Daily Archives: 9. August 2018

Diversity is more than skin colour and sexual orientation

This is a translation of my guest post for the Bücherstadt Kurier’s event „#kunterbunt: a feast for diversity„. You can read it in German on their page here: Diversität ist mehr als Hautfarbe und sexuelle Orientierung.

Illustration: Worteweberin Annika

It is a fact that we need even more representation of great female characters and people of all ethnicity and sexual orientation. We are all aware of this and something that I would only like to mention here to a limited extent.
If you like, you can read about why we need superheroines and how few all-female teams exist in my superheroine nerd week.
Instead, I want to draw attention to something that I take for granted, but that is still unthinkable in our media culture:
The positive representation of people who are different from the norm.

A while ago I wrote on my blog about the cancellation of a few tv shows and what I suspect behind them, as they all had something in common: they were different.
In the series there were great female characters (Agent Carter :'( , Girlboss), a colorful, queer mixture of characters (Sense8, Shadowhunters), overweight teenagers who felt comfortable with their pounds (Huge), unusual narrative styles (Galavant, Undateable), and and and…
Nevertheless, they came to an abrupt end.
Even favourites of the public like Lucifer stood briefly before their demise and I suspect the ratio of 6 women to 3 ½ men, plays a not insignificant role here.

So what’s the big deal about telling those stories?
Why must a story about someone in a wheelchair always be a tragicomedy (The Intouchables, Me Before You)? Why do people who don’t conform to the norm always need a makeover to feel better (The devil wears Prada and tons of other „chick flicks“ – and why are they even called chick flicks if there are men who like to watch them too?)? Why can’t stories about realistic people simply be told, as it is already the case in various (mostly self published) books (like e.g. in The Supermamas)?

I like to look at other projects of actors and actresses that I liked in a series or a film. Recently I „binged“ Gotham and informed myself about the actor Anthony Carrigan. I noticed that his appearance in the series is not cosmetic, but that he suffers from Alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that has caused him to lose all facial hair (hair, beard, eyebrows and eyelashes). I didn’t even notice that he has no eyebrows and eyelashes, well, not conscious until I actually paid attention to it …
What I’m getting at is: I saw an interview with him on YouTube, and the basic statement didn’t leave me alone:
When he still had hair, he was typecasted for the „Pretty Boy“ role, without hair he is offered fewer and almost only bad-guy roles. An offer of a romantic leading role would surprise him positively.
And my wheels start turning right here. Why? What’s so bad about not giving such roles to a great actor just because he lacks facial hair?
Without thinking about it for long, I could think of several settings where it could work – and none of them would be on the sickness or Nazi track.
As a member of the metal and nerd scene it is simply incomprehensible to me that no scripts are written that would make such a role possible for him – and it itches my fingers to let the plot bunnies come closer, which are already staring at me from afar. After all, people who have the same hobby meet there and (superficially) it’s all about that and not about what someone looks like.
To get a complete picture, I looked at the series The Forgotten (also discontinued), in which Carrigan played the role of the charming semi-playboy (aka the „Pretty Boy“). At that time still with fuzzy hair and a subtle beard. And again and again I found myself wondering: Would the character also work without hair? Part of me says no, because the character is designed for this very pattern. The other part, who knows the bald, kind-hearted metalheads and short-haired/thinning IT guys in real life, says: of course, if the role is played authentically, it doesn’t matter if it’s with no hair.
Another aspect I paid attention to when looking was due to his own statement that he had become a better actor by accepting his illness. And I have to agree to that. His presence as Tyler Davies has absolutely nothing of the brilliance he brings to roles like Gotham’s Victor Zsasz or Barry’s NoHo Hank. Somehow you can tell that he was not feeling well.

At this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that you rarely find bald heroes. Luke Cage and Capheus from Sense8 are probably the better known examples besides Kojak and the Kriminalist (criminalist – a German crime show).

For women, of course, it’s completely different. The only bald women I remember in recent years were mostly cancer patients and only Miss Rosa from Orange is the New Black had gotten a reasonable (pretty cool) characterization outside her illness.
And that’s just wasted potential. In every direction…

But even with hair you can quickly get cast into questionable roles. Also famous for Gotham, Robin Lord Taylor has made his mark with his magnificent portrayal of Oswald „Penguin“ Cobblepot. The character is considered a gay icon by fans (I myself see him more as asexual/demiromantic, but that’s another topic), is allowed to appear eccentrically in a fur-covered coat and with elaborately styled hair and has a fascinating depth. Feels like a knighthood for the queer actor. However, some stages in his career suggest otherwise. In various police dramas his characters were accused of assaulting women and homosexuals.
The cynical part of me suspects that he got these roles because of his light eyes and (usually) blond hair. You know, the (other) Nazi cliché…

I find it a shame that mainstream media repeatedly insist on the same clichés and thus discourage other important projects that dare to take steps in modern directions from early on. I am thankful to all self-publishers who publish a book in which an outsider has the title role. I especially think of the fairy tale adaptations of Märchenspinnerei, where the otherwise hushed up topics of bullying, suicide, abuse, PTSD and much more are dealt with. Or the countless web comics, which also cover such topics (Strong Female Protagonist, Namesake,…) or web series like The Gamers, which offer a platform to the nerds of this world.

We need more of that. More in bookshelves and series.
Life isn’t perfect, so we should stop chasing after these illusions.
Life puts you in a wheelchair, makes you lose your hair or makes it grow in uncomfortable places. It makes you skinny or round as a ball, makes you feel good, or makes you need mental care. No matter in which variant it hits you, above all it makes you you who you are and that should also be granted to fictional characters.

Because imperfect characters are way more fun.

Pia Zarsteck/Bücherstadt Kurier

Anne

P.S. No plot bunnies were harmed in the creation of this article. They have kept a sufficient distance.