New creative talent is emerging on an almost daily basis. Reoccurring statements such as ‘Why isn’t there a movie where the main character is Black?’ or, even better, ‘Why aren’t more minority people interested/skilled in this industry?’ are also scrolled past, every day.
I previously wrote a blog about the importance of representation. But that mainly looked at the diversity of characters within media itself. What I’m more interested in now is the diversity of the talent that creates these TV shows/films/books that we all enjoy so much.
As a Black author myself, I find this topic interesting, mostly since Black authors within sci-fi are rare to come by. I also believe that given the fact that it is Black History Month, this is the perfect time to discuss it.
Someone suggested to me that The New York Times best sellers lists had a shocking lack of diversity amongst their profiled authors. Could that be? In 2019? In the arts? Are we were still failing to celebrate representative levels of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) authors? Your proximity to being diverse will dictate your answer to that, but just to be sure, I decided to look at the list this week compared to when I last checked it in May and see what representation was being achieved. Here’s what I found;
- In the top 15 for non-fiction in The New York Times in May 2019, one author was Black, one came from mixed heritage and one was Israeli. The Black author was Michelle Obama and the author from mixed heritage was Trevor Noah. As these two are already well-established celebrities, it would come as no surprise that their autobiographies would be popular. This is evident by the fact that Michelle Obama’s book, ‘Becoming’, has been on the list for 24 weeks and Trevor Noah’s book, ‘Born a Crime’, has been there for 44 weeks. The Israeli author was Yuval Noah Harari who was on there for his book, ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’. Now in October 2019, two of the authors on the list are of Israeli descent (Yuval Noah Harari and Daniel Kahneman), one author is Black (Bryan Stevenson) and two come from mixed heritage (Trevor Noah and Malcolm Gladwell)
- As for the top 15 for fiction in The New York Times in May 2019, all the authors were White. They also had an average age of 58 and roughly three fifths of the list was male. Now in October 2019, the list is two thirds female with one of the authors being of Chinese descent (Celeste Ng).
Clearly this comparison indicates a shift in the right direction in terms of diversity; however does it come as a surprise that the power and attention of the publishing industry is mainly controlled by the clichéd middle-aged, white man?
Of course, simply listing facts and statistics doesn’t solve anything in these cases and often results to nothing more productive than finger pointing. The real question that needs to be asked isn’t a matter of ‘who’ but ‘why’. Why aren’t there more authors from diverse backgrounds, be it ethnicity, gender or age?
There is an interview on YouTube with George R.R Martin (the author whose books are the inspiration for the world famous TV series, ‘Game of Thrones’) where he was posed with the question ‘Why aren’t there more characters of ethnic backgrounds in his or other fantasy books?’ He responded simply that most of the authors in that genre, like himself, are middle-aged, white men and so the characters would reflect that. He then remarked that an increase in minority authors would spark an increase in minority characters.
Perhaps that answer can shed some light on the issue. If there is a child from a minority background who is exposed to a genre such as fantasy or science fiction, they may quickly notice that the main characters are not similar to them and so may lose the interest that launches the creative spark in pursuing a career in that genre.
Yes, this could also serve as the push needed to want to make change in the industry themselves, but that doesn’t make it any less disheartening or more appealing a prospect.
Young people from all backgrounds need to be encouraged from early on and shown that there is a place for them in all sectors, industries and art forms. But when a young person from a minority background expresses an interest in anything creative whether it be comic books, movies, novels or music, it is the duty of older generations to harness that passion and do what we can to encourage it.
The best and easiest way to start is by supporting your local BAME artists. Follow them on social media to keep up to date with their progress and go to their shows so you can ask them about their process and motivations.
Another great way to get involved is to buy BAME art. I know that it can be a little daunting, not everyone can drop money on art like Beyonce or Jay-Z, but you can start small by buying a print for as little as $10 or a book for £7.99 on Amazon (😉) You can even keep up to date with the latest BAME releases on Netflix such as ‘Raising Dion’, a heart-warming story about a Black, single mother whose son has superpowers! Something as simple as showing an interest can be the motivation an artist needs to keep pushing and breaking barriers.
To blame those who came before is merely treating the symptoms of a bigger issue. It is time to lend more support and give a better platform for those who previously had no voice. The talent is out there. It’s just up to us to find it!