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Should diverse characters by portrayed as a means of social justice?

We see people refer to the need for more diverse characters, and of course it is important to hear from a broad range of people, who all have different backgrounds and opinions, but is it important that these characters are always linked to social justice? Every time we have an action story with a female lead like Mad Max: Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, Star Wars: The Force Awakens etc, it turns into a tirade about how this character is monumental and never been done before, and young women everywhere should look up to this characters because there aren’t any other female action stars (despite everybody else saying the same thing).

This topic is not intended to question the validity of diverse character, but rather investigate the effects of social justice on these characters. Is this layer of social justice harmful to these characters? If we introduce these characters without strong political and moral lectures, will audiences be more likely to embrace these differences?

An example that could work as a starting point could be The Simpsons: The character of Smithers is homosexual, but he isn’t a protected species like social justice would dictate. All facets of his character, including his sexuality, are made light of. A few years ago, The Simpsons was listed as the most influential show for homosexual representation and the breaking down of homosexual stigma. Is it possible that social justice is standing in the way of diversity? I think it would be very interesting to look at the effects of social justice on the advancement on diversity and how we should move forward with more diverse characters.

  • Thank you for this topic; I think there's a lot of mileage to be gotten out of it. You raise a valid point, and one I agree with. As a personal example, I have a physical disability. Therefore, I would like to see more people with disabilities represented in the media. But I *hate* it when characters with disabilities only exist to be "inspirations," or to promote social justice. In my view, we all exist to grow into ourselves, to find our purposes, and to be decent people. We're not meant to use each other just so one group can feel better about itself. – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
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  • I long for the day when characters are portrayed simply as people, regardless of whatever 'differences' they might have. A great idea for a topic. – Amyus 3 months ago
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  • You and me both, Amyus. – Stephanie M. 3 months ago
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  • Ideally a role should include both individuality and the person's interaction with society. To have a character without examining the individual's place in society would be an odd omission. Remember the show Remington Steele. It had a mystery to solve in each episode and a feminist arc back over each season back in the 80s. The show Campbell's today is a funny sitcom that shows interactions across race/gender/generations in a hilarious way today. I think the best characters on a show are a combination of the two aspects of a person, not to mention how a person is in one's family. Another example would be Big Bang Theory. Smart, successful people but struggling in love, life and legacies from their families. – Munjeera 3 months ago
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  • This is something I've always felt but never put into words. By over-emphasizing on social justice, we take away from the identity of a character. This is especially true whenever a lead is not a heterosexual white male. It's as if the character by itself is not interesting or strong enough to stand without the stigma to be PC. – superdilettante 3 months ago
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  • Master of None is a great combination of a person's life with some commentary on racism thrown in as would normally happen to a person of color. Bring It On is another movie that touches on a social justice theme but concludes in a surprising direction. Snowpiercer and Hell or High Water are two movies that portray the males leads in unusual ways. CSI had a coroner who had prosthetic limbs and he was portrayed without social justice themes throughout his tenure. There are successful movies and TV shows that do have diverse characters without social justice themes.The question here can be likened to if someone takes an example of a single character on TV who is not married, they are usually portrayed as searching for a partner. Can a single person ever be portrayed without the search for a significant other? The dating lives of single characters form the basis of so many characters on TV. Why can't single characters be portrayed as happily single and not dating? Because dating is a normal part of single life ad makes for fun TV viewing.Racism is a normal interaction in daily life and often forms the basis for a POC's life trajectory. Sobering but true. Also true is that it does make for interesting viewing. Whether that interest translates into actual action and effectively leads to change is another story. – Munjeera 3 months ago
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  • I completely agree Munjeera that racism and other forms of bigotry are part of daily life for some, and obviously that is a topic that is worth exploring; but I think it should be about maintaining balance. If you only show all members of a minority as victims, it sends a message to those people that they will forever be victims. It is like the handling of gay characters in Glee. Every gay character was a victim. They were always defined by their minority status and how society oppressed them. It then instills the notion in young (in this instance gay) people that they will never achieve anything because everyone is out to get them. – AGMacdonald 3 months ago
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  • Hi AGMacdonald, Absolutely agree 100% that portrayals of diversity are trite with the idea that social change is not directed by individuals and their respective communities. But I don't think we should overestimate the influence of the media, rather we influence media. Media feeds our appetites not the other way around. Audiences are comfortable with the idea of diverse characters as victims or comedic targets rather than heroes or characters that have contributions to make.As for instilling in people, young and old, that these stereotypes are acceptable, people need to take responsibility for their viewing habits. I personally have made the decision to crtically examine entertainment for myself and my children and speak out against victimization roles. I do seek out forms of entertainments, plays and movies, that do offer nuanced and critical portrayals with complex characters. The more we support these types of high quality entertainment in its various forms, the more our responsible choices will have an impact on the entertainment industry.We need to stop enabling and blaming the media for their immature portrayals and start being mature and responsible in how we respond. Media will offer diverse characters with depth and nuance when we start demanding it. – Munjeera 3 months ago
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  • Absolutely agree. It's such a complicated issue, which is why it will make for a great article. – AGMacdonald 3 months ago
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