To Filmmakers: Diversity and Quality Aren't the Same

In the past few decades, with the rise of civil rights movements across all groups, the seemingly unmalleable Hollywood had been under pressure to be more inclusive. Its response? Get people of marginalized groups to play token supporting roles, replace white actors in reboots, and star in badly written movies.

 

Let’s get one thing clear: inclusivity is not a plot device that magically makes a script better. The mere appearance of the minority does not elevate a movie to a new height. People of color and other marginalized groups shouldn’t have to look for representation only to be disappointed by their character’s lack of personality and agency. And while movies with token minority characters can get away with the one-dimensional personality typical of supporting roles, reboots and movies with all-minority casts can’t. The problem is, most people seem to think they can.

 

Let’s take the example of Crazy Rich Asians. As far as romantic comedies go, it is not good. It’s studded with the same clichés of every other romantic comedies: a girl falls in love with a wealthy guy, is spurred by the wealthy world of her lover; secrets, betrayal, threats, ball gowns, showdown with the guy’s evil mother, all ending with dramatic chase where the guy, thank goodness, catches up with the girl and proposes. There’s no substance in the plot. The portrayal of East and South-East Asian culture is fresh, yes, but it acts like a glossary draped over a basic storyline, like someone had just finished a white rom-com marathon and thought to themselves, “What if the actors were all Asians?”

 

Inclusivity is not an add-on. Inclusivity is not substitute for creativity. Inclusivity does not neutralize artistic errors. To say otherwise is not to defend minority representation, but to degrade representation into this hollow, artless maneuver that might just condemn minority actors to a few more decades of playing shallow characters and filling in straight white male roles in thoughtless movies, all the while under the guise of political righteousness.

 

Movies with diverse casts still need to follow the basic rules of good scriptwriting, one of which being: make characters interesting. This doesn’t mean that a character should act along the social stereotypes expected of them, but that the character shows depth, thought, and agency – things that makes them human and not just political props. Because at the end of the day, gender, skin color, sexual orientation, or illnesses is just one of many attributes of an actual person, a person who is worthy to be shown in full and not just as a color, sex, or medical condition.

 

This is not a politically correct tirade against Hollywood. In recent years there have been more and more movies and shows that handle diversity exceptionally well, such as “Dear White People,” ‘The Good Place,” or “Black Panther.” More and more the industry is improving. I’m not asking for Hollywood to stop casting straight white male actors. What I’m asking for is that film and TV producers give minority characters the same amount of thought they do other characters, with respect to the their own personalities and backgrounds. What I’m asking for is that critics don’t just look to diversity as an automatic indication of quality. What I’m asking for this that the movie industry make it possible that all moviegoers and binge-watchers have the opportunity to see themselves on screen not just in appearance but in essence.