I'm a proud POC geek and as such, I think it's time to clear some stuff up about a growing trend with our fandoms today and it concerns the topic of diversity in our movies, TV shows, comics and everything else.
I keep hearing people talk about not wanting "diversity for diversity sake." This has come up a lot in the last few years with things like Iris West being cast as black in The Flash TV show on The CW and also in the DC Extended Universe version at least for now, the "gender-swapping" of characters in comic books like Riri Williams taking over Iron Man in Marvel comics, and most notably with Sony's all-female Ghostbusters reboot, which seems to be a rallying point for angry traditionalists to say that "diversity for diversity's sake" doesn't work.
I've been back and forth on this issue for the past year and now I finally have a concrete opinion on it, and it comes on the heels of the latest complaints stemming from Kelly Marie Tran's character Rose in Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi and even more so from the release of the first Ocean's 8 trailer which features an all-female Ocean-led squad of thieves. That concrete opinion that I now have is pretty clear:
"Diversity for diversity sake" doesn't exist. Period.
Now why do I say this? Well first I have to look at what "diversity for diversity sake" actually means, and from what I gather it means that traditional things that have always been a particular way shouldn't be changed just to suit the current culture of inclusion and diversity that is prevalent in society today. It's nothing against minorities, women or gay people, they just shouldn't change what has already been established to suit those demographics. Mary Jane Watson has always been white and she should stay that way, they say. Instead of making Batman a female they should just do what DC did and make Batgirl and Batwoman, and instead of making him black they should make Batwing like they did. "Shoehorning" diversity into the things that we know and love is not okay and it should never be done, right? That's the gist of it, it seems.
On the one hand, I get it. I like that DC made other characters like Batwoman and more recently The Signal and New Superman, who is Chinese. That DOES allow a minority character to build his or her own legacy in the lore of the comics or other mediums and it's very inclusive. That's a great move to advance diversity and it should be applauded.
That being said, so should things like the Ghostbusters reboot, Candice Patton as Iris West, the character of Rose Tico and the Ocean's 8 movie. There's nothing wrong with them existing whatsoever and it's not "diversity for diversity's sake."
For starters, what is the downside of any of those things existing? What does an all-female version of Ghostbusters do? Does it erase the other two male-led Ghostbusters movies from existence? No it doesn't. Does it keep you from watching them ever again? No it doesn't. Same goes for Iris West. Does her being black on The CW Flash show mean that over 50 years of her character being white in the comics is expunged? No it doesn't. Does it have any impact on how you choose to enjoy the character itself? No it shouldn't, unless you want to make it a problem and that's on you, not Greg Berlanti or Candice Patton or anyone involved with The CW Flash show.
Does Kelly Marie Tran as Rose Tico's presence as a strong Asian woman in The Last Jedi combined with all of the other strong women in the cast of the movie (Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Laura Dern, Billie Lourd, Gwendoline Christie, etc.) really ruin Star Wars for you because of some mythical social justice warrior agenda? No it doesn't, unless you have a problem with strong women being represented on screen, which again is your problem, not the movie's.
Does the fact that WB is making an all-female main cast Ocean's movie that is connected to the other male-led trilogy as a sequel/spin-off really indicate that society is in disrepair and will never be the same again because of political correctness taking over our lives? No it doesn't.
I'll tell you what DOES ruin movies and has an effect on society, though: Going to a movie and seeing a character of your cultural or gender background marginalized or flat out ignored. For decades.
The difficult truth is that if you are a straight, white cisgender male, you haven't had to deal with that. Ever. In Everdom. Hollywood has always made sure that above all, you had a place to be represented on screen above women, minorities and anyone else and it has been that way for generations of people. Since before any of us were even born. Now that the world itself is far more diversified and inclusive by nature, what's wrong with changing Hollywood to reflect that diversification? Nothing. In fact, making changes to reflect diversity is more accurate of the world we live in today and it does nothing to eliminate or destroy any kind of "proud history" connected with any of our favorite franchises or characters.
By the same token, that also doesn't mean that white cisgendered males should feel guilty or be made to apologize simply for being so. The content of our character truly is what matters more than the color of our skin but that doesn't mean that skin color should be ignored. It means that the history of the United States and the world should be recognized, accepted and understood to be constantly changing in today's time. What was acceptable today or five years ago or a decade ago or more may not be acceptable tomorrow and that's not always a case of political correctness gone awry. In many cases, it's a wrong finally being made right.
When Iris West first appeared in Showcase No. 4 in October 1956, she wasn't allowed to be a non-white character. That's the difficult truth. 58 years later she was first portrayed as black and is now building a new legacy for the character. That's not erasing the 58 years that Iris was white, it's creating a new legacy in a world that now allows her to be black. It's righting a wrong and the real question is why does it bother you if it does? Are you okay with the fact that 58 years ago it wasn't "appropriate" for certain characters to be anything other than white? Is that a legacy that you are comfortable with continuing at a time where it is no longer accurate or valid with regard to society?
Star Wars is even more outlandish because that's a franchise that started in 1977. Why do female leads in the last three movies, a black stormtrooper and a female Asian major supporting character put fear in some people? This isn't strawman either, people have argued about this for the last few years, just as there was an argument about Zendaya being the new Mary Jane in Spider-Man: Homecoming among other ridiculous things.
No one can deny that after decades of civil rights and societal advancement we have come a long way from 1956 or before, but we also cannot deny how much further we have to go and arguments like "diversity for diversity sake" are proof of how much further that really is that we have to go. If there are people who still do not understand the importance of representation in media, even with and probably especially concerning long-established characters that were created in eras far more intolerant than even the world today is, then there is definitely a lot more work to do for those people to understand exactly where a minority group is coming from when they champion the idea of further diversification in media.
And let's be clear here, we are talking about education of the subject, not about scolding people or branding them racists off of knee jerk reactions to these moves. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of racists and bigots out there that want to see nothing but white male faces all over every screen broadcasting any media there is, but there are also a lot of people that simply don't know any better and need to see and understand where "the other side" is coming from. White Privilege, no matter what anyone tells you is a very real thing, but so many don't know that and legitimately consider it a ridiculous concept just on the surface not because they are racists, but because they don't see it. That's one of the things that diversity does well is bringing light to the issues that have existed for a long time and still exist, especially the ones that make people feel uncomfortable. Diversity shouldn't make anyone feel uncomfortable, but if it does then that is the time for discussion and learning, not for insults and scolding.
So if you are someone that does have an issue with Iris West being black or with female leads and all-female casts starting to finally take center stage, or with any other increased presence from a minority group on screens big or small, I will simply say this: Take a step back and think about the little black girls growing up in our world today who can turn on The Flash on The CW and see someone that looks just like them kicking ass every week like a hero in a multi-cultural cast. Think about the little girls in general that get to see strong women be capable, confident heroes instead of flimsy damsels in distress, and think about all of the minority children that actually have a chance to see people from their culture play strong, capable heroes on all screens when it wasn't that long ago that they really couldn't on a larger scale. If you still have a problem with diversity after that, then I guess there's no hope for you but if you can understand how important it is at that point then at the end of the day, it's all worth it.