Pushing forward

According to Merriam-Webster, diversity is defined as “the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc”. A diverse workforce, for instance, is one in which you find people of varied backgrounds and with varied physical qualities. For many, diversity is thought of in terms of race or sexual orientation, but it goes far beyond that. According to Loden and Rosener, there are two main dimensions to diversity. Within the primary dimension are unchangeable characteristics, such as race, age, ethnicity, physical qualities, sexual orientation, and gender (the last one is changeable however–gender is not an innate quality of an individual, it is a social construct; despite the fact that one can change their gender, that is no basis for the discrimination or oppression of trans people and if you think it is, you are a shithead). The secondary dimension consists of those qualities that are not inherent. These more malleable characteristics include parental status, religious beliefs, income, education, and military experience (via Arizona.edu; source: Loden, M, & Rosener, J. (1991). Workforce America!: Managing Employee Diversity as a Vital Resource. Homewood , IL: Business One Irwin.)

That’s what diversity is, but why is it important? Why should it matter that queer people desire better representation in comic books? Why does it matter that this years Academy Award nominees were a sea of white faces? Why are people so happy that the next Ghostbusters movie will feature an all-female cast?

Other people matter. That’s why.

For too long the message from society has been that the only stories that matter, the only experiences that matter, are those of male, European-American, cisgender, heterosexuals (MEACHs). That is not true. It has never been true (though many people think it is). Recognizing that all humans have dignity and that we all matter means that our stories matter. Our histories matter. Our experiences matter. Maybe they don’t matter to MEACHs (though certainly there are many in that group who value the lives, stories, and experiences of others), but the world doesn’t consist of, nor does it revolve around that group. Unfortunately, for too long in USAmerica, almost everything has catered to the desires and wishes of MEACHs.  The overwhelming majority of movies produced by Hollywood have reinforced the idea that the only people who matter are MEACHs. Our politicians have been and largely continue to be predominately MEACHs. For a long time in this country our workforce was dominated by MEACHs. The protections of the government were extended only to MEACHs for much of our history. In effect, the message sent by U.S. society is that unless you were a cisgender, heterosexual, white male, you did not matter.

Thankfully, that is changing.

Hollywood for instance, is beginning to see that there is market for and money to be made in movies featuring women.

THR reported Aug. 2 that Sony wants to launch a female-led reboot of Ghostbusters from Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Two days later, the studio said it is targeting 2017 for a woman superhero film set in the Spider-Man universe. Marvel Studios, whose Guardians of the Galaxy lured a 44 percent-female audience on opening weekend (the biggest share of any Marvel film) is said to be close to greenlighting a Black Widow pic forScarlett Johansson. And The Expendables producer Avi Lernersaid Aug. 4 he wants to shoot a female spinoff Expendabelles in 2015 (Sylvester Stallone says he wants Sigourney Weaver to star).

Even as U.S. box office is down about 18 percent this summer, women and girls are driving some of the biggest success stories, including Maleficent ($727.5 million globally), The Fault in Our Stars ($263 million worldwide) and Lucy(a $43.9 million U.S. opening). They follow female-fronted smashes The Hunger Games and Frozen. “It used to be people would look at the success of individual titles and look at them as being the exception to the rule,” says Columbia president of production Hannah Minghella. “But I don’t think we can think that way anymore.”

Of course there is resistance to Hollywood’s diversity initiatives. The Manosphere (helpful glossary here) is filled with whiny, entitled douchenozzles.  These people (largely MEACHs) weren’t happy to hear about an all-female Ghostbusters movie.  While some tried to mask their sexism behind complaints like “Hollywood is ruining our childhood” and “what about nostalgia” and “women aren’t funny, how can they be Ghostbusters”, it’s plain to my eye, that they are really whining because they aren’t the only ones being catered to any longer.

“Our childhoods”. Really? As if your childhood is magically going to be retconned and your memories will be wiped. Your childhood still remains the same. The movie you watched as a kid hasn’t changed. Your memories haven’t changed. Nor will they. So stop your whining you spoiled, petulant brats. The world does not revolve around you.

