whole thing going on with a wave of feminism is on the rise and they wanted to cash-in on that, pure and simple, it didn’t matter to them if the movie betrays all the expectations of the fans or that it’s a poor quality remake that doesn’t need to exist, but sadly many social justice supporters -probably the same who were angry about the Ghost in the Shell casting choice- would defend Ghost Busters just because the cast is all female, and accuse people like AVGN of being sexist and misogynistic just because he voiced his opinion (how dare he) about the making of a movie like this and didn’t like the idea of a cheap cash-in remake based on a movie he considered a classic, he even mentioned good examples of remakes that respected the old movies and eased viewers into the new remake (i.e the new StarTrek movies and the new Star Wars which is both a remake and a continuation), all he wanted was the old cast handing the torch to the new team, some sort of continuity, some acknowledgement of the previous movies, that’s all he wanted, and what he got (aside from the cheap cash-in movie) is a wanton storm of hate, insults and accusations from people who associate themselves with social justice and feminism, is that fair, is that right!? .. i highly doubt that.

    (continued in part 2)

  4. Hunter-Wolf

    (continued from part 1)

    What i’m trying to say is it’s great to be fighting for a cause (specially an undoubtedly good one), but even the most noble of causes can be muddled and even tarnished if people blindly march forward fighting for it without any insight or self-criticism, in their fervor and martyrdom they start resembling the very thing they are fighting against, they start discriminating, they start making generalizations and start exhibiting a mob mentality (borderline cultish) against anyone who criticizes them or anything they support even if they do have a point or good intentions with those criticisms, that’s how movements fail and implode, and with such a noble timeless idea at its core i’d hate to see social justice as a movement suffer this fate (or even a major setback).

    I loved Zootopia and supported it (saw it cinema and bought blu-ray) for the strong and clear message it carried against prejudice, generalizations and preconceptions about race, gender and identity, i cheered for Korra and Asami in Avatar Korra when they walked off into the portal together holding hands and i was singing along with Garnet in Steven Universe when she revealed that she is a fusion between two women (gems) in a relation or as she called herself a “conversation”, i was happy that Black Panther got a big role in the Captain America: Civil War movie and really loved his character design in the movie, i really liked Luke Cage’s character in Jessica Jones Netflix series (not to mention the fact it’s a super hero series staring a strong independent female super hero), i’m even more happy cause Luke Cage is getting his own Netflix series which will deal with some touchy subjects and will involve him trying to sort things out in Harlem, I’m quite excited that Wonder Woman is finally getting her own movie and Gal’s depiction is faithful and a fan favorite among DC fans (myself included) .. all that (and many more examples) doesn’t mean i’m ok with being guilt tripped into defending a bad movie (or barely average movie) because it has an all-female cast or clap for those who shred apart anyone who expresses their valid opinions or criticisms of the movie (and get attacked for it), i’m also not going to support bad casting choices … one being the amazing actor Idris Alba playing a Nose god in the first Thor movie, which makes as much sense as casting a Scandinavian actor as an African god in a movie about African Mythology, both are terrible casting choices, one panders to African Americans and the other panders to white American/European people, pandering and quality are polar opposites, supporting choices such as that only reinforces the bad practices of Hollywood (which has a wide reaching effect more than most other media out there), we shouldn’t support pandering, cash-ins or whatever just because they are pandering to us people whom we think are less represented (cause pandering aside from being the opposite of quality is usually done for cash only and the representations resulting from it range from bland right down to insulting) .. because other times this will be working against us, it will produce white-washing cases (like the Ghost in the Shell casting case) or far worse stuff.

    I don’t think the new Ghost Busters is the worst movie in existence, it’s just a below average movie, i have nothing against the actresses in the movie or the director, it even introduced me to Kate whom i haven’t seen before (i went and checked her funny SNL sketches, sadly SNL format doesn’t work as a movie because that’s basically what this new Ghostbusters movie is, one really long SNL sketch), i think the actresses are very good and made some really funny movies before (as well as the director) but that doesn’t mean i’m ok with cash-in to make money just by baiting (and then guilt-tripping and insulting) the fans of the old movies (and baiting feminists by making an all female cast), it could have been done far better than that, it could have been a totally new IP about ghost hunting or could have some transition from the old generation to the new respecting the previous movies/continuity instead of throwing it all in the garbage pretending the older movies didn’t exist at all, spitting on them while at the same time trying to bait their fans … which honestly makes no sense at all, and don’t get me started on the anti-men jabs the movie has, it might be not be done with ill-intent but all the nut-cracking jokes, all male characters being either extremely evil or extremely incompetent, shooting supposedly male ghosts in their genital areas (as if they actually have nuts) aren’t really smart or funny jabs, even many female reviewers didn’t like that, it feels cheap and it feels like doing the opposite of what some male comedies did before against women but targeting with anti-women jabs meant to laugh at them and/or demonize them, neither are ok or funny, it’s just awkward, immature, insulting and face-palm worth.

