[Image © Can Stock Photo / studiostoks]
You’ve likely seen them without ever knowing they’re there. They’re in Hallmark movies. They’re in Hero movies. They’re in your after-school special. They’re in the background, relatively unnoticed, maybe the main character will ask them about their day… but they come through in that crucial moment in the third act when Our Hero needs some good, solid, inspiration to make it to the win. Usually in the form of some grammatically incorrect, yet folksy wisdom.
Alternately, they’re the disabled person with Strange ‘Extra’ Powers ™ that almost – but never actually – make up for their disability. The blind person who can see your fate… The deaf kid who sees everyone else’s ‘tells’ or is hyper-observant… or the autistic boy with superpowers that explain his stims. I’ve ranted about that one before. The message behind it is the same:
You, Minority Person, are Not Worthy unless you are Helpful to Proper People. Read: Straight White Abled Mainstreamers. (SWAM for short)
As a brief Aside, I have to wonder what the SWAM mob get out of this. Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling that -hey- this movie has representation for like five minutes out of the entire two-hour run time, thereby making it Valid(tm) for the purity crowd.
I’ve seen more than my fair share of Hallmark Movies [or a percentage of more than my fair share etc etc] and they are a genre bordering on Glurge. There’s usually two flavours for this tripe, and it’s Hallmark Romance (to which my Beloved is sadly addicted) and Hallmark Drama. The latter has an unfair collection of True-to-Life tales of a Heroic Single Mother battling against the odds to Save Her Disabled Burden Child from blah blah blah vomit blah blah.
In your average Hallmark Drama, the Heroic Single Mother is given some valiant-heart chin-up speech from a Miraculous Minority with obviously less problems than said Burden Child. Usually along the lines of Us Crips Are Useful (cha cha cha).
Honestly, I’ve half a mind to write Hallmark: The Musical at this point. Except I’m pants at scriptwriting and the mere concept of merging a Hallmark Romance with a Hallmark Drama into what is likely to be a Jukebox Musical is wont to make me hurl.
In the rare Hallmark Drama where it is a Heroic Mother’s Battle against Issue Du Jour, then the Miraculous Minority is there to work some magic formula cure in the last quarter-hour before the Everything Worked Out text-only epilogue. Roll the heartwarming photos of the whitebread family post-recovery.
So, basically, your average Miraculous Minority is your Deus Ex Machina to turn the SWAM Hero to the path of righteousness if they’re not actually some kind of Token Superhero. Either way, it’s helpmeet or go home.
If you happen to be black, disabled, LGBTIAQ, or any mix of those three, your role in movies and TV is clear. You help the SWAM. Nothing else. You don’t deserve happiness, love, strong characterisation, or even a speaking role longer than fifteen minutes, total. You exist to help the real life SWAM’s out there. TV and Hollywood says so.
That. Makes me. Want. To puke.
I’m making it a point in pretty much all my works [Amity onwards, Hevun’s Child was a reworking of an older piece before I learned better writing] contain as many LGBTIAQ, disabled, and people of colour as I possibly can. If I can tick all of the checkboxes, I firkin will. Why?
Because good writing doesn’t have to contain a SWAM hero in order for audiences to relate.
It doesn’t even have to contain a single SWAM individual.
You’re pretty much guaranteed to get a minimum of one Autistic Person in my works because -hell- I am Autistic and I know certain aspects of it with genuine intimacy. Writing people of colour – especially in the future – isn’t any more difficult than writing white spacemen, lizards with tits, or highly improbable technobabble.
Hollywood? Wake. The fuck. Up.
I have had my fill of allegedly heartwarming content where the minority swooshes right in for a five-minute attaboy/attagirl and is never seen again. I’m sick of seeing POC/LGBT/Disabled people in Support Only roles on the screen. Hell, I am fucking sick of Autistic characters served with a generous side of Burden Porn. I think I’m adding that word couple to my ideas file. It needs to be covered.
I mean really needs to be covered. And then executed. With prejudice.
So how will these people accurately portray a minority character from now on? Oh, I dunno… Maybe something like:
- Write a three-dimensional actual character
- Give them a minority feature. Maybe two! Mix things up!
- Do some research and put some actual fucking thought into how that might effect that person’s life.
- No, not the SWAM person caught inextricably in the fallout. Stoppit, you!
- Stop thinking about SWAM folks when you’re doing this. I mean it.
- Detail some actual methods this person might have and how other people might view it as bizarre.
- Make it all about how SWAMs don’t understand the struggle
- Have one token SWAM swoosh in to give a hearty attaboy or folksy advice that might actually work in the real world.
- Also have them educate their ignorant SWAM friends
- Tack on a happy ending, true romance, some palaver about community outreach efforts. Whatever.
Boom! Representation without the need for unnecessary miracles. Yay. Also, perhaps, a little peek into the other side of the privilege fence where things are not as rosy as you may have once suspected. Kind of uncomfortable, peeking over there, isn’t it?
So, for the TLDR crowd – the miraculous minority is lazy-arse writing and needs more than just an overhaul. Just shoot this shit, it’s only fair.