Had a bit of an odd encounter recently. I'd like to share it, briefly, before getting to the point of this post.
I was reading an article online about how irritating it is that there are not more strong, leading women in books, movies and tv. The author of the article was, rightfully, vexed by the lack of them, as were many of the commentators on the piece. Many went on to state their dismay at the lack of minority leads. By minority, a word I abhor myself, I mean black, latino, asian, gay, and so forth. You know. All the people who are not white straight men.
In a fit of bemusement at the outrage, I made a brief comment that went more or less like this.
I've written a series featuring a strong, gay woman in the leading role. Heard of it? There you go.
A number of people promptly took the time out from their outrage to point out that they didn't understand what I was saying. This, of course, only amused me further. Several were polite enough to explain to me that they hadn't heard of it because, they were certain, it was terribly written and not worth reading. Not that they had, but they were very sure of themselves.
I couldn't help but laugh.
Allow me to make something clear. I do agree that there is a sad lack of high profile leads that are not of the straight white male variety. I am all for a wider diversity in fiction, if for no other reason than it provides a broader landscape for authors to play with. More importantly, everyone reads. Not everyone is a straight white male. The same with film. It seems obvious, but apparently, isn't.
That said, unlike everyone else who is raging about the lack of characters that fit their desire, I'm actually trying to do something about it, and not just as a writer, but as a reader, and lover of film. I don't have time to be outraged about what I'm not getting, especially when it's so widely available for anyone willing to actually look around a little.
Which brings me back to what I commented on the article. Something that, to my surprise, needed to be explained to people.
I've written a series featuring a strong, gay woman in the lead. Very few people have heard of it. Not because it's hard to find, but because they aren't actually looking. I'm hardly the only author doing this, after all. Strong leading females are everywhere in fiction, and even on tv, if people would tear themselves away from Honey Boo Boo long enough to go see them. Rachael Morgans Hollows series, to give one example. The Legend of Korra, to give another. Erza Scarlet of Fairy Tail, for a third.
Actually, the list goes on and on, rather extensively.
The problem here isn't that the media, by which I mean big publishers and Hollywood, aren't giving us what we want. The problem is that they are giving us exactly what we want. They are sticking to the formulas we stick to. By their very nature, the media tends to be risk adverse, and is only going to bankroll things they feel confident are going to bring them a return. That's just common sense.
So, rather than change the environment to make new possibilities less risk adverse, everyone just sits back and laments that it is isn't. They demand media take the first step, even though media has literally zero assurances that it will be worth their while. In this case, not worth their while could spell the end of a publishing house, or the financial collapse of a studio.
That's a pretty big risk.
Which brings me to the other part of my comment. Haven't heard of it? There you go.
People are funny creatures. They like to wait until something is popular enough before investing their own time in it. Partly so they are part of a popular trend, but also because they are risk adverse as well. Reading a new author you haven't heard of and isn't on any bestseller lists may end up not being a good read. That is also common sense, but in this particular instance, it isn't actually helping matters any. If no one ever bothers to bring a new type of voice to the forefront, then they can't really complain about the lack of that voice being in the forefront.
I mentioned Korra and Fairy Tail a minute ago, specifically, and for good reasons. Both shows have very strong female characters, but they are animated, and as such, get classified as kids fare. Trust me on this folks, neither of those shows are exactly kids fare. Korra dealt with some pretty heavy topics in its first season, and seems poised to do so again in their second. Fairy Tail makes a habit of tackling heavy topics on a regular basis, and usually with brutality.
But, they are cartoons! We can't support that!
So, once again, despite having access to strong characters that defy the straight white male standard, people avoid them and wait for something more suitable to come along. Something they can get behind. Once it's popular enough. As soon as it meets the right criteria. Provided they feel it's worthy.
Here's a bit of advice. When you are trying to change the tide, you can't go with it. You don't have the luxury of waiting for the perfect thing to come along, or for it to already be popular enough to throw your weight behind. When you have good examples, you grab them, run with them, shout them from the rooftops, and do everything you can to get more people involved.
Everyone wants things to change, but nobody wants to do something to change things. They don't want to invest in indie authors, or niche genre books, or cartoon characters, even though those things provide the perfect example of what they claim they want more of. They want to wait. They want someone else to do the work.
Sorry, kids, but that's never been how things worked. You want to change how media approaches things, you have to leave them no other choice. You have to make them feel as if they aren't going to lose their ass on it. You have to change the environment. Only then will you get what you claim to want.
Yeah, I wrote a series of books with a strong gay woman as the lead. I submitted it to every publisher I could. Not a one of them wanted to touch it. Some were nice enough to to explain that they couldn't tackle a strong gay woman in the lead. I completely understood. I didn't get angry about it. I was expecting it really. I would have been more surprised if any of them had said yes to it.
The environment wasn't right. They knew it, and so did I. The thing is, it will never be right until more people are willing to get invested in authors and film makers that break the formula and make it mainstream. Be it my books or someone else's, it doesn't matter. The change has to be made, or things will stay just the way they are.
It's our job to make that change, not the medias. That was the point of what I said. While I was surprised nobody got it, I shouldn't have been. We have become a society that sits and waits for what we want to be given, but takes no responsibility to make it happen.
So, stop complaining about the lack of strong women and minorities in leading roles. Get up, and do something about it.