    Another pet peeve i have is the idea that creative work now comes with a representation quota you have to fulfill or you will be accused of all sort of things from sexist to racist to homophobic, it’s like everyone writing a story or building a world for a story has to include a person from every race, from every gender and from a every minority out there, this just doesn’t make any sense and actually against creative freedom, i understand social justice is for diversity and variety and i’m totally in support of that, but to take that to an extreme and turn into a must have quota that you get attacked and insulted if you didn’t fulfill is just too much, there has to be some reason or logic behind the choices, even something as simple as presenting an interesting and heroic role model for a certain group of people, that’s a good reason if you are actually going to commit to it, better if it actually ties with the plot, but that’s not a must, some examples are like in Maus graphic novel by Art Spiegelman deals with the account of a holocaust survivor (based on Art’s real father who was a Polish Jew), would the story have been better or worked better if he just added characters based on some quota randomly trying to cram every possible unrepresented minority out there, no it wouldn’t .. the focus of the story are the Jew, specifically the Polish Jew and their terrible experiences on the hands of the Nazi, that’s the core of the story and that’s what it needs to focus on, same with Spider-man .. i don’t understand turning Peter Parker into an African American character all of a sudden, changing his ethnicity for no reason and erasing the old Peter out of existence makes no sense at all, but Peter passing the mantle of Spider-man to an African American hero (namely Miles Morales) is what makes more sense and was a good idea (and anyone can easily defend that choice against the racists accusing the creator of the character of pandering for African Americans and political correctness), yeah character don’t have a default start of being white male straight dudes but that doesn’t mean the extreme opposite is correct, modesty and focus go a long way improving any fictional work’s quality, if for example i create a cast of characters for a Power Rangers like team it doesn’t mean i have to include everyone it the team just to satisfy the quota, depending on where they live and the plot as well the setting (is it earth or something else) some choices might not make sense while other might work better, It can be an all female team, or all Asian (if for example they fighting monsters in Japan or China, and eventually they meet teams from other countries who end being allies or rivals .. etc), and if none of the characters is gay that doesn’t mean the writer is homophobic, it’s silly to also think that gay people can only relate to and like gay hereos, i know how much it feel good to see a character that’s really close to you in everything (race, sex, .. etc) but i can totally relate and like many heroes who are nothing like me, and i’m pretty sure i’m no exception, recently a video-game comapny (Blizzard of World of Warcraft) introcuded two Egyptian characters as heroes in their latest game Overwatch, i always waited for something like that casue there is pretty much zero Egyptian characters in games, but i didn’t expect every game company to just include Egyptian character even if it made no sense, a good example would be Street Fighter, it would have made sense to have an Egyptian hero in a fighting game about global fighters from all over the world (we eventually got one in part 3 but he was a villain), on the other hand it wouldn’t make sense if Egyptian characters started popping up in a Batman game or Mario.

    =============================================

    Sorry about the very long rant, but this topic came at the exact right time, not just because the controversy of Ghost in the Shell and Ghost Busters (what’s it with Ghosts and controversy) but because i had lingering issues with the social justice movement and how it’s trying to achieve its goals (and yeah you can be supportive of a movement and also critical of it, actually everyone should do that, as long as the core ideas of the movement aligns with your core values but the methods don’t), i’m not comfortable with how many social justice supporters try to defend the cause (i don’t like the whole “warriors” thing), no movement or supporters of a movement are flawless or beyond criticism, and the moment a movement and its supporters start believing they are flawless or beyond criticism is the beginning of the end for this movement.

    • 3Comrades

      I basically want to say I agree with you, but it is hard because there is always going to be generalizations of people coming from both sides of the fence. It is a sad truth, but it is always easier to lump opposite ideas into an easier package that makes the idea more absurd.

      For example Ghostbusters worked like this:
      Long before the movie came out a small but vocal group of people hated it because the movie had a female cast and said misogynistic things because of it.

      People started being for the movie because arguing against the people above made them Want to see it.

      Slowly each side began to see the other as only wanting or not wanting to see the movie for the above reasons and not for the movie’s merits.

      And the movie was neither Great nor Terrible which still leaves it in this weird place after it came out with both sides accusing the other of biased leanings.

      Movies that had this trouble before were easier to place. There were lots of racists who hated Star Wars VII for Finn, and certainly a lot of complaining at the other new star wars film staring yet another woman. But because the first movie was good, real criticism was less analysed as being bigoted and real support was less analysed for taking social justice too far. Mad Max had lots of people attack it for Furiosa but when the movie ended up being good, bigotry became less the center of conversation and the people who hated it solely for a woman’s role were weeded out.

      I don’t think everyone’s saying at all a group of characters have to be minorities all the time. But we do feel having a cast made of all white/male/straight characters not only is limiting in scope and can get ridiculous (look at all the movies about other cultures staring white men) but shows that the writer didn’t even consider other alternatives. It also shows a lack of quality, because it seems lazy. With the Whitewashing in Hollywood, even casting white actors to play obviously not white roles. Or making whole movies about a real person’s life and ignoring/rewriting their sexuality. There is still a great deal of preference given to certain majorities even beyond sense. I don’t think reversing it is the answer but no one is asking for “minority quotas” so much as judging content with no minorities simply because no one thought about it or tried.

      But it does become hard for groups of people to defend against the obvious and recognize that there are actual criticisms too. I do think it IS absolutely necessary, but in truth not entirely feasible since the movement isn’t and has never been organized. It is also hard because the idea that everyone for social justice is somehow out to attack everyone else is a bit of an exaggeration too. Lots of people I know who are for social justice admit the movie was not good or even terrible, but middle lane people who have different opinions don’t win arguments. Like the bigots, it is over all, a small but loud minority who are willing to attack everyone because they feel better than others.

      Does that mean people who are for social justice need to decry it more regularly? Maybe, I don’t know. It’s hard to pinpoint with it being all over the internet and be hard to do without making it seem the complainers are the main “faction”. If they do apologize for that group should they expect others to apologize for their more outrageous groups? There are the reverse Anti-sjws who tried to do this but then they often take it a step too far as well. Be glad to hear your thoughts on how people for SJ but don’t approve of attacking others can limit the blind attacks while also not making the entire movement about limiting those people.

  5. Cay Reet

    Okay, about the whole Ghostbusters argument: I can’t speak about the new movie, since it won’t be in cinemas over here until the next Thursday, but let’s have a look at the old one, the original, not the remake.

