Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

Discussion in 'Literature' started by CooperTFN, Sep 2, 2012.

  1. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Feb 3, 2012
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    Yes in prose most characters are not really described problem is one they do get described most of the time they end up being a white male.

    So naturally visual media like comics, video games, and movies have the advantage in not having to describe characters.

    Still the point remains I should not have to imagine such characters exist and I find Shapiro to be part of the problem.

    Not to mention I must say Star Wars would have made things a whole lot easier if names were more dependable.
  2. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Well, yes and no. There were several EU novels where white characters were described as having fair skin, etc. that I documented in the thread on the old boards. So describing Lando or any other character as having dark skin would not necessarily be out of place if fair skinned or light skinned etc. humans were also consistently described.

    The reality is that in the novels, "white human ID" IS confirmed frequently and IDing characters of color occurs less frequently...so it is still not as diverse. Possibility of a character being nonwhite is not equivalent to every time we get a character confirmed as white. It also puts us in this "Maybe it will be Cal Oma's this time...oh wait, nope" position. This is in part because it is way easier to confirm humans as real-world white because in English language lit that seems to be the default. So while leaving out descriptors may seem noble...if you want your readers to actually understand the world is diverse, you need to be explicit. This is something found in studies that examine things like casting calls and telling stories to little kids--if you don't explicitly specify race, people will just assume white, because that is what is most prevalent and dominant in depictions of people in our society and in Star Wars.

    While reading Scoundrels I noticed that pretty much all of the characters lack descriptors outside of species. So I consciously decided to envision everyone but Han and Kell and Winter (hey, that is still a lot!) as character of color. Suddenly my reading experience is incredibly diverse because Zahn has given me a little bit of freedom, but were this me the young 14 year old Star Wars reader and not conscious of a strong desire for diversity or aware of marginalization, a 14 year old who was just used to not seeing characters like me in Star Wars and tolerant of it and normalized to it...I probably would have assumed everyone was white, too--because that is how Star Wars works.

    Yes, the artist is the person who canonically confirms characters's race in these situations...but these artists and the cover directors at Del Rey dont always think like me, and they trump me in putting diversity in Star Wars. So although Dozer Creed looks kind of Samoan in my imagination, he is a white guy on the cover of Scoundrels. If I were to survey everyone who read Scoundrels, how many people would say they imagined Dozer or Tavia or or Dayja or Eanjer as white? Although she looks Chicana in my imagination and clearly has olive skin on the cover of Scoundrels, to some random Wookieepedia editor who probably better reflects the average Star Wars reader acclimated to a lack of diversity in Star Wars, she has "fair" skin. All human characters in Star Wars get racialized--if not by the author, then by the artist, if not by the artist, then by the Wookiepedia editors, or by the reader, and so on.

    In creating diversity in Star Wars, authors have to fight not only existing works that simply weren't "conscious" as well as fighting inclinations of it's readership trained over 20 years and 180+ Star Wars books + other media + society + culture to default every human to white. Hypothetical diversity is never going to be as meaningful as concrete diversity.
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  3. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    The title of this thread makes note of it as well - it's an underlying position of this thread that choosing not to engage a topic still constitutes a stance on said topic. Even moreso with such a long track record of ambiguous characters later ending up straight and/or white and/or human.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Jan 17, 2013
  4. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    It certainly would have changed things. It is very difficult to satisfactorially describe ethnicity in Star Wars in a satisfactory fashion, especially while attempting to retain any sort of brevity whatsoever. Names signify nothing, there are no descriptive terms available - you can't say a character is black, white, Irish, or Mongolian or anythnig of the kind, and no single feature, including skin tone, is sufficent to describe ethnic heritage on its own.

    That makes makes engaging with the issue, especially while respecting the color-blind thesis of the universe, rather difficult. There's a certain paradox at work - race is suppossed to be unimportant, but if you invest in the lengthy description necessary to nail down a character's race you have suddenly, through the shear expenditure of words, placed an implicit importance on that trait. Doubly so if there was a sudden attempt to 'balance' the numbers in one go.