Diversity in Hollywood can be seen in the upcoming Aquaman movie, featuring Jason Momoa in the title role. In the comic books, Aquaman has always been a MEACH (just like the target audience), but Momoa is Hawaiian (Kanaka Maoli to be exact).  When the Aquaman movie hits in 2018, children and adults of Hawaiian background will get to see themselves represented on the big screen, something that is, to say the least, quite rare. Not only that, but they’ll get to see themselves represented in a heroic manner.  This-diversity-is a good great thing and Momoa is excited, not just for himself, but his kids:

“It’s awesome as an actor to know what your future is going to be because I have children and I’ve busted my ass to put food on the table,” he says. “It’s awesome knowing that I’m going to be in Justice League because my son is the biggest Batman fan and my daughter loves Wonder Woman. It’ll be cool for them to see me in something because they’re not going to be watching Game of Thrones or Red Roadanytime soon, but now they can see Daddy kicking ass in IMAX.”

Momoa joins fellow ass-kickers The Rock and Vin Diesel as a new breed of ethnically ambiguous action hero. As a Hawaiian, it wasn’t easy for Momoa to break into Hollywood.

“I’ve had to bust ass to be in this industry. A lot of things are very black and white,” he says. “Aquamanis especially cool because being a Kanaka Maoli—being Hawaiian—our Gods are Kanaloa and Maui, and the Earth is 71 percent water, so I get to represent that. And I’m someone who gets to represent all the islanders, not some blond-haired superhero. It’s cool that there’s a brown-skinned superhero.”

Yes, it is cool. In large part because it will show that heroes can come in all races and ethnicities, not just European-Americans. This is only one step, however.  Other important steps: Cyborg, starring Ray Fisher, due in 2020 and Black Panther, featuring Chadwick Boseman, in 2017.  Four examples do not, of course, magically make Hollywood more diverse.  Beyond superheroes and beyond increasing the on-screen presence of People of Color, women, and other minority groups, Hollywood needs more Black, Asian, Latino, and female directors, screenwriters, producers and more. Then there are the supremely underrepresented groups in Hollywood, like trans people, people with mental or physical disabilities,  More. More. More. Don’t stop until Hollywood accurately reflects USAmerica, rather than just MEACHs.

The comic book industry is another area in the United States that needs to diversify. Traditionally the domain of MEACHs, mainstream USAmerican comics have diversified somewhat over the last 15 years. There are an increasing number of women creating comics. There are an increasing number of female-led comic books (for instance, Marvel currently produces Thor, Angel: Asgard’s Assassin, Storm, the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Ms Marvel, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Spider-Woman, Spider-Gwen, Silk, and an all-female team of X-Men; She-Hulk and Elektra were cancelled recently).  Despite this, things in the land of USAmerican comics are far from perfect, and one young girl recently decided to express her dissatisfaction with DC Comics:

The letter reads:

Dear DC comics,
My name is Rowan and I am 11 years old. I love superheroes and have been reading comics and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was very young. I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl superheroes or movies and comics from DC.
For my birthday, I got some of your Justice League Chibis™. I noticed in the little pamphlet that there are only 2 girl Chibis, and 10 boys. Also, the background for the girl figures was all pink and purple.
I remember watching Justice League cartoons when I was really young with my dad. There are Superman and Batman movies, but not a Wonder Woman one. You have a Flash TV show, but not a Wonder Woman one. Marvel Comics made a movie about a talking tree and raccoon awesome, but you haven’t made a movie with Wonder Woman.
I would really like a Hawkgirl or Catwoman or the girls of the Young Justice TV show action figures please. I love your comics, but I would love them a whole lot more, if there were more girls.
I asked a lot of the people I know whether they watched movies or read books or comics where girls were the main characters, they all said yes.
Please do something about this. Girls read comics too and they care.
Sincerely, Rowan.