    Don’t misunderstand me, I loved Ghostbusters. I still like the movie a lot as a fun action comedy with a very good cast (Murray, Ramis, Aycroyd, Weaver). But the cast is already where things get a little strange. Not by Hollywood standards, because the movie is pretty much Hollywood standard, but by balance. There are two female characters on screen who have a bit more screentime: Janice, the secretary of the Ghostbusters, and Dana, the female lead. I will openly admit that Janice is a bit more intelligent than Kevin (as far as I can tell from trailers and critiques I’ve read), but she is a very minor character.
    Dana, of course, is not. She is the female lead and the love interest for Murray’s Peter Venkman. What do we learn about her? She seems to be a pretty successful single female: she has a job in an orchestra and seems to earn well, judging from her apartment. She also doesn’t act like the kind of woman who is desperate for a man by her side. She’s obviously neither interested in Venkman, nor in her neighbour (whose name I have forgotten). Yet, the plot of Ghostbusters demands close contact with both of those men. Under the influence of Zuul (with whom she merely comes into contact because she lives in the wrong place, it’s not as if she willingly and knowingly channelled him or something), she first seduces her neighbour, so that he can become the second hell hound necessary to open the portal. Venkman, on the other hand, resists her seduction, sedates her instead (with a chemical no-one should bring to a date), and thus ‘rescues’ her. And because of that, he is entitled to ‘get her’ in the end. It’s the plot of countless action movies and action comedies: the female lead will end up with the male lead (and among the Ghostbusters, Venkman definitely is the alpha).
    Dana goes through a similar fate in the second movie, too. What happened? In the meantime, she had a kid. She changed profession from music to art (well, restoring art). Last time I checked, it took years to learn the job she’s now doing. When and why did she decide to stop being a musician (something she also must have trained hard for) and become a restorer? When did she go through all that training? Before, during, or after the birth of her child? But it’s more convenient for Dana to be a restorer in the second movie, because the plot wouldn’t work if she still did music. She’d never get close to either her creepy boss or the haunted painting otherwise. Dana is ‘chosen’ as the mother of Vigo’s rebirth for two simple reasons: she has a child and Vigo’s servant/slave has a thing for her. Vigo gets a new body and his faithful servant gets the mother as a ‘thank you’ gift. Of course, that never happens, because Venkman again comes to the rescue. Again, he gets the same girl for a similar job well done.

    Dana’s fate is far from being unique in the movies today. A female lead in any kind of movie outside the ‘romantic’ option usually is a trophy to be handed to the male lead at the end. And one can argue for some romantic movies whether it’s not pretty much the same.
    I like the premise of the new Ghostbusters movie, replacing the male scientists with female ones. I can’t speak for the way it has been done, but from what I’ve read, the girls a) do a pretty good job at saving NYC and b) do so without practicing waif-fu* or constantly showing up in perfect, but impractical clothes and with perfectly done hair and makeup. In other words: they look rather like their male counterparts would after a fight. Jokes don’t please everyone … a lot of people didn’t like the humour of the original Ghostbusters, either.
    I know action movies and suchlike are geared towards the white male (usually between his mid-teens and late twenties), but I happen to like a good action movie, too. What I’d like to see, though, are more tough female leads. Tough females, not waifs who always dress perfectly and look like fresh out of the makeup trailer. Women who show they get just as dirty, injured, and roughed up as their male counterparts.

    *waif-fu: the art of dealing out horrific damage while looking like a strong breeze could blow you away.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      For the record Cay, Mythcreants heartily endorses Ghostbusters 2016. It’s quite good, and I hope you get a chance to see it when it comes out.

      • Cay Reet

        Thanks, Oren … I already guessed your position from other blog posts here. What I’d like even more would be more movies with strong women, though.

        • Oren Ashkenazi

          I’d say the new Ghostbusters count. None of them are Furiosa because this is a comedy, but they all know their shit and carry their weight. Holtzmann at least is a huge baddass.

  6. Hunter-Wolf

    The problem here is not really about movies with strong women, Mad Max was very well received along with Furiosa (who is quite the main character in this story despite the movie being called Mad Max), some voices spoke against Furiosa being a female lead for a supposedly very macho franchise but they were shushed and drowned by the overwhelmingly positive reception of the movie and the character.

    We have Wonder Woman coming too and it is going to be the first superhero movie with a female superhero in a very long time (Catwoman doesn’t count), not only that but so far the trailer shows her as a really independent and strong heroine, we also have Captain Marvel coming too with the casting choices already solidified (no trailer yet though).

    You need to ask yourself why did the trailer of Wonder Woman got a very positive reception while the Ghostbusters got a very negative reception (usually from the same people and reviewers), i can’t deny that there are misogynists and sexists who would attack both movies just for having female leads but that in turn doesn’t mean to clap my hands blindly and pretend that every movie that has a female lead/s is automatically a good movie worth to be showered with praise, or that everyone who critiques these movies is a sexist misogynist, that’s just a very harmful and delusional thing to do.

    I also never claimed the first movie is perfect or flawless, it was a representation of its time with all its flaws and strong points, the problem is that the new movie tries to do many paradoxial things hoping both would work equally (something the original movie saved itself the trouble attempting), this paradoxical approach is why the movie is hated ever since its first trailers (and still is after most reviews are out).

    Basically it’s trying to claim it is a Ghostbusters movie (while completely erasing the continuity and pretending the older movies didn’t exist at all), meanwhile it’s also trying to claim higher moral ground than the older movie by just replacing the male characters with female ones and vise versa (ad trying to guilt trip any critique of the movie by accusing all critics who didn’t like it of being sexist misogynists), it almost feels prejudiced against men giving them terrible roles (as i said only evil or extremely stupid) and making countless cheap jokes on their expense, so no it doesn’t have the moral high-ground just because it has an all female cast nor it is a better movie than the first (let alone being a good movie on its own), because picking an old movie that’s considered a classic and just switching the main cast gender or ethnicity and trying to cash-in on that couldn’t possibly produce a good movie nor does it automatically guarantee a decent one, things just don’t work like that.

