In a perfect world we would be exposed to multicultural diversity in the arts continuously and would revel in the vast brilliance of it all. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. The sad truth, however, is that art, at least in our culture is dictated by those with the power of influence. They are the ones that decide what is culturally acceptable and what is not. They are the gatekeepers masquerading as publishers, filmmakers, editors, agents and distributors. They are the pinnacle of the “good-old-boy” network. They are the enforcers of the status quo.
We like to think that great strides have been made regarding diversity but two recent accounts show us just how wanting we are as a society when it comes to welcoming true diversity.
First was a remarkable gaffe by Matt Damon, widely recognized for his liberal positions on filmaking as he schools a black woman about how to implement diversity claiming, “When we’re talking about diversity, you do it in the casting of the film, not the casting of the show.” This after the woman suggested a more diverse directing team so as not to be caught stereotyping a black character.
The other was a tumblr post by comics writer Alex de Campi who calls out DC, Marvel and some independent publishers for being disingenuous toward women in comics because of the lack of retribution brought towards known perpetrators of sexual harassment that happen to be big names in the industry who even she is unwilling to publicly name in her post though she is already resigned to being blacklisted.
The lesson learned is that the door to diversity can be held wide open but so long as the creative people have to pass a litmus test of what is acceptable to the gatekeepers there is still a lot of cream in the coffee.
America may be the melting pot but we still hold tight to our Eurocentric perspectives, which is a fancy way of saying it is only acceptable if it appeals to white sensibilities which are too readily regarded as universal.
In the comic industry, there has been a clamor for diversity for decades. sometimes we get diverse characters that may be various races, colors and genders yet created by the same white men that have no real idea what it is like to live in the fictional skin of these characters. Other times diverse creators are brought in but their contribution is still dictated by a publisher or editor responding to the demands of the market that still remains predominantly white and male.
These are just some of the reasons that developing diversity in the arts cannot be dependent on the expectations of commercialization. Diversity can never be about hiring the right person for the job as dictated by the market no mater how intent producers are to be diverse. True diversity only happens when the job is executed unfettered by a preestablished standard.
This is not to say that true diversity is impossible. Creative people have a way of growing art in the cracks of roads well traveled. Jazz, for example would not exist if all music was left to the standards of white musicians in the late 1800’s. Jazz grew on its own in the black communities and spilled into the streets with such energy that it appealed to a multicultural ear eventually establishing itself as one of America’s original art forms. This same freedom of expression led to rhythm and blues which led to rock and roll eventually coming full circle to the introduction of rap and hip hop.
Just as music can discover its diversity on the streets and in the multicultural communities of the country, art forms like film and comics can gain their hold on the streets of the information highway. The internet and the communities formed there are the future of diversity for these mediums. They are the fast lane around the gatekeepers that manage the restraint of the art forms.
Stop requesting diversity. Stop expecting it only to be disappointed. Create diversity as only we can as individuals. Support diversity when you recognize it. Celebrate diversity when it is achieved.Try your best not to whitewash it, and maybe then we can enjoy a multicultural experience that will put the jazz in mediums like film and comics.