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Why Diversifying Film & TV is Crucial in the Age of Social Media Activism

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  • On 27/02/2018

We live in the age of intense Internet-based social activism. It's thanks to the world wide web and social media for providing an effective and efficient platform for the unapologetic call for representation of Black people and other minorities in the entertainment industry. Social media has made it so much easier to spread the word far and wide that since this movement took to practice, we've seen a lot more satisfying changes than ever before.

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You see it daily on social platforms such as Twitter. This particular platform makes it possible that an informed opinion reaches millions of people across the world in just seconds upon posting. In thread format, an expisition protesting an injustice is now a surefire way to intimidate powers that be into prioritising fairness in how the world is represented, especially on screen. The wagon is hot and rolling and minority revolutionaries are at the helm. With social media and social networking at its prime, and with Black people, the LGBTQ+ community, women, and marginalised groups low on patience for the abuse they've had to endure for years, content architects and authorities no longer have a comfortable place to hide their discrimination. Minorities are demanding that they not be sidelined and be afforded the gaze they deserve in works of fiction.

There's no day that goes by without a creator, an organisation, an industry and its authorities are not made to account for their indifference towards the despotised population. As an author or publishing house, a filmmaker or production studio, there's no more room (to pretend, out of rooted disregard) to be ignorant of the world around you- which clearly includes Black and queer people and women. Choosing to stay uncoversant comes with consequence.

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The marginalised population has grown too tired and impatient of asking to be recognised and respected, and instead set in place their own terms. They've cultivated a ground where they can publicly hold accountable those who insist on rooting them out from the rest of the world by overlooking their very existence. The industry will soon enough have no choice but to play ball if they want to stay in the game. It is a long way to go, sure, but finally minority voices are being heard with regard. We now have movies, such as 2016's Moonlight, Hidden Figures and Fences, centering around Black and queer people, and women. These movies have each had a significant impact in the film industry and how Black people will be regarded and represented moving forward—worthy, impactful and adequate enough to be at the centre of stories told on multiplexes and our home screens. These 2016 cinematic wonders alone are ample evidence that the right doors are being torn down.

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The online activist's call to diversify movies, TV shows and other forms of fiction and media has undoubtedly opened doors for content where people of colour, women and queer characters can be focused on and given significant agency without proximity to white-male stories or under a white saviour semblance. It's become apparent that our stories are both valid and consistently anticipated enough to be told independently. Take for example the impact Wonder Woman has had for superhero movies as the first film of its kind to be led by a female hero. Hidden Figures pulled some great numbers at the box office and went on to earn three Oscars nominations including Best Picture—it is led by a Black woman, with two other Black women in supporting roles. Moonlight, a movie that has a predominantly black cast and a queer lead, won Best Picture at the 2017 Academy awards. This year, up for Black Picture is a satiracal horror, Get Out, that has a Black lead and mocks and takes a jab at white privilege and racism. Black Panther is directed by a young Black man, and consists of a glorious all-Black cast. This very movie has made over $700 million in just two weeks its been in theaters, squashing the age-old myth that Black stories don't sell. Again, our stories are irrefutable—they pack authenticity and immeasurable power.

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To new and older content creators out there, moving forward, prioritise minorities in your stories. Give them a voice. Have an open mind. Tell global stories. Stop having your nose up with privilege to intentionally disparage people who are different from you. In the times we're leading towards, patience has thinned for ignorance tasked by storytellers. Fiction can't be fair and honest if these very content producers keep getting away with turning the eye on Black and queer people, pretending they don't exist, can it?

Being inclusive moving forward can also help avoid shuffling around trying to patch holes of your hand in the lack of acknowledgement of minorities in your content—which you will be held accountable for, from now moving forward. The likes of the Harry Potter saga's author, J.K. Rowling, are now subjected to this very fate. During this past year especially, Rowling herself has fervently insisted that the characters in her beloved fantasy series belong to this and that marginalised group. This, from my personal perspective, is her bending to the pressures from online revolutionaries who threaten her future as a creator. The last thing you'd want is to be a beloved artist who doesn't embrace the world around them as it is; Rowling quickly learnt this. Though her methods to aid her injustice have been misguided and border on exploitation, by presenting herself as progressive and socially apt, she's securing her future as a storyteller. By carving her characters into the relevant social climate, she's making sure that her stories are never abandoned for her own witlessness. Moving forward any content that lacks representation of minority groups will be picked apart and stands the risk of being discarded because of this same reason.

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This is also why originally white comic book characters such as Deadshot and Nick Fury are made black in recent movies—to pander to a social climate that isn't willing to compromise any longer. The Star Wars franchise has been doing its part to rectify their white and male congested franchise to appeal to a wider, more diverse audience, too. Their efforts are seen in the recent films, The Force Awakens, Rogue One and the most recent episode, The Last Jedi. We're now witnessing a Star Wars where POC and women are at the forefront, depicted in roles with more agency than just being sidekicks—something that I never thought I'd live to see. Diversity now weighs so much on the reception of a piece content that content creators stand to lose a lot more (acclaim and profit) when they refuse to realise Black and maraginalised characters in their works of fiction. With movements such as #OscarsSoWhite and the bid to pay women as much as their (white and) male colleagues taking off, it's safe to say that we've successfully disrupted the system. There's no longer room for black characters to only be considered for tokenism. These characters demand for their stories to be told, the people who consume the content demand further for these stories to be made.

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Black and queer people have always needed stories they can relate to, depicted by people who look like us, thus it's overwhelmingly awesome that we've pushed hard enough for our dreams to be realised. Big movie studios such as Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC are now roused to provide time and care to create these characters to offer diversity within their respective cinematic universes. Marvel Studios, for example, is not known to take their female characters seriously enough to make movies centering around their stories, but due to the uncompromising social disposition they've had to bend to the will of online visionaries. This finally resulted in them developing their first woman-led movie for 2019—this spirited move is also influenced by the critical acclaim and global success of the woman-directed and woman-led Wonder Woman. They are also planning on finally making the Black Widow movie, which has been in development for almost a decade before this new age of activism kicked in.

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We now have characters such as Finn from Star Wars, Black Lightning, Wally West, Anthony Mackie's Falcon, Don Cheadle's War Machine, Michaela Pratt, Oliver Hampton, Anissa "Thunder" Pierce, Nico Minoru, Alex Wilder, Valkyrie, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Earnest Marks, Black Panther, Dr. Bow etc., to relate to as Black and queer people, women and people of colour on our TV screens and multiplexes.

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Ultimately it would be uncalculating for content creators to refuse to diversify their ideas so to equally depict the lives of people from all walks of life- especially those who have been previously, for centuries upon centuries, sidelined. My very simple point here is, if your movie isn't inclusive, then you sure as hell are not going to get away with your narrow-minded worldview as much as you would've before. Again, it won't take a day, but I'm personally proud and excited by the fact that we've gotten so far that our stories won't be left untold without someone being held accountable for the lack of representation.

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