In Part 2 of this 3-part series, fans used New York Comic Con to confront companies and creators failing to offer diversity in their books, TV shows, films, and video games. Which creators made excuses, and which ones are making changes? Read on to find out.
At the “All Things YA” panel Saturday afternoon, the biggest names in publishing had just finished presenting their new releases for 2013 and titles to look forward to in 2014. Harper Teen, Disney Hyperion, Simon & Schuster, MacKids, Penguin Young Readers, and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers were all on hand, hoping that the crowd would respond to their line-ups and ignore the lack of “insider scoop” that the panel had promised. Having sat through a parade of Hunger Games meets X-Men meets The Scarlett Letter meets Downton Abbey “with teenagers,” people were anxious to get some real answers about what is going on today in young adult literature.
As the panel asked for questions from the audience, a young woman stood up, her voice shaking slightly from nerves. “I know that you are here on behalf of your publishers, and this is not directed at any of you personally, but of all the books you presented today, there was not a single person of color on your covers and a lack of diversity in the relationships at the center of your books. What are you doing, and what can we do, to change that?” The panelists scrambled for a moment before referring her to the CBC Diversity Committee's website, www.cbcdiversity.com, and encouraged people to get involved.
The CBC Diversity Committee's work is really long-term, visiting high school English classes and college fairs to get students involved in publishing, and hosting more panel discussions among industry employees. Considering they already had a panel representing all the major young adult publishers, I had to wonder why they didn't use the opportunity in the first place to dig deeper and examine trends in the young adult industry, including the lack of diversity in their line-up, instead of reading publicity copy and clicking through a slide-show of book covers. Referring con-goers to the CBC Diversity Committee's website was an answer, but it was an embarrassingly inadequate one.
Other creators were much more prepared for these questions. Actress Jennifer Morrison at the Once Upon a Time panel answered questions about shipping including the fan-favorite pairing Swan Queen, Emma Swan and Queen Regina. Morrison was enthusiastically supportive of all these fan pairings, both gay and straight, because as she put it, “If you are pairing up these characters, that means you see yourself reflected in this character, and that is great!” Shortly after, a fan stepped up and explained that as a queer female, she did not see herself reflected in any characters on the show. She asked if the show creators had any plans to change that, and without missing a beat, Morrison replied that things would be changing very soon if fans like her kept watching.
For most shows, the line to “keep watching” is a brush-off, an empty promise meant to placate fans while never making any significant changes. Morrison's promise was not empty, however. Viewers only had to wait until Sunday's new episode when Mulan revealed her feelings for Aurora to the audience and agonized over whether she should tell Aurora. Mulan and Aurora are two established characters with a history together, and the show's writers were planning this plot development long before New York Comic Con, long before this woman stood up and asked why she didn't see herself in these characters, and that shows true progress.
Part 3 will examine how geek culture has been portrayed in the media and how major news coverage of New York Comic Con ignored racial and gender diversity among attendees.