Over at “Hey, Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” is Anthony Burch’s defense of “Arbitrary Diversity.”
I’ve had a few conversations as of late about random things — Doctor Who, Borderlands, James Bond — that have all revolved around some version of the following argument/counterargument pair:
ARGUMENT: You know, it’d be great if more mainstream media had ethnically or sexually diverse casts.
COUNTERARGUMENT: Yes, that would be great, but one must not forget that one shouldn’t just throw in minorities for for no reason. Doctor Who/Borderlands/James Bond/whatever comes off phony when they arbitrarily start throwing minorities around just to show how progressive they are. It feels condescending and arbitrary.
I’d like to make an argument to the counterargument:
It’s actually a great argument. What is wrong with injecting a little diversity into a cast of characters, even (or especially) if you aren’t doing it to say anything about the diversity of your cast? Why not inject a little bit of diversity, just for diversity’s sake?
Which is why I’d like to take a moment to take his argument further.
Why have the people who argue against ethnically-, culturally-, sexually-, or gender-diverse casts made the arbitrary decision to keep everything around them white, male, and straight?
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, guys, but the world is a pretty diverse place. People pop up around you all the time who are something different from you without having any specific, plot-driven reason for being so. They are who they are because of a combination of genetic and social factors that often spring from some pretty freaking arbitrary moments of divergence and/or convergence. They are not there to teach you a moral, nor is their not-like-you-ness intentionally put on to help you grow as a human being.
If you are the main character of your own personal narrative (which is the way the vast majority of us perceive our world), then the people who surround you will be diverse — unless you have made the arbitrary decision to actively avoid everybody who is not like you. Casting directors who handle background roles know this. If you look through the casting brief for almost any show, you’ll find that the casting directors have a breakdown of which races and genders they need to cast (sexuality and religion less so, considering they’re often less visually apparent and an extra’s role is solely visual). These breakdowns are not arbitrary numbers — they are numbers that have been carefully calculated based on the census information for the area in which the show or movie is set. In other words, they are making their casting decision based on a quantitative measure of the real world.
If an area is predominantly African American, then casting directors will make an effort to cast more extras of African descent than those of western European descent. If an area of the country has a higher Asian population, then the casting director will contact and ultimately hire more Asian extras.
So I ask the question: Why must television shows, video games, movies, novels, and more media offer disproportionately white, straight, male, vaguely-if-not-explicitly Christian characters to the exclusion of much more realistic diversity? What is your intended purpose for casting a solid white cast and asking the audience to pretend that people of other religions and sexualities don’t exist? What does this character’s straight white Protestant maleness contribute to the plot or theme?
If you can’t answer that, then I don’t see any reason why the character has to be a straight, white male.