    My major pet peeve with this whole deal really is the swarms of attacks on people who actually critiqued the movie and automatically got accused (along with anyone who didn’t like the movie) of being sexists and misogynists, that’s just not right and not ok and needs to be mentioned, talked about and discouraged as much as we need to talk about the actual sexists and misogynists out there.

    Yeah, i surely want to see more movies with strong female characters, but Ghostbusters 2016 definitely isn’t really how it should be done (and we have plenty of good examples that showed how it could be done).

    • Cay Reet

      Perhaps the Wonder Woman trailer got good reviews because Wonder Woman always was a woman … it wasn’t the remake of a beloved movie with gender-switched roles.
      Yes, in a way the Ghostbusters movie is erasing the old timeline and denying Venkman and the others ever exist … but which reboot doesn’t? Well, okay, the first Start Trek reboot, since it includes one of the ‘old crew’ in his old role. But apart from that, the point about remakes/restarts is that they always invalidate that which was before.

      I’m not someone who judges a movie just by what other people say, but after seeing the cast of the Ghostbusters movie, I was happy. Why? Because they’re not all the typical Hollywood Waifs. They look like ‘real’ women of 2016. After reading they’re not practicing Waif-Fu, either, I was twice as happy. What I’m seriously missing are such women in more movies.

      Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel aren’t ‘real’ women … normal women. They are Superheroes with super abilites. That alone puts them in another category. Apart from Furiosa, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world, give me one woman in an action-oriented movie who is a) playing an important role (not as the trophy) and b) coming out just as dishevelled and dirty as the male lead. A woman who clearly has fought and won, like Bruce Willis in his best times or countless other action heroes. Don’t say Ripley, by the way … she is still shown from the male view, hence she ends up in that shuttle in her underwear, running away from the enemy instead of slaying it.

      I’m also not sure whether only established female Superheroes should get their own movie (althought personally, I’d happily pay to see a Black Widow movie … that could be fun). What about establishing new heroines who look real throught the movies? Or, at any rate, women who look as real as their male counterparts.

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Also remember that no matter how positively Wonder Woman is being received, DC waited years and years to make it. Hollywood is suuuuper cautious about new properties, and they’re terrified of new properties with women. Sometimes a gender-flipped reboot is the only option.

        And it’s notable that very few of these people who are so against reboots have felt the need to speak so aggressively about reboots of movies in the past.

  7. Chris Sham

    Excellent article, hits the key arguments very clearly.

    And the huge responses from (evidently) white guys immediately trying to poke holes in it and find loopholes, shows (at a big picture level) why it’s so important to keep repeating these arguments.

    I’m going to say that if you’re white and male and straight (as I am), you shouldn’t keep trying to butt in and push others to agree with your views about the still relatively small number of movies (and other media) that give oppressed groups their due prominence. I’m not saying you’re not allowed to, I have no control over your voice, you probably have a legal right to, depending where you live. Rather, I’m saying you should choose to shut up and get out of the way, let those who really need the room speak instead.

    Because what’s the worst that’ll happen? You don’t get to publicly whine about a movie you disliked for purely non-prejudiced reasons? Oh noes, what tragedy!

    • Hunter-Wolf

      So reviewing movies is now considered whining, that’s exactly what pisses me off, when someone thinks that by defending a movie that got attacked by sexists and misogynists they automatically have the moral high ground in any conversation regarding the movie, even worse they consider anyone who actually critiques the movie with valid criticisms whining and being spoiled babies standing in the way of progress and social justice, come on, really!!?

      It really isn’t about the movie itself anymore as much as it is about how other people reacted to it and how people reacted to those reactions, and what all those reactions say about all the parties involved (not a lot of good things i’m afraid).

      Just because a movie decided to gender-bend its cast and introduced a diverse cast of female characters (played by talented women) that doesn’t mean it’s automatically going to be a good movie or that it should be immune to critique like any other movie, yes the attacks by sexists on the movie just because it’s main cast is all females and the attacks on the actresses and the director are really unacceptable and terrible, but that in turn doesn’t give any of them the right to label anyone who critiques the movie or doesn’t like it a misogynist and a sexist (which they did), this attitude is just as bad as their attackers and it’s not ok for either of them to do that.

      In fact many of the critiques who got attacked for legitimately criticizing the movie (an attack that’s totally unacceptable) already voiced their disdain for remakes over and over way before Ghostbusters was ever announced, the prime example being Comicbook Gilr 19 who has a long time anti-remakes stance, basically whenever a remake is announced she assumes it’s crap until she sees it and reviews it, most of the time she turns out to be right, many people and internet critics did hate remakes long before Ghostbusters was ever made, so let’s not act as if it’s something new or unheard of before.

      Finally, trying to brush the problems this controversy revealed under the rug is exactly the kind of harmful attitude by which many movements lost their way, so i’m really hoping you realize laughing at it and saying things like “what’s the worst that’ll happen?” isn’t really going to help anyone.

      • Patrick

        Thank you for your wise words. The conversations on this topic are really toxic. I admit that minorities often get discriminated, but one flaw should not be fixed with another flaw. And the social justice movement is heavily flawed in my not so holy opinion. You are for diversity? That’s great, I have nothing against diversity! However, different people have different plans to achieve diversity and are not immune to criticism because their goal is considered to be good thing.

        I present you: Three bad arguments for social justice in speculative fiction. (Might contain some straw man fallacies.)

        1. “Minorities also need characters to identify with.”

