But we don't live in an ideal world. We live in one that often pushes minority perspectives aside, either disavowing cultural experience or claiming narrative tokenism if such a perspective is championed in a mainstream, niche, or pop culture context. As a playwright, my work about disability could win me grant money, but in terms of that hook leading to productions, it's hard to say. Some might find my perspective limiting, too outside the norm of universal experience to attract audiences. I would respond that it's the specifics of a struggle that make art universal, whatever its medium. Of course, there are tons of examples of literature and art and movies opening one's world to others, including a recent study claiming such outcomes. Really, I'm being completely ridiculous when I state unequivocally that the world isn't perfect (because it never could be), and that varying perspectives are often undervalued (because often they are championed). But the fact remains that different art forms take a while to embrace all the cultural contexts available for exploration and expression.
Take comic books. There is a massive amount of racism laced into the DNA of comics culture, and it's something we're still not past (look at how the casting of Idris Elba in "Thor" or Michael B. Jordan in the potential "Fantastic Four" caused a horrifying uproar). After all, it took a looooong time for Marvel to finally release a book featuring a superhero team made up of people of color (but lo and behold, here's Mighty Avengers). Editor Tom Brevoort previously claimed there needed to be a valid, plot-based reason for such a team to coalesce. But last time I checked, the Justice League formed because a starfish-shaped alien decided to hug people's faces and take over the planet, sooooo I don't know how much water worries about tokenism hold. Like, when the Ultimate universe Miles Morales hit the scene, a biracial Spider-man wasn't given too much of a narrative reasoning. Miles simply was, and he became Spider-man, much like Peter Parker was, and became Spidey before him. Of course, there was push-back to Peter Parker's death in that alternate reality, and Miles might not be selling as well as Parker did, but his presence is important, nonetheless. By existing, by taking up the mantle of an iconic hero, Miles gives kids who aren't the standard white audience a stab at being the hero who saves the day. It might seem like a small thing to worry about -- whether or not you can put yourselves in Spidey's booties for fantasy's sake -- but the ability to envision yourself that way says a lot about our society and its artistic output.
I bring all this up because DC and Marvel effectively cancelled two of their women of color-led series this week. I had not read either Katana or Fearless Defenders, but I'd heard good things about both books (despite what the linked article opines). That said, sales were never robust for either series, so I guess I'm not surprised that they won't be on the shelves come January. But it does make me wonder. What does a corporation selling characters need to do, in order to better support its vast array of heroes? Does it need to stick to its brand, as Brian Wood's X-Men has done, with its all-female roster, despite the recognizably gendered name? Does it need to heavily publicize the choice to include people of color, as was done with Miles Morales? Does it need to wrap the heroine into a bigger book, as happened with Katana, who runs around in Justice League of America?
Or is the answer simpler? Is the answer a command? Such as, LISTEN. Marvel and DC, there are tons of talented artists out in the world, of every color and creed and experience. What are their lives like? What do they have to say? Hire them. Let them share their perspectives with others. Promoting books by writers who empathize with multicultural experience is fine, but if you really want to create a bigger audience for your more diverse books, include members of that community in the creation of those books (I'm not saying this never happens, but it doesn't seem prevalent). Don't shy away from publishing books about women, about people with disabilities, about people of color -- because the readers who need them are out there. But by not engaging them in the artistic process, you doom your books to fail. Because you are refusing them a seat at the table, a chance at making their voices heard. If we want our art to truly reflect the vastness of our society, we need to quit pretending that the only people who want to read and write comics are white dudes, and that claims of tokenism and fan alienation justify exclusion. Those excuses are beyond lame. They're horrifying, in fact. My suggestion is far from the only solution available, but if a heated dialogue is the result of such equalizing momentum, then so be it. What better way to learn what's going on in someone else's head?