Diversity is part of the human experience.
As an autistic, queer, physically disabled, Indian-American human, I am always looking for inclusivity in media. Does that mean I am only seeking characters who are autistic and queer and physically disabled and Indian-American? No! I certainly do, however, delight in seeing someone even fractionally like me in media, since each of the traits I listed above are severely underrepresented. And I particularly delight when that representation is well executed.
Human beings are diverse within their communities. Many of these communities intersect, which creates even more diversity. For example, I am brown and I am autistic. My lived experiences as a brown autistic person differ from those of a white autistic person and those of a Black autistic person. They also differ from those of a brown neurotypical (not autistic) person.
When I read a book, watch TV, go to the movies, what I am truly seeking is a cross-section of the human experience, such as I might see when I go to the grocery store, use public transportation, walk through my neighborhood, eat at a restaurant, travel.
What I am looking for is meaningful representation.
Meaningful representation means creating characters who are fleshed out, flawed, and believable. Three-dimensional characters who go beyond token appearances and tropes. People who are living their own lives, who don’t exist simply to support the main (usually more privileged) character’s journey.
I believe all storytellers have a responsibility to include meaningful representation. Unless every character in your story is exactly like you (and how boring would that be?!), this will take time and effort. I assure you, though, your story will be richer and more authentic for it.
In this eight-part essay, I will share suggestions on how to create meaningful representations of diverse characters. I will ask you to explore your own intentions and lived experiences to guide you as your create your story. Using television shows, I will give specific examples of successful representation (spoiler alerts included).*
I will be discussing the following topics:
• Tropes As A Starting Point
• Breaking Away From Tropes
• Character Development
• Researching For Authenticity
• Consulting and Compensating Experts
• Hiring and Supporting Diverse Creators
* Please keep in mind I am not reviewing these television programs; I am analyzing specific characters and how they represent diversity in a meaningful way.
It is one thing to strive for perfection and another to expect it. When we expect perfection, we don’t give ourselves the space to learn and grow from our mistakes – to acknowledge, to listen, to do better next time … to go on this very human journey.
~ Kalpita Pathak