    It would be very contreversial to say, in a new flagship novel series set after Crucible, try to suddenly balance the jedi council back to current US demographics (ie. around 60-65% white, non-hispanic). You'd have to kill a bunch of people and replace them all with non-white characters, all the while explicitly describing them as the same. I can't imagine any writer hiding that.

    That produces a sort of imposition on the rate of rebalancing, in the novels advancing the continuing timeline. That's another reason why other projects set in other timeframes have done better - they can recreate their own core cast.

    Given that, this introduces a speculative possibility regarding the Sequel trilogy. Assuming a fairly stark break with existing EU elements (likely in almost every scenario even those that preserve basically everything), the ST could equalize the numbers going forward via new characters. As the EU continues to expand and cover a broader range of time periods, and if newer products continue to have a better racial balance than that created during the Bantam era it would produce more and more evidence that the overabundance of White humans during roughly 5 BBY to 45 ABY was, in-universe, some kind of strange statistical anomaly.
  5. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    ...which could then be handled in a guide book along the lines of "after the xenophobia of the Clone Wars and their aftermath, and the slaughter of the Jedi Order, many wary nonhumans withdrew from galactic affairs; a phenomenon that took generations to reverse."
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Jan 17, 2013
  6. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Well I was referring specifically to intrahuman diversity actually, though it does present itself across multiple sliders. With regards to the humans the in-universe explanation might have to do with the Imperial military (the overwhelming majority of OT humans are Imperial military or Rebels who might have been Imperial military at one time). Something like 'the Empire recruited heavily everywhere, but the propganda-induced patriotic fervor of a small group of specific worlds contributed out of proportion to their total populations.'

    You could do the math on it. If the Empire mustered out say, 1 trillion human soldiers total (10^12), but it recruited 80% of its troops from a mere 100,000 highly patriotic Core Worlds (each contributing 10 million a piece, which is believable) that were 80% white rather than 60% white, that would make the Imperial military 76% white.

    That doesn't necessarily seem like a big difference, but it is a change from 3:1 White:Non-White character balance to 3:2. It is not the most likely form of statistical anomaly in existence, but it provides a suitably dry in-universe explanation for the out-of-universe 'it was England in the 70s' basis behind the issue.
  7. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Kind of hard to do though given the precedence of cultural appropriation in Star Wars. Characters with names like Shmi and Padme could not be automatically assumed to be South Asian, for example. More recently, FOTJ introduced a minor character named Jessal Yu. Yu is an Asian last name but the character is a redhead.

    The humans of the Star Wars universe can't be colorblind. They see color. The humans have different skin tones. That is just making an observation. You can describe someone's race without making it important. Authors regularly describe white racial traits like blonde hair or red hair without placing any intrinsic importance on them, other than contextually making people with blonde and red hair more prevelant. We are told that Mara has red hair to help us visualize her, not because it's an important part of who she is.

    Diversity isn't a zero sum game. No scary killing necessary. Simply decrease the focus on a certain population in order to balance things. That's what Jedi do, right? Bring peace and balance to the galaxy? And it doesn't have to be a sudden shift. This is an expansive universe with years of timeline to write on, a universe that is rife with retcons.

    It would be controversial, unrealistic, disruptive, to suddenly introduce a ton of characters of color, or a ton of women characters (including women of color) but the constant introduction of white male humans isn't seen as controversial or unrealistic.

    They create new characters and new stories set during the OT and NJO all the time-- Holostar/Shadow Games, Coruscant Nights, Invasion, the Jaden Korr books...any and all of these stories could have prominently featured human characters of color. All these new characters they introduced recently--Taryn and Trista Zel, Vitor Reige, Wynn Dorvan, Vestara Khai, could more than just Kerra Holt (introduced by Dark Horse) be human people of color? These were not books written decades ago, they were written in the past DelRey contract renewal. It's not that it's hard to balance out the old cast created in the 70s, or even the 90s--they struggle to balance even new characters they introduce. I get the feeling that if Coop were to do a subcount and exclude aliens from his tally, the diversity ratio among humans would be worse than total diversity overall.
    Last edited by JediFreac, Jan 17, 2013
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  8. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Whoa.

