Why Diverse Characters are Written Terribly (And How to Write Them Better)

Some+of+the+most+popular+gay+best+friend+characters+are+displayed.+The+progression+of+the+trope+over+the+years+is+limited%E2%80%93nothing+has+improved+over+the+years.

Photo Taken From The Advocate

Some of the most popular gay best friend characters are displayed. The progression of the trope over the years is limited–nothing has improved over the years.

Diversity is a tricky topic for a lot of writers; many view it as a loaded gun, an accident waiting to happen, something too delicate to tread on. Some people believe that they are too underqualified to write characters unlike themselves. On the other hand, others are too confident in themselves and their knowledge of other ethnicities and people, and their “diversity” ends up looking like stereotypes. 

So this raises the question: what is “good” representation? And how is it written? 

The easiest way to write positive representation is to look at the bad and dissect their character to see what to avoid. One of the most glaring examples of terrible representation is musician SIA’s movie, “Music.”

What makes this movie’s main character so terrible? One of the main reasons is that the research for this character came from the organization Autism Speaks

In 2009, Autism Speaks released an ad called “I Am Autism.” In this video, autism is portrayed as a psychopathic nuisance that ruins the lives of the people that have to deal with it. This misinformation fueled the direction of the movie, and therefore muddled its message. Clearly, it is not a valid source to use for a movie about autism, especially since it’s supposed to be “spreading awareness.”

Autism is one of the many forms of neurodiversity commonly butchered in media alongside ADHD. And when it comes to mental illness in the media, no writer seems to get it right, and only in very rare cases can it be portrayed eloquently. 

But poorly written neurodivergence is only one form of terrible representation. What about the (very obvious) racism against people of color in the media? One example that may be shocking is the books and movies from the series “Harry Potter” and  “Fantastic Beasts.” 

Many may know of J.K. Rowling as a beloved author, but take a deep dive into her writing, and her real views become clear. For reference, a YouTuber by the name of Dylan Marron compiled a video of every time a person of color talks in the movies, and it’s barely a few minutes long.

The poster for the movie “Music” was released in Feb. 2021 by Australian musician SIA. It currently has a lower rating than the movies “Cats” by Tom Hooper and “Morbius” by Daniel Espinosa. (Photo Taken From Wikipedia)

Rowling’s clear disregard for people of color becomes even more apparent when examining all the other colored students in the school. Characters like Dean Thomas, Lee Jordan and the Patil twins are all nothing but filler background characters thrown in to check off boxes. In the books, Dean had an entire backstory that was scrapped and instead given to another white character, Neville. 

Many adamant fans argue that since the books take place in 1990s England, the amount of POC students is realistic. Even if schools do often have a largely white population,  that doesn’t excuse the fact that all of these characters are flat, background crowd-fillers. 

And if “Harry Potter” is arguably bad, then the cast of Rowling’s movie, “Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them” is especially terrible. Despite the movie taking place in New York in the 1920s, where around 35 percent of residents were non-white, not a single POC character is present in the cast of the first movie. 

But despite the fantastic beasts series being an allegory for oppression, this series features no disabled characters and zero LGBTQ+ representation.

The LGBTQ+ community isn’t scarce of its fair share of stereotypes; the “men-hating lesbians” or the “fashionista gays” are only some of the many. But in movies, a whole new range of stereotypes–arguably worse than the ones I’ve already listed.

Other tropes include the sex-crazed bisexual, the alien nonbinary character or the sassy “club-hopping” gay guy. But when most think of gay characters, they think of the famous “gay best friend” trope. 

Some characters that follow this trope are Damien from Mean Girls,” Stanley Tucci in The Devil Wears Prada” and Kurt from ‘‘Glee.” While these characters are in no way offensive, they do nothing but reinforce preconceived notions about gay people. 

When writing diversity, authors really seem to struggle with breaking away from ideas that have already been set in their heads about minorities. So how can writers write diverse characters better? 

First, talk to someone a part of the group that is desired. Look around your school, your workplace–maybe even your own neighborhood. I guarantee you’ll find at least one person. 

Neurodivergent individuals are a lot more prominent than most people think; in your group of friends, at least one person is probably atypical in some way.

We also have the miracle of the internet. There are plenty of guides online that explain the dos and don’ts of writing for practically any type of character. 

People are more than just what they may be labeled as. A person must be written first. Being gay, having ADHD or even being of a certain race can be afterthoughts. 

But when dealing with race, a writer must be careful with culture, take care not to assume or appropriate, and never take only one opinion as fact. And make sure not to villainize things like disabilities or mental illness. 

If in search of something more fun, shows that detail diversity done right, look at shows like “Our Flag Means Death,” “Owl House” and “Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” They all feature various neurodivergent, POC and queer characters that are largely praised.

But of course, everyone has a different view on what makes representation offensive or accurate, so asking around for different views can be helpful. Here’s what other students had to say about representation.

When interviewing students, more often than not when asked for an example of a positively diverse figure, the answer was “I don’t know.” It’s quite saddening that most people can’t even think of a positive example.

The main characters of the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie pose for a photo behind the scenes on set. No people of color cast members are present. (Photo Taken From BBC)

But when asked about incorrect representation, students gave plenty of answers. 

Freshman Julian Byon believes that many recent movies like “Eternals” are attempting to show too much diversity. 

“The entire ‘Eternals’ movie was pretty bad,” Byon said. “It felt like it was trying too hard to be inclusive.”

“Eternals” is one of the most recent Marvel superhero movies and has quite the inclusive cast. It features one of the first mainstream superhero gay couples and a deaf character. 

While these characters aren’t written terribly, negative reviews are more the fault of the movie’s pacing. The movie has so much going on. With so many characters and plot points, important, diverse characters are forgotten. 

Freshman Autumn Manes thinks that comic books from companies like DC are prime examples of diversity illustrated wrong. 

“I think of things like DC’s Hispanic Heritage Month covers because they were mostly racist stereotypes,” Manes said.  

Comic books haven’t always been the best with diversity, but these book covers are exceptionally terrible. 

The covers are half-baked weak attempts at showing culture from tone-deaf ears. For example, most of the covers showcase the superheroes doing nothing but eating Mexican food, and no other part of the culture.  

Another freshman, Omar Gomez, believes that the root of the issue is stereotyping in the media. 

“Stereotypes about Hispanic people make no sense,” Gomez said. “Most of them are the opposite of what they’re actually like.” 

Gomez believes that getting rid of the most popular major stereotypes would be the most beneficial. 

“I think in order to have good representation, all you really need to do is get rid of the big stereotypes,” Gomez added.  

Stereotypes–negative or not–are quite harmful. Erasing all of them, no matter how “true” one may claim them to be, would be greatly beneficial to writers of all kinds, even beyond the realm of writing. 

In summary: write people, not traits. No person’s entire personality stems from a trait that they happen to have, and writing someone like that will only make a flat-token character. 

Break away from what is believed to be right and discover what truly is. And then after that, all a writer needs is ideas.