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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Diversity in the hardboiled genre

So, in working on Cassidy, I’ve been struggling with diversity. I originally conceptualized a diverse cast, including people of different sexualities, differently abled people, and people of color. Predictably, I fell into some tropes, primarily because I didn’t know they existed (but that's no excuse!). So I revised. And revised. And am revising again.

I’m discovering an unsettling stumbling block.

In the hardboiled genre, most notably in the literature of the 30s–50s, pretty much everyone is despicable. There are very few characters who haven’t done something awful that they’re trying to conceal from Johnny Law (or Jane Society). The only “innocents” are idealized as such, put on pedestals, and not given the opportunity to have any real contribution to the story, presumably because doing so would get their white shoes all dirty. Ironically, people of color and homosexuals are present, but their despicableness is their color or their sexuality—they are not innocents, in the mind of the authors of the day.

More recent works have done better, though still not always great. Perhaps that’s because the genre is about the filthy underbelly, where innocence has no place. I'm okay with that, really. I’d rather see innocents not represented than represented as powerless icons, but eh, I’m not an authority. There’s room for argument on both sides. Anyway, this is all beside the point.

I don’t want to cast any group of people in a negative light with my writing, and I’m doing my best not to. But when your cast is dirty cops, prostitutes, murderers, and rapists, I feel like you have to dance a merry jig to make sure that you're not slapping labels on people. Because I'm not going to stuff my cast of characters with extras just to make it clear that “not all «insert demographic here» are «insert negative role here»s.” I know much of that can be done by populating what extras are there with members of the demographics that are being negatively portrayed elsewhere. No reason the barista can't be of Chinese descent, right?

But it’s been very strange, and a bit uncomfortable. I’ve been having an urge to make all my villains and victims white, because I don’t want to negatively represent demographics to which I don't belong. But in the hardboiled genre, there are few other roles, so… to represent or not to represent?

Let me know what you think. Until next time, word nerds!

1 comment:

Becky Munyon said...

I think if all the characters are kinda seedy, no one is gonna be like, "hey, what's up with the token black character being a criminal." If you have a mixed cast, then no one should take offense. The only issue would be if all the whites are good guys and all the minorities are bad guys, which you aren't doing so there shouldn't be a problem. Also, giving the minority characters an obvious bad trait that goes beyond the fact that they are a minority, unlike the genre has done in the past. Don't make their negative trait the fact that they're black or disabled. Make it the fact that they're a sexist pig or whatever, who just happens to also be black.
I like what you're doing. You're taking an older, very white male dominated genre (at least from my understanding) and moving it into the 21 century.