        Why should we teach our children that they should identify with characters of the same ethnic group as them more? Personally, I don’t care about skin color. Your ethnicity doesn’t affect how I judge you, it’s your personality and your actions that matter. Instead of forcing every minority in our fiction to satisfy social justice, we should instead teach our children that can identify with every character they like, regardless of the characters ethnicity. RACE SHOULD NOT MATTER! If we want to get rid of racism, we have to stop talking about racism on every occasion. Of course there are racists out there, and we have to disprove their ideas, but if we constantly rehash the race debate, we only cement the fallacy that race actually matters in our minds. In a perfect world, noone would bat an eye if the cast of a film consist of only white or only black people. Cast A consists of 6 white people, cast B consists of 6 black people, cast C consists of 3 white and 3 black people. Which cast do you prefer? I prefer none of them, all of them are the same, a cast of 6 human beings.

        2. “Statistically, white people are the majority in our fiction.”

        Yes, that’s actually not a big surprise if you live in North America or Europe. Authors tend to write fiction that occurs in their own culture they are familiar with, and whites are simply the majority in Europe and North America. If you watch an Indian movie, you will have hard time to find a character that is not an Indian. That doesn’t mean that Indian filmmakers are racist, they just prefer to create stories that occur inside India and of course the vast majority of the characters will be Indians. I won’t deny that there might be racist filmmakers out there, but the dominance of white people in western media is not based on ill intend, it’s just a logical result.

        Maybe you argue that at least fantasy fiction should have a diverse cast. If it’s a completly different universe, our circumstances on earth should not count, right? Well, they might not count in the alternate universe, but the still count at the film set. If you are a filmmaker in central Europe and you are looking for actors, you will find only a handfull of black actors and a bunch of white actors in your country. And if a white guy from your country fits your role, why should you bother to seek for actors at the other side of the globe?

        3. “Woman/Minorities/Homosexualls are oppressed in our society! Authors should include strong characters that are part of an oppressed group to make the world a better place.”

        Well, I don’t want to start a discussion about oppression, the opinions about who is oppressed and why are very divided. But do we really need to appeal to the consciene of authors who just want to tell an exciting story? For example: “You have to include an openly gay character in your story, or else you are part of the problem!” You can argue that there is rarely a reason why a character should not be gay, but at the same time there is also rarely a reason why a character should be gay. This argument works both ways. Besides that, there are other problems in our society rather then intolerance. Should we force authors to talk about environmental pollution in their work? Should we force them to talk about poverty? Should we force them to talk about political corruption? Should we force them to talk about religious hatred? No, we should not. If an author wants to fight against issues in our society, that’s fine. Hell, that’s even a great thing! But if an author just wants to tell an exciting story, that’s also fine. It’s great that there are people out there who fight for a better world. But we should not establish some kind of moral duty for authors they have to fullfill in their works. They should be free to write anything how the like it, no matter what other people expect them to do. It’s similar to freedom of speech. You might not like everything that other people say, but you have to accept that it is their right to do so. If you think a story is intolerant against certain people, you are free to criticize the story. You can also write your own story and adress the issues in our society. But you can not force other people to use your own moral compass in their works.

        ——————————————————————————————

        I wish you all a nice day!

        • Cay Reet

          About 1: The children will be viewed as part of their ethnicity for the rest of their lives, so they need someone on screen to identify with, too. Whoopie Goldberg has gone on record for being sweeped away after seeing Star Trek (original series) for the first time, because there was a black woman in it who wasn’t just the maid. It inspired her. Yes, in an ideal world, our ethnicity wouldn’t have more impact on our life or the way others see us as our eye-colour or clothing style. But we don’t live in an ideal world.

          About 2: Yes, in Europe (where I live) and North America, a high percentage of people is indeed white. But not all of the people are and a good story should reflect that and not always give the same positions to the non-white characters (like the physical black character or the scientist Asian character). In older horror movies, you can be pretty sure the black character is not going to see the end of the movie. Story structures aren’t changed overnight, but if we never start, because ‘it always was like this and it works well this way,’ they’ll never change.

          About 3: The homosexual is usually played off for laughs, the pretty woman is the trophy and the ‘ugly’ (overweight or just not Hollywood pretty) one is for comedy relief, minorities are caught in their stereotype roles. That is how quite a large percentage of mankind is portrayed in movies. Because they’re not the straight, white male. About gay characters: what about just making a character gay because he can be without destroying the storyline? Obviously, you’re not going to make a romantic love interest in a romance novel or movie gay (exchept if you write Shonen Ai, of course), but what about one of the cops in an action movie? The fact that he’s into guys doesn’t make him less of a cop … and at least he won’t fall for the female criminal’s flirtations. The most radical way to introduce a character who is not mainstream would be to just include them without making a fuss about it. Because that would show they’re just normal people like all the rest. So instead of asking ‘why should I make a character gay?’ try asking yourself ‘why do I not make this character gay?’ I’ve had a gay soldier-agent in the stories I’m writing since the first one and his sexual orientation has never had an impact on the story, apart from immediately taking down the ‘will they – won’t they’ thing between him and the female lead. Yet, I wouldn’t have him any other way.

          • Patrick

            About 1: Yes, we don’t live in an ideal world, and we will probably never achieve an ideal world. But is that an excuse not to strive for an ideal world? True perfection is impossible, but we try to be perfect in other cases anyway. Instead of getting rid od racism, Social Justice wants to modify racism so that it fits our moral standards better.

            About 2: I’m not a fan of horror movies, so I don’t know much about this point. But I will assume that ALL of the characters in a horror movie have a high tendency to die.

            I know that stereotypes exist, but as I said before, a flaw should not be fixed with another flaw. Just give the role to the actor that fits the character the best. When all roles are taken you realize that the cast lacks an Asian guy. Now what? Should you kick out another actor to get an Asian actor in? That’s not fair play. You also have to consider the time and place the movie plays in. If the film is set in medieval Europe, then it’s totally okay to cast only white people. (This does not count for plays, though.) If the film is set in modern Europe, then the chance to have minorities in it is very probably, but why should it be a must? If all humans are equal, then the ethnicity should not affect the quality of a film.

