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Being Inclusive vs. Being Authentic

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 18, 2023

So for some reason my youtube is being besieged by rant videos over The Little Mermaid live action movie by Disney… AGAIN. You'd think the algorithm would know by now that I only watch ER skits and debunking videos, but here we are.

The controversy (again) is over the “wokeness”, the “diversity” (i.e. making Ariel black), and/or the fact that Disney is doing another lukewarm cash-grab. Often, the former will be used as accusation (“you're bigots”, etc) to deflect the latter in the dumpster fire that are some videos' comments.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about this whole thing from a different angle. I've talked before about how I'd love a “little mermaid” retelling in a setting where all the mermaids would be of a different race than white. Preferably, that they'd be colored like actual fish, and look alien fish-people. OR, traditional, but different races. I don't want to rehash that.

I want to talk instead about this lolly people have of accusing historical diversity as “woke” and immediately rejecting seeing a diverse cast in a historical film taking place in a predominantly non-diversified society.

I get it, I've been there, but I'm tired of it, honestly.

Even in the most homogeneous societies, there were always diverse individuals living within. Sometimes in atrocious situations (like slavery) but other times as esteemed members of their society. Often, both these occurences took place at the same time even at the same area or country. Just look up “black Edwardians”.

The same goes for LGBTQ+ people. Just look up Albert Cashier.

So what is my point?

My point is that historical fiction can be diverse and authentic. What it needs to not be, is diverse in the way we understand diversity now, the way we talk about issues of diversity now, and characters shouldn't go about problem solving issues regarding diversity the way we would now.

Even that is a bendable rule, but the essence of it is that in order to create a feeling of authenticity, the work has to be familiar enough and alien enough to signal to the audience that this society is different to the modern, current one in that its values manifest differently even if personalities, people, needs, wants, desires, dreams, and the human existence remain the same through time.

So, I cheated with my title. There is no ‘vs.’ in being inclusive and being authentic- you can totally do both things. What is required is simply to research and get in the weeds to see how the communities of the diverse people of the time acted and reacted, interacted and sought to live within the society you are seeking to bring to life.

Going against the main realities of the time will strip the worldbuilding of that authenticity. For example, let's pick a ‘controversial’ issue: the race and appearance of Achilles.

Achilles is described in the Iliad as blond and drop-dead gorgeous. (Yes, there are Greeks that are blond) His coloring and his physique marked him as rare and coveted. So if you want to be authentic, this is how you need to depict him. That said, does that mean that everyone in the Iliad was like him?

Hell no.

There is a full range, authentically described in the Iliad, of all colorings. And there is also a black king- his name is Memnon and he was from Aethiopia, according to Homer. He was a great fighter, equal to Achilles, and one who managed to draw blood from him (which nobody else did in one-to-one combat) before Achilles slayed him. But his life didn't end there. Because he was a demigod, Zeus granted his father a wish and made Memnon immortal.

So there you go. You can make the frigging Iliad diverse, if you do your homework. It'll be authentic, and it'll be diverse, and it will be awesome because people will immerse themselves in a time and place other than now where people did mingle.

The biggest problem with ‘inclusivity’ today is that the work isn't done. Instead of being inclusive, there is just copious and haphazard race bending, which has its own problems people sweep under the rug and yell “bigot!” when people address them.

I DON'T refer to works of fiction that are not aiming to be authentic, but rather inspired by the style of an era without being bound by the historicity, such as Bridgerton. Those are awesome fun and irrelevant to the point and issue I'm addressing here. If the work signals that styles are being used for a new, fantasy world, no matter how authentic-sounding it is, then all bets are off regarding diversity distributions and arrangements in the population.

The problem arises when there is a conscious or unconscious attempt to rewrite history, in a sort of edutainment trope, that tries to reframe history into something it was not. People who are passionate about history will notice and will be angry. People who have experienced certain things differently will be alienated.

And this is why we won't have nice things.

Make diverse, authentic historical works. Please, we need every one we can get. But for the love of all that's sacred, put in the work to depict it properly. It existed back then. Make it visible. Don't invent it.

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Ozoneocean at 9:50AM, March 19, 2023

@TheJagged- " "Remember kids, the only thing that matters is what makes you an outcast. Not your accomplishments, interests, hobbies and definitely not your personality. Only your phenotype, reproductive organs and mental/physical defects."" hahaha! Good point!

bravo1102 at 1:42AM, March 19, 2023

@Pauleberhardt: that's what the Rome miniseries did. Cleopatra was a spoiled rich kid addicted to opium. There's also the wonderful BBC TV series covering all the Cleopatras that has some fresh and quite historical insights but of course no diversity in casting because it's from the 1980s. Should I point out that Interstellar_Battle_Girls has almost no "white" characters? Grey guys and vampires but the only seeming Caucasian is a Yul Brenner figure. Hollywood's favorite once upon a time exotic actor.

marcorossi at 3:38PM, March 18, 2023

So recently there was a Pinocchio movie (that I didn't see) with a black Blue Fairy. Some people noted that this was implausible in 19th century Italy, but other noted that hey, she's a fairy, whats the problem? But in relity in the original Pinocchio novel the Blue Fairy was the gost of a dead kid (implied to be noble or at least rich). The story of Pinocchio was already very bowdlerized and adapted to modern expectations in the old Disney movie. The reason is that many scenes in Pinocchio would be too dark for a modern day kid. for the same logic, for a modern day kid it is a good thing to have a diverse Pinocchio, whereas respect for the original is a very minor concern. This makes sense for kids but it seems to me that it creates an image of the world where everyone always tought in the same way.

kawaiidaigakusei at 12:53PM, March 18, 2023

Great points brought up here, Tantz. Presenting an accurate and authentic historical depiction of what really went on hundreds of years ago would be more wild than anything imagined. Personally, I would love to see a reenactment of Velasquez’s Las Meninas played out by a group of performing artists, presented with historical accuracy.

