diversity or agenda?

Maybe it’s not the best title, but I didn’t want to get stuck on picking one. The idea came up when a friend and I were discussing a new manuscript concept of mine.

I like diversity when it comes to my characters. I’m not the biggest fan of “young white male protagonist.” I have nothing against it. In fact, most of the books I read revolve around a YWMP. Hell, I even confess that most of the time I write Caucasian characters. I guess it’s habit. That’s usually the reason, isn’t it? Habit. And probably familiarity. Although I’m half-Mexican, I had a thoroughly American white upbringing. My father was Caucasian, and in my house we embraced his culture over my mother’s. So I guess I’m mostly familiar with a “white” perspective, and I don’t often think much about other perspectives.

But I do write female Caucasians more than anything else. And I think I feel most comfortable with strong female protagonists now because the most important person in my life is my mother. My father died when I was very young, and my mom raised me. She’s the one I still turn to for advice, for comfort, for encouragement, for wisdom. My mom is a very capable, very formidable woman. And I admire her so much for all she’s done and all she’s taught herself to do.

I digress.

It annoys me when I observe constant evidence of Hollywood’s failure to promote diversity. Both in front of the camera and behind it. Why, we just saw today (or was it yesterday) how the nominees for the major Oscar categories are white. (The only exception being Alejandro G. Iñárritu.) Really? No love for Will Smith? Straight Outta Compton? Michael B. Jordan? Idris Elba? Of course, women aren’t much better represented. The Academy can’t take all the blame, though. After all, how many Hollywood films can even claim much diversity?

But this isn’t a conversation about race. Not this time, anyway.

I’m much less familiar with books. I cannot begin to speak to the issue of diversity when it comes to literature.

Tonight, during my conversation with my friend, I mentioned a choice I was making about my lead protagonist. She (yes, she) is going to be a lesbian. Why? my friend asked. At which point, I realized I wasn’t sure. It just seemed like the right choice. No, the character’s sexuality isn’t central to the story, but for the romantic subplot it does have some impact. After all, if she falls in love with one of the male characters, she can hardly be gay. But she could fall in love with a male. She could be straight. I would just have to change that element of the story. But I don’t want to. Why?

It made me wonder about the bigger picture. Why does my character need to be a female? Why does my character need to be Cuban? (Half-Cuban.) Why can’t she be a white dude? A straight white dude. And that’s what I joked to my friend about. Maybe all protagonists should be young, straight white males. Amirite?

Obviously not. Diversity is important to me. But it’s not necessarily because I want to show other perspectives or cultures, although that may happen sometimes. I guess it’s because I don’t want to ignore the non-white, non-straight, non-female population of the world! I’m not sure it’s any more complicated than that. And that should be enough, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it be enough that I want to write a female character instead of a male just because I want to write a female character instead of a male? It seems like it should be enough. For this manuscript project, I also want my SFC to be gay. End of story. I don’t really intend to include any particulars of the Miami gay subculture. It’s just a character choice, and it feels like the right one.

Or does there need to be more?

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One thought on “diversity or agenda?

  1. In one of my favored books, Milan Kundera writes: “… characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about.”

    The character you write should be your own. If you want to make her, a half-cuban lesbian, then that is up to you. Because even if that isn’t central to the story, it is important to how you visualize her, and I don’t think that should ever be given up on.

    Good luck with the writing.

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