For Your Consideration: The Happiness and Wellbeing of Minority Characters

This is short [and quite late] even as “For Your Consideration” posts go. While past instances have been particularly research heavy, this installment really leans into the gist of those three words. I’m here to present all of you nice people with a little something to ruminate on, and this time I don’t even have a particular stance on it myself.

Jeremy Whitley is a comic book writer that Marvel appears to be actively grooming, and who I first read due to his penning one of a handful of short stories in the Secret Wars: Secret Love one-shot [a truly excellent Danny/Misty Knight romance].

Secret Wars: Secret Love – “Misty and Danny Forever”. Written by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by Gurihiru.

Since then he’s also written a tie-in issue of Champions, and is currently on the ongoing The Unstoppable Wasp as well as responsible for another upcoming event one-shot [this time for the summer’s Secret Empire]. Suffice to say, Whitley is swiftly making a name for himself at one of the two largest publishers in the industry.

What he was once primarily known for, and which I’m positive he’s very proud of, is Princeless. Starting back in 2012, the all-ages series has released six volumes and been nominated for two Eisner awards. What’s particularly notable is how he has in part been writing the book for his daughter, with the following interview answer explaining a lot about the title hero’s character design:

“My daughter is black and while I encourage her to look for role models of all colors, girls need to be able to see girls that are like themselves in media. They need it even more when it comes to seeing them portrayed with strength. And, unfortunately, I think that’s sort of a symptom of this exclusionary tendency in the self-professed nerd culture circles. I would love nothing more than to change that culture, but barring that, I’ll help create another one.”

With that in mind it should be of no surprise whatsoever that Whitley is very concerned about diversity and representation in media, and has made a concerted effort to include that in all of his books.

Now to get to the actual meat of this post, I began following him on tumblr not too long ago where he’s very active in engaging with his fans. It was a couple of weeks back that I came across the following exchange between Whitley and two such comic readers:

Now as far as sources go, I am fairly positive that the pages are from Princeless – Raven: The Pirate Princess Vol. 2: Free Women, but I’m not certain. The point, however, is obviously a question that I’m going to boil down to, “Why can’t LGBT characters just be happy?”

This ties directly back to my inflammatorily titled post last-last Friday, which partially covered a lot of the backlash writer Brian Michael Bendis received upon appearing to split up a lesbian couple in his most recent issue of Guardians of the Galaxy. I say “appearing to” as nothing has yet been confirmed as far as the status of their relationship. I further described these fans as “people who have been hurt so often they’re ready to strike back before being hurt again.”

It should also be clearly stated that their being hurt is not fabricated or unfounded. The fact that there’s an entry for “Bury Your Gays” on TV Tropes really speaks for itself: LGBT characters very often exist to be sacrificed. The same can also be said of their relationships. As Whitley very insightfully points out, however, “If all of the queer women in this book have to be happy, that leaves maybe two women to be miserable.”

Given that his readers are invested in the lesbian characters in his books speaks to his ability to write men and women that an audience connects strongly with. That being said, it’s also Whitley’s job as a writer to construct dramatic scenarios that test applies stress and adds conflict to his cast. After all, that’s what narrative is built on. Without a goal and an obstruction to that goal there’s no story. “[Being] happy” on its own is not something that people will tune into month after month, or even week after week.

Or is it?

Is there a large enough audience that simply wants to see LGBT relationships presented in a way that isn’t fraught with drama? Even Mitch and Cam couldn’t stop bickering long enough to kiss during the first season of Modern Family [though there are obviously additional reasons for that]. Even it sitcoms, which are a naturally lighter TV genre, some form of conflict must exist.

Another instance of backlash is a SPOILER FOR THE WALKING DEAD, which should also be common knowledge as we’re a few months into 2017 at this point. Seriously, though, Facebook was blowing up with news about how Glenn, played by Stephen Yeun, was shown being killed in the Season 7 premiere.

On his Facebook page Ranier Maningding [better known as LLAG, an acronym of the page], shared a post about the character’s demise:

“As we progress towards more inclusive and fully developed POC characters and stories, it’s worth asking WHY we constantly have to write stories where POC characters die, and YT [White] ones do not. Why are POC characters written as teachers, lovers, and obstacles that YT characters must overcome? Why can’t we have our own, independent arc?”

Of course the polar opposite of minorities, whether in terms of ethnicity or sexual orientation, being given their own plot armour. With that in place they are never in any real danger, and as audiences we know that whatever happens they will remain safe from harm. Would this be acceptable, going to the other extreme as a means of balancing things out?

As mentioned, I honestly have no idea. Yes, I want fully realized minority characters in all media, but at the same time I believe part of being a good character means experiencing loss, or even being a source of loss to someone else. I don’t want to see a trans character and know that they’ll survive by virtue of being LGBT, I want them to survive because there’s a good story behind it.

Nothing, least of all art, exists in a vacuum. When Black people and police are shown interacting in the media that takes place given the knowledge that similar real life encounters have ended in tragedy. As a whole minorities have faced death and disenfranchisement in North America and elsewhere, and to see that play out again, whether it’s on TV or in the pages of a comic book, only hurts that much more. So what is the ideal way for writers present these characters realistically, and is that the adverb that fans truly desire?

Like I said way up top, this is something for all of you to consider.

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