This letter expresses the feelings of many comic book fans.  A DC Comics rep responded on Twitter:

Despite the advances made in the comic book industry (which, btw, is more than just Marvel and DC; I focus on them because they are the Big 2 publishers and put out the vast majority of comic books on the racks), there is still a long way to go and the bigwigs at Marvel and DC are not the only ones who realize this.  BOOM! Studios founder and CEO Ross Richie says he wants to help push comics forward:

It’s Keith Giffen’s fault. I keep telling people that he talked me into it in a dive bar on L.A.’s west side. But the truth is that I started this company out of the spare bedroom in my apartment because I couldn’t believe the guy that created Rocket Raccoon thought I could do it. Maybe we could bring something to comics that hadn’t been there before?

I’ve loved comics since 1976. I never thought I’d publish them. Sure, I’d worked with giants of the field, including Barry Windsor-Smith, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin, Walter Simonson, and others too numerous to mention, when I was a young marketing turk at Malibu Comics 20 years ago. But me, publish comic books? You’re crazy.

So it’s 10 years later now. Comics publishers don’t often make it that far, do they? We should do a victory lap right now.

But who wants to look backward when there’s so much more cool stuff around the bend?

Let’s talk about the future.

Have you ever had a friend that shared a lot of your interests, but they didn’t read comics? You gave them Watchmen, you gave them Y: The Last Man, you gave them X-Men. But nothing stuck. They liked the idea of comics, but there wasn’t a comic book that felt like it was made for them…

Let’s go make that comic book for them. Together. As fans, as creators, as retailers, as the press, as publishers. All of us. Let’s talk about how we can allPush #ComicsForward. Because comic books should be for everyone.

We know where we’ve been—our favorite eras, our favorite characters, our favorite runs. We already know all of that. I’ve got a garage full of Silver, Bronze, Copper, and Modern Age comics and I love them.

But the medium of comics has never been more on the forefront of driving pop culture and as fans of this art form, we have a rare opportunity to take that interest to the next level and embrace an entire generation of potential fans who don’t read comics right now.

We can make a new Golden Age.

At BOOM!, we’ve carefully selected new projects in 2015 that we believe will help Push #ComicsForward. These projects will take on risky subject matter, introduce new characters from diverse backgrounds, and debut a swath of new creative voices to the industry.

Just in the first few months of 2015, we’ve launched a gaming-inspired humor comic in Munchkin, two projects that tackle the complex climate in the Middle East with Burning Fields and The Realist, five series with unique female leads (Curb Stomp, HaloGen, Cluster, Help Us! Great Warrior, and Giant Days), a period crime project (Hit: 1957), and an original graphic novel about the cutest crabs to ever start a revolution (The March of the Crabs). And we’ve only just begun. But this movement isn’t just about BOOM!, it’s about all of us. We’ll be devoting a ton of our time and energy in 2015 to work with the press, conventions, and social media channels to keep the conversation going.

If you know me, you know I’m the “Challenge Accepted!” guy. If there’s a problem that hasn’t been solved or a project that seems insurmountable, I’m the first one to jump in. This is a big challenge, but I want you to join me in taking it on.

No one thought comics targeted at All Ages was viable until KaBOOM!. Now it’s the norm. No one thought an all-female cast of characters with an all-female creative team had a shot in the Direct Market—until Lumberjanes. And who would have guessed that an oversized limited series like Memetic, starring a hearing-impaired, gay college student and a blind, African-American general about a meme-induced apocalypse, would garner rave reviews? We did.

If you believe comics are great just the way they are, this isn’t for you. If you think superheroes are the only kinds of stories worth telling in comics, this isn’t for you. But if you want to see everyone reading comics—your aunt, your co-workers, your niece, your boyfriend, that kid down the street—let’s Push #ComicsForward in 2015.

Together.

ROSS RICHIE

Founder & CEO

BOOM! Studios

This is the type of thing I want to see more of, and not just from the comic book industry. Not just from Hollywood. I want to see greater diversity everywhere. Not just for me, as a gay, black male. I want to see women represented better in society. I want to see Asian-Americans granted more prominence. I want to see the lives of Latinos treated as if they have value. As if they matter. I want to see trans people recognized as human beings with rights, and I damn sure want to see greater representation of them. Everywhere. Because they matter. That’s the lesson to be learned. Everyone matters. Not just male, European-American, cisgender, heterosexuals.

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Pushing forward
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