            About 3: I mentioned this exact point in my argument. I repeat: There is rarely a reason why a character should not be gay, but there is also rarely a reason why a character should be gay. Maybe this cop is gay, maybe not, maybe he is bi, but why should I care about it? I agree that you should not make a fuss about it. A good example of a gay character is Dumbledore, because his sexual orientation is never clearly stated inside the book, because it didn’t matter. We should stop to make fuss if someone declares he is gay. It was a big deal back in the time when gay people suffered heavily discrimination, but today we should abandon the idea that being gay is off the norm. But paying heavy attention to a “coming out” still imply that it is, even though it might not be considered a bad thing by now.

          • Oren Ashkenazi

            Hey Cay Reet, just wanted to let you know that we really appreciate your insightful comments here. We appreciate having such an aware reader.

          • Cay Reet

            Patrick, I would answer, but this doesn’t seem possible from a technical point.

            Say, did you ever think about how representation of a highly diverse cast of characters could actually help make the world a better place? So far, we usually see the world being saved by the straight, white dude. We are aware he can do the job, he’s done so often already. Well done, Mr. Straight White Dude! What we don’t know is that the bisexual black woman and the Asian gay man can do exactly the same thing. Why? Because it’s never shown.

            Yes, all characters in a horror movie run a high risk of dying, but it’s always a white character or several of them who make it to the end (even worse so in the past). It became such a cliché that there actually were jokes in horror movies about how the black guy wasn’t going to make it. That’s just how over-used it was.
            Should you kick out a character just to replace it with an Asian one? No. But while you write the story, you should already think about whether it’s necessary to have all people there from the same ethnicity. Is there a good reason for that? Are you making a point in only having straight, white characters? Depending on the historical and social setting (consider Victorian nobility as an example), that might actually be a necessity. If not, why not consider a more diverse cast from the beginning?
            Or do you think only one specific actor in the world can play one specific role? Because in this case, take a look at the casting history of many movies in which an actor was replaced, sometimes even during the actual filming, and the replacement was later considered much more fitting for the role.
            Consider the role of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange: she shouldn’t be playing it, an Asian (ideally a Tibetian) actor should. Yet, the company decided on a European woman as not to annoy the Chinese market. Please note: I don’t say Miss Swinton doesn’t do a good job, from the trailer she does. I don’t say I’m not approving of a female mentor for a male character, because I heartily approve. But it was a casting choice which had nothing to do with ‘that is the only way to cast the character’ and all with ‘we want to pander to a special market on the off chance that China might react badly to a Tibetian actor.’ Only casting white actors in hero roles is essentially pandering to a special market (white men) as well.

            “There is rarely a reason why a character should not be gay, but there is also rarely a reason why a character should be gay.” Turn that around once, please. “There is rarely a reason why a character should not be straight, but there is also rarely a reason why a character should be straight.”
            You see, there is a reason why a character should be gay: to teach all those young, testosterone-laden men who think calling someone ‘gay’ is a fitting insult that a gay man is not always effeminate or only fit to be laughing stock or a villain.
            I, personally, felt very touched by a very short scene in “Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy” (movie, not mini series) where Peter, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, broke up with his boyfriend to make sure the other one was not drawn into the danger he might be facing. You didn’t even get to hear what they said, you saw them arguing, the other one leaving, and Peter sitting on the couch, crying. There’s no other scene in the movie which hints, let alone says, ‘this is a gay character.’

      • Chris Sham

        “So reviewing movies is now considered whining”

        No, H-W, whining is considered whining.

        Going on for pages and pages about how you demand and deserve the right to tell the world how much you, personally, disliked a movie, is whining.

        And singling out one specific movie (Ghostbusters) to try and rubbish a wider principle about media in general is somewhere between cherry-picking and whining.

        You appear to be obsessed with Ghostbusters. I didn’t mention that specific movie at all in my original comment, so there was no clear reason for you to lean on it so heavily in your reply to me. My guess is that none of your opinions here are original, that you’re just parroting what others have said, and bashing Ghostbusters has been a recent fad you’ve likely been contaminated by. (Note that I still haven’t given my own opinion on that movie at all.)

        So let’s forget that and return to the general principle: Why in the universe would you feel that your personal opinion of a movie is more important than anyone else’s? Why would you insist on pushing it out onto the world? Why should we HAVE to listen to what you think about it?

        And then, even if you still feel your opinion carries some weight at all, why would your opinion outweigh or be at all relevant to a movie specifically made for people who are not you? Do you publicly express opinions on everything that you’re not among the target audience for? Do you publish reviews of toddlers’ TV shows? Of Chinese-language software adapted for Korean-speakers? Of denture adhesive instruction manuals?

        In short, why can’t you just accept that your thoughts might not be wanted or needed in this situation? Why do you think you’re so central and important?

  8. Cay Reet

    Something I just remembered and wanted to add to this question: “Was Gene Roddenberry only hoping to get Star Trek better ratings when he conceived Sulu and Uhura?”

    First of all, I think he thought that in a future where mankind had encountered several different sentient alien species, they would realize that skin tone didn’t make all that much of a difference.

    But I remembered a few other things about the original series. George Takei has said that the role of Sulu was the first one he was offered which was not an evil Japanese WWII-Officer. So much for being typecast and how to stop that.

    In addition, Roddenberry didn’t get away with all of his plans. In the first pilot, the Enterprise had a female first officer, played by the woman who would later on become his wife. The producers forced him to make a decision: either the man with the strange ears (Spock) or the female first officer had to go. Roddenberry claimed he “decided to marry the first officer and keep the Vulcan.” Probably a good idea, given that the new captain (Kirk is not in the first pilot episode, either) was a womanizer and probably would have constantly clashed with a female second-in-command. The actress took up the role of a nurse, which was acceptable for the producers, and the man with the strange ears became the new first officer.