    ‘Seven Samurai’ star Toshiro Mifune: The would-be face of Darth Vader?

    It's a relatively well-known bit of sci-fi trivia that George Lucas approached Japanese star Toshiro Mifune to play the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first (or, rather, the fourth ... you know what we mean) "Star Wars" movie. But according to Mifune's daughter, Mika, Lucas' courtship of the "Seven Samurai" star didn't stop there, as he also apparently offered him the role of Darth Vader.

    Mika Mifune revealed this interesting behind-the-scenes tidbit last weekend on the world history game show, "Sekai Fushigi Hakken!" Vader's now-iconic helmet was apparently designed with her father in mind, and if he had accepted the role, his face would've been at least somewhat visible.

    That would have been different, indeed. Especially the "I am your father stuff." I'd heard before that Lucas had originally wanted an all small person cast or all Asian cast for Star Wars, initially. (The all small person cast sort of factored into Willow) The Skywalker family could have looked very ,very different.
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  9. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    But it takes multiple sentences to describe someone sufficently that you can pin down their race (or their mix of racial traits if that's the way you're going), when you have no immediate labels. A good example - try to describe Temuera Morrison in a way that definitive establishes him as not white. Can you do it in under fifty words? If you spend more than that, what purpose does the description serve? Are the precise details or this character's appearance somehow important to the story (in the case of Jango Fett, who wears a helmet 95% of the time, they absolutely are not) to jsutify this description? If they aren't then you've just spent a bunch of words describing a character's race specifically and entirely for the purpose of describing the character's race. That's going to raise some flags.

    So really you can throw off some visual traits, some amount of information, but it is rarely enough to nail down an ethnic heritage to any character. This is doubly true is Stars Wars is actually flooded with 'mixed-race' characters, which in-universe logic would suggest should be the case in cosmopolitan populations (Coruscant and similar worlds) and recent mass visual depictions such as TOR suggest.

    Diversity isn't. Del Rey seems to think that the total of number of characters is more often than not (a severe problem in its own right but one that abets this issue). I specifically used the Jedi Council though, which is zero sum, it doesn't add new members without losing existing ones. Technically this is also true of the Senate (well there are suppossed to be elections, but the limited number of examples we possess indicates people serving and serving...), the Moff Council, and the upper military echelon. In reference to the main novel timeline - ie. the big three based plot that continually advances, then there is a turnover issue.

    They could have, that's true. Coruscant Nights introduces only one human character of any significance though. The same with Crosscurrent/Riptide. Invasion it's pretty much only the Galfridians, who were apparently ordered to be made white, which is stupid - there's a justification for making them pale, to hide the Yuuzhan Vong crossbreeding, but that does not need to translate to white.

    Two Zels, Reige, Dorvan, two Khais, Mirta Gev, and Allana. I think that's pretty much every major new human character thrown into the main novel timeline post Dark Nest. Of those, story demands the Zels be white to match Tenel Ka (since they are suppossed to resemble her), likewise Allana has two white parents. That leaves Mirta Gev, who is of mixed ancestry and could potentially be called of color, Reige, whose ethnicity is unknown but if Pellaeon is actually his dad is half-white at least, Dorvan, who was indeed made white (and for some reason looks entirely too much like Petyr Baelish in GoT, weird), and then the Khais, who are white. So if we x out the Zels and Allana because of genetics, its probably 1 in 5, 20%, which yes, is too low. Dorvan was a missed oppurtunity.

    A larger point though, is that over the course of 18 novels, 7 new characters of major significance were introduced. 4 of whom were related by blood to ones who already existed (possibly 5 if Reige really is Pellaeon's son). Literary nepotism is crushing here.
  10. MercenaryAce Force Ghost

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    Aug 10, 2005
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    I think it has been mentioned here before.

    The main character was even female in at least one version.

    Think about if these had all come together at once - a black Han Solo, a female Luke, an Asian Obi-Wan....the EU would have been very different I think. Well...if it existed at all - if I remember correctly, even Coop thinks that wouldn't have worked in the time period when the original movies were made.
  11. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    yeah never worked although in the new trilogy i suppose they can do something like that
  12. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    Random thought that's probably been brought up already but which just crossed my mind:

    What's Disney's usual stance on this stuff? Are they normally pro things like SGR in video games, or are channels like Disney Junior normally more sex free zones? Walt Disney himself was obviously very conservative, but I've no clue what the corporation's like these days.