TheJagged at 11:12AM, March 18, 2023

Sometimes I wonder what message this over-focus on minority representation is sending to the current generation. "Remember kids, the only thing that matters is what makes you an outcast. Not your accomplishments, interests, hobbies and definitely not your personality. Only your phenotype, reproductive organs and mental/physical defects."

TheJagged at 11:01AM, March 18, 2023

"Authenticity in a Hollywood production." And i laughed, and i laughed, and i laughed. When you can see the minority checklist the creators must have had in order to be the most "inclusive", nothing's gonna break my immersion faster. That's bad writing, plain and simple. Worse, it reduces people to nothing more than a statistic. Like in the 90s every kids media had to have that one girl character to pander to the female crowd. You're creating cliches, not people. I'll say it again a thousand times: Hollywood does not represent anyone but itself. The richest, prettiest most privileged people imaginable. What exactly is supposed to be diverse about that. They're actors starring in stories written by the same 5 hack writers over and over again. Hollywood is the ouroboros that sucks its own c***. If i want authentic historical diversity, i'll read a book.

J_Scarbrough at 10:43AM, March 18, 2023

(Cont.) Unfortunately, even going the route of originality is not always without its drawbacks, and too many times there have been ensemble shows that include such a character as part of the cast, but because of poor writing, or a lack of understanding, those characters end up becoming the last thing they need to be: the token. Their very race, ethniticity, sexuality, disability, what have you ends up serving as the focal point for that character, as though that's all there is to their character - no, we can't just ignore or avoid that they not like the rest of the cast, but still, regard them like any other ordinary, everyday people.

J_Scarbrough at 10:39AM, March 18, 2023

I mean I'm all for inclusiveness and diversity in mainstream entertainment when done right, but the constant racelifting, gender-swapping, and even sudden sexuality of already-established characters is not exactly the right way to do it, and actually just comes across as lazy, unoriginal, uninspired, and even arbitrary and forced at this juncture. Take Mindy Kaling's VELMA for example: was there even any real reason to turn Velma into an Indian-American lesbian (other than to give Mindy a mouthpiece for her political rants)? We could have gotten an entirely new and original character who was an Indian-American lesbian who solved mysteries, and that would have been great - it could have even been groundbreaking; instead, it was a missed opportunity to just give Mindy Kaling a pet project out of vanity and self-absorbtion.

PaulEberhardt at 8:56AM, March 18, 2023

One day I really should draw Queen Cleopatra as an inbred, fair-haired Macedonian poking fun at a politically correct time traveller who thought she'd look like an African or Middle-Eastern or at least like Liz Taylor - just to see what backlash I'll get and how amusing it'll be... 😏 (Before there are any misunderstandings, let me add that even the scientists that make these speculations point out that there's in fact no way of knowing what she really looked like, and from my own point of view the whole debate is way too fruitless to bother taking sides.) Btw., rowing across the Mediterranean now, ancient Roman settings should by default be diverse as all get out, with only a few ethnic Romans in between (don't ask me what defines the look of an ethnic Roman, I don't know 😉). Interestingly, with Roman slaves the skin colour or origin hardly ever mattered, only getting caught and becoming a slave did. Judging from current woke debates, that might be a hard pill to swallow for some.

PaulEberhardt at 8:16AM, March 18, 2023

@usedbooks: These guys nailed it! It's the most intelligent bit about this topic I've seen in a long time.

usedbooks at 4:40AM, March 18, 2023

DylanTale Comics at 4:22AM, March 18, 2023

With what you're talking about here, one of the greatest examples of inclusivity AND authenticity is the Power Rangers franchise. Not only does it have a lot of good, wholesome themes in it (along with some cool costumes of course), but it also nails the idea of having a diverse cast while not doing it purely out of 'social justice warrior' reasons. This franchise proves that it's possible to have diversity while still focusing on the main theme(s). It doesn't constantly hit you like a bus with "Hey look, a non-white character, FOCUS ON THEM OR ELSE YOU'RE A BIGOT!!!" And while it does have a diverse, colorful cast, it doesn't portray white people as the bad guy just to prove a point, She-Hulk.

bravo1102 at 12:23AM, March 18, 2023

I would actually include Shakespeare's "histories" as "inspired by a style of an era without being bound by historicity" . When the BBC did the War of the Roses plays with a diverse cast it really knocked it out of the park with the actors cast and their brava performances. It's Shakespeare not history. And I'm waiting for the Europe 10000 BC movie/miniseries now that there's genetic evidence the population was brown skinned with blue eyes and maybe red and blonde hair.

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