As of the writing of this post a little movie based off of a book has made its way to the theaters. And with that there came some backlash. The movie I’m referring to is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and the backlash came from an interview with the director Tim Burton.
In this particular interview the director was questioned about the lack of diversity in the casting as with the dozens of main characters only Samuel L. Jackson has a different skin tone. Tim Burton is quoted as saying in response “Nowadays, people are talking about it more. But things either call for things, or they don’t. I remember back when I was a child watching The Brady Bunch and they started to get all politically correct. Like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black. I used to get more offended by that than just… I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”
I’ll start by saying that I grew up watching Tim Burton films, and I’ll end by saying that I wasn’t offended. Could it have been said better? Absolutely. Was what he said untruthful? No. All he said was as a white man all the characters in his head are white. If that’s the scope he views the world from then that’s how it will be. He wasn’t paying attention to his blindspot. Not to mention that the majority of the characters in the source material are all white as well…which is a fact he should have led with.
As much as we may want to see diversity in all books, with social media hashtags of #DiverseYA, etc., we all kind of have a blindspot. I’m black and grew up in a mostly white area once I was ten. As I grew I can count on one hand how many books I was exposed to that had black characters in them, even less if you take away the ones where those characters were more than slaves. But looking back I can count no books that I read with Hispanic or Asian characters. Let’s not forget people with disabilities, non-straight people, and Native Americans.
I started by saying that I didn’t see what was truly wrong about what Tim Burton said, and I still do believe that. However that doesn’t negate the fact that there does need to be more diversity in all media that we come across so we can understand each other. For example, my daughter read Everyday by David Levithan a couple years ago and became the biggest champion of the book because she could see herself in the main character A. A was an entity that inhabited a different person each day, male and female, different races, etc. This leads to A having an attraction to people through their character or personality, not their gender. It was my daughter’s “aha moment” as to who she actually was. For a year she loaned the book to anyone she wanted to know the true her.
We all need that moment, but will not reach that moment until we make a conscious effort to see what’s in our blindspot. Gene Luen Yang issued a challenge at the National Book Festival for readers to read a different medium of storytelling than they were used to. I’ll take it to another level and ask for you to read wholly different than you do now. If you read mostly men read a few books from women, if you read mostly from Caucasian authors then read something written by anyone else, mostly English speaking writers try something that needed to be translated. Broaden your reading life to strengthen your writing life. The world is full of different hues, and that should be the same for your created ones as well.