    I know they've been fairly 'hands off' with other IPs like Marvel and stuff, but with how Star Wars is often seen more as a children's thing by the masses through TCW, Ewoks etc, are the more mature themes explored in the EU seen as 'right for kids' by the average Star Wars fan, or is the Disney channel more likely to want to emphasize the sexless children's entertainment side of Star Wars more than the metal bikinis? (Or, put differently, I'm guessing a junkie Jedi hero like Cade isn't likely to make the silver screen.)

    Not having watched much by Disney in two decades, I simply have no clue what they would be inclined to think Star Wars works better as in their overall business empire, i.e. will they want Star Wars films competing with Marvel films, or is that a reason why they might want to keep the more aggressive stuff in Marvel and leave Star Wars for the Ewoks and silly droids?
    Last edited by Zorrixor, Jan 18, 2013
  13. Robimus Force Ghost

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    Jul 6, 2007
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    Mitra Gev is always an interesting one. To me some of her art shows shows her mixed bloodlines, while other art done shows her clearly as being about as white as white gets. She is about as close to an ethnically diverse novel lead that we have gotten in the OT era(minus Lando).

    I also wanted to point out that Vitor Reige is not a new character having been introduced in 2003. It is hard to imagine him as not looking white with his Pellaeon like description but it is worth noting that Pellaeon's family/loved ones has proven to be quite diverse at this point.
    Last edited by Robimus, Jan 18, 2013
  14. Kyris Cavisek Jedi Grand Master

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    Nov 12, 2012
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    I wouldn't worry. I think Star Wars you will get the multiple facets and different levels just like Marvel...
    [IMG][IMG]
    TV 7 and Up (No Fighting/Violence) PG-13
    [IMG][IMG]
    Adult Show TV 7 and Up (Fighting Violence)

    [IMG][IMG]
    Detours (Teen Humor) PG-13

    [IMG][IMG]
    Underworld: Adult TV Clone Wars: TV PG

    I think Marvel and Star Wars are about Equal...
    [IMG][IMG]
    I think you can still expect to see your "Golden Bikini" Scene... No Worries
  15. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Ohmigod Scarlett Johansson as Jaina!! =P~

    Kidding.

    [IMG]

    Please let that be the actual logo.

    I think Disney's been as good on diversity as any other media conglomerate its size--which is to say, it leaves those decisions up to individual creators, but has no problems with them so long as the product is successful. I think Lucasfilm's own inclinations are still the most relevant ones, and they're pretty respectable where TV and movies are concerned. Now, will Michael Arndt feel compelled to put a gay character in the ST? I doubt it. But the TV show(s) and spin-off films? Entirely possible.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Jan 18, 2013
  16. Kyris Cavisek Jedi Grand Master

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    You want Joss Whedon's face on the Title Card for SHIELD?
  17. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Better yet, swap him out with the eagle.
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  18. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Honestly, its impossible to tell how diversity will pan out. I assume they will do better on the female front, I expect nothing on the LGBT and POC is a tossup.
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  19. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    Quiet, before somebody suggests the Thor guy as Jacen!
  20. Kyris Cavisek Jedi Grand Master

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    Thor's little brother as Ben!
    [IMG]
    This Guy
    Last edited by Kyris Cavisek, Jan 18, 2013
  21. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    And with Han Solo played by Sean Connery. It'd be so meta.
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  22. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Hemsworth? RDJ all the way. Talk about troubled.
  23. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    Nah, he's a bit too snarky to be Jacen. Jacen's jokes need to be of the sort of painful variety. You know, like mine. :p

    Although I could totally believe him accidentally chopping TK's arm off.
    Last edited by GrandAdmiralJello, Jan 18, 2013
  24. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    If they do this I would cease to care how much continuity they trampled.
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  25. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    I concur. *cough*



    LOOK EVERYONE IT'S A RAPPING WAMPA!!! *runs*
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