    This, however, also means that Uhura is the only female member of the bridge crew, since all others are men. Oh, and I think having a Russian officer on the bridge probably was even more shocking than having a Japanese one then … Cold War and all that.

    • Chris Sham

      (I generally agree, though there is room to question the label of “womaniser” for Kirk. If that term simply means having multiple partners, then ok, sure. But usually it implies something more sinister and underhanded than seems to fit Kirk’s actions and emotions.)

      • Cay Reet

        Yes, I agree … he does have multiple partners, but there’s never a suggestion it isn’t consentual from both sides. Perhaps pretty alien women are just as interested in having sex with a human than a human might be in having sex with them.

        Let’s say a female first officer might have clashed with a captain who did a lot of flirting.

        • Patrick

          Hey Cay Reet, I would like to reply to your comment above but the reply button doesn’t work there. I consider many people who advocate Social Justice as good meaning people. But at the same time I see many people who believe to fight against injustice, racism, intolerance or whatever but are unjust, racist or intolerant themselves. And this injustice covered by the smokescreen of justice is already there! It’s this toxic fallacy that only a white, male and / or straight person can be racist / sexist / intolerant or that every time a member of a minority doesn’t get what he deserves it is only so because he is a minority.

          I will admit that people who scream “Oh, it’s just for political correctness!” immediately when we don’t know the intend of the author are also wrong. I saw a lot of hateful comments for the character Finn in the latest Star Wars movie, and this people are just stupid. Why should we assume that a black guy is in the film because he is a black guy? I would disagree with the filmmakers if they actually admit that the race played a part in their decision, but for now I will presume innocence. Luckily the film was well received by the audience, so the discussion about Finn’s race didn’t last long. (Finn is one of my favorite characters in this movie, btw.)

          Unfortunately, screaming racism is also an effective weapon for some vicious people. Examples are the OJ Simpson case or the racist hate group “Black Lives Matter”. In Europe the police tries to cover up countless sexual assaults against woman because the perpetrators are refugees. (Don’t you dare to say something against refugees, you filthy Nazi!)

          I’m just very concerned about movements who proclaim to fight for a minority but don’t realize that they are intolerant against the majority (usually the white dudes). A KKK-member who lynches a black guy is as wrong as a BLM-supporter who kills a cop. Why don’t we abolish the whole race category? We never talk about the eye color of an actor, why do we keep talking about the skin color? Our children are learning from our behavior, if we stop making a deal about race, then our children won’t even know what racism is until they open a history book and learn that it is as stupid and out-dated as the believe that the sun orbits the earth.

          • Hunter-Wolf

            While i agree with 99% of what you said Patrick i don’t think if we stop talking about skin color or stop making a deal about race it solve anything, it will only produce lack of awareness in the next generation about racial issues that they will witness around them (not in history books).

            Why? Because racists will never listen to that advice of yours, if they did there wouldn’t be a problem to begin with, but that’s not the case, only in a perfectly ideal world your advice would work and when stop talking about race it will blend into the background and become a non-issue like eye color.

            But since we don’t live in an ideal world that won’t happen so easily, we still have to talk about race and racial issues and raise awareness regarding them in order to make sure racist people don’t ever have it their way and make sure they never for one second keep doing what they are doing without someone saying in their faces that they are WRONG (whatever their race or ethnicty is).

          • Hunter-Wolf

            Also a clarification, racism does indeed happen from non-white people, but the catch is racism exhibited by a majority is usually far more widespread and is usually state packed, while on the other hand when some people from a minority are racist towards the majority it’s usually a reaction to suffering years of racism at the hands of the majority (still that doesn’t in any way make it ok).

            That’s why racism by majorities and state packed racism are more talked about and disscused (mostly done by white people) because it’s a far more dire case and because dealing with it first partially lessens cases of counter racism as it removes the enviroment that makes a minority fester feelings of fear, hatred and grudges aganist the majority.

          • Cay Reet

            Hello Patrick,

            Unfortunately, I start getting the idea there’s one thing you either can’t or won’t understand. Yes, in an ideal world which will hopefully happen in the future, we will only know humans and race or gender won’t matter a bit. But we’re not there yet and one way to make this come true is not hide different ethnicities or gender or tell children they all have to see the default (straight white male) as a role model. One of the ways is to show them a place where this already happens. A diverse cast in a movie where the none-default characters are just part of the cast, not stereotypes which are always the same. When children of all ethnicities see humans of all ethnicities together, they’ll see it as someone normal and accept it as normal. When children always see the white male succeed and only see blacks as victims or criminal and only see women as trophies, that sends a different message entirely.

            I also think you have a wrong impression about Black Lives Matter. Yes, there are extremists, but putting the whole movement into the same category as the KKK is, honestly, definitely wrong. The sole purpose of the KKK is and was white supremacy. The main purpose of BLM is to draw attention to the fact that being black can kill you in situations in which being white would not put you in any danger. An extremist among the BLM who kills a cop is as much of a terrorist (but I’m using this word with caution here) as a KKK member who kills a black person simply for being black. But killing and subduing blacks is essentially the only real reason the KKK exists. Killing cops is not the only reason why BLM exists.

            I’ve never been a fan of political correctness myself, but I think social justice won’t happen by itself, it needs work to happen. That’s why I advocate diverse casts.

  9. Alyx

    This is hardly relevant, nerdy nit-pickery, but is the biologist actually Asian? I’m a couple chapters short of finishing ‘Acceptance’ and I assumed she was of Native American descent. That would seem to fit her personality and physical description better (again, though, I might have missed the cue that she’s Asian).

  10. Jesse

    I just wanted to say, this may be the only website where I actually enjoy reading the comments. You have gathered a good fan base, who despite having differing opinions, are largely well thought out and civil to one another. That is amazing and should be applauded.

  11. Siderite

    I have to disagree strongly with argument number 4. Any aspect of a story that does not further the story needs to be examined thoroughly. Why is that guy gay? Is it because it is normal for some people to be gay? Or is it because someone wanted to check that box in the movie or book?

    Because if they did it for the first reason, then it’s not even social justice, it just is. It feels natural, it doesn’t make people feel uncomfortable or if it does it’s their problem. But when they do it just because they have to, it’s usually a crappy, cliched, sometimes downright offensive parody of what a straight guy thinks a gay would be like. And that is just bad, annoying and promoting the same prejudice you guys want to get rid of.

    Also, I would have to point out that being gay and being black are two completely different things. If a character is black, they don’t have to do anything to show it. They might behave as the whitest person ever and still they are obviously black. Sexual orientation, though, is affirmed in sexual or romantic contexts. In order to display the character’s gayness you have to put them in such situations where that is clear. Are those situations part of the story, or are they put there just to pose the homosexual for the social justice people?

    I don’t care if one character dresses in pink and likes to wear earrings. There are people like that. Some of them aren’t even gay! And there are perfectly ordinary people that are gay and you wouldn’t even know it.

    In conclusion, stop faking social justice, because it feels fake and I bet even the most extreme SJWs cringe when they see fake characters doing fake things in fake scenes that have nothing to do with the story.

    • SunlessNick

      Any aspect of a story that does not further the story needs to be examined thoroughly. Why is that guy gay?

      Why is that guy straight? Why is that guy a guy? How often do *those* choices truly further the story? The world is a diverse place, and including that diversity in your story – unless there is a *specific* reason *not* to – improves its verisimilitude, and that does further the story.

      • Cay Reet

        That’s exactly the point. There shouldn’t be a default state for a character. If it’s important a character is a straight guy, then the character should be a straight guy. But if gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation aren’t part of the plot, making a cast as diverse as possible (for your setting) always is a good idea.
        A diverse cast means several ways of dealing with a problem, for one thing. If the only thing you have is a hammer, every problem looks like it can be solved with a hammer. If you have a toolbox, there’s many more ways to solve the same problem. That makes for a much more interesting story in the end.

    • Bronze Dog

      It’s easy to make stereotypical characters unintentionally, but that’s not an excuse to not even try making developed characters..

      What’s the alternative?

      • Hunter-Wolf

        Well i don’t think Siderite is arguing against diversity, he isn’t looking for an alternative, any decent human being (whether part of the SJ movement or not) can’t be against diversity, but what people like me (and i think Siderite too) want is modesty, not just diversity for diversity’s sake, because that usually produces a very diverse cast but risks the characters feeling flat and one dimensional, it usually creates caricatures (unintentionally).

        What we want is a moderate way to handle diversity, to tie it with the plot, themes of the story and character development, that way not only the characters will have depth and complexity and won’t be defined by their race, sexuality or whatever, they will be fully rounded characters.

        As for the default state thing, many writers and artists have a default state they begin with for most of their characters (probably their own state or that of their largest audience), it might seem problematic at first but i don’t see any problem if they can expand from there to include all sorts of other people who aren’t like them, it’s only a problem when they don’t do that, only a problem when they can only write and relate to people who are 100% like them (which is just sad), when people like that are forced under market pressure (seeking wider audience or more sales, or both) to embrace diversity what we get is checklist driven diversity that produces stereotypes and caricatures (because they don’t really care about the representation of those “other” people).

        So how to make them care? that should be the question, i think by going back to my first point, by producing a story that is really good and integrates the diversity into the story line, the story line doesn’t have to solely be about diversity and discrimination or social justice, it can be about saving the universe or saving a historical site from getting destroyed but they key is within the themes of the story (which can accommodate a lot more than the direct plot), Zootopia is a great example in fact, the story is about a sinister plot made by a government official to frame predators on a serious of incidents and prosecute them, a plot which gets thwarted by a team of a young new cop who isn’t a predator and a con artist who is a predator, pretty good .. but the catch is what they did with the themes, the movie only has two different types of animals, the predators and the non-predators, all the themes are focused on interrelations between those two groups and how that plot threatened to destroy all the trust and civilized relations between the two groups, this focus is what made the movie resonate with people so much, they didn’t just add diversity for diversity’s sake but added it because it ties with the themes of the movie/story and that in turn made each character a fully rounded and believable character (even though we are talking about anthropomorphic talking animals), also because we saw how each of the characters dealt with their own share of prejudices and discrimination at early stage from their lives.

      • SamBeringer

        I think stereotypes mainly exist because the person adding them is checking off boxes. Whereas a fully-fleshed character is made by someone who genuinely cares about representation.

  12. Kristy

    Great article! One problem though, trans people don’t “choose” their gender, they just are that gender. Saying things like “their chosen gender” makes it seem frivolous, as though they could just stop being trans if they wanted to, but that isn’t the case. Please address this if and when you are able, thanks!

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s a very good point Kristy, I guess sometimes these things slip by us. Much appreciated, and glad you enjoyed the article otherwise.

  13. jay

    “Fantasy is part of that, too, with the One Ring being an important metaphor for weapons of mass destruction whether Tolkien meant it to be or not.”

    I think it should be pointed out that authors tend to make points without taking the entire scope of those points into consideration. That is not to say they have not thought those points through, they have, but valid meaning often transcends conscious intention.

  14. Tumblingxelian

    This was an absolutely wonderful read and one that I shall be cataloguing as a resource for writing, but also debates and discussions.

    I’ve had tons of encounters with people who are seemingly hostile to the idea of representation whether in the media they watch or the fan content produced and this article neatly summarises my views in an eloquent but through manner.

Leave a Comment

By submitting a comment, you confirm that you have read and agree to our comments policy.