Opinion: Fiction should mirror the diversity around us

Lauren Sieberg, Staff Writer

Imagine you are a child watching a fictional television show for the first time. When the protagonist is introduced, you stare at the screen, wide-eyed, completely transfixed as you realize that they are like you. This is the first time you have ever seen someone like you in any book, film, or TV program, and you are absolutely thunderstruck. A sense of pride and familiarity wells up within you as you automatically forge a powerful, caring bond with this character. Even though it is in the world of fiction, you can’t help but feel connected to them because of your similarities.

With proper representation in film and literature, everyone can have this experience simply by interacting with diverse fictional television shows, films, and novels. Even though it is fiction, people should still care about how the characters look, act, think, and feel.

We as humans often search for a bit of ourselves in the novels we read and the programs we watch, looking for people that reflect who we are now or who we wish to become. The genre doesn’t alter our tendencies to look for these similarities and qualities, even in stories about magic portals and vampires. Diversity is extremely important in all genres, to ensure that everyone can see a part of themselves elsewhere.

When people generally hear the word “diversity,” they might think of only one subject, like race. However, one of the wonderful things about diversity is simply that it isn’t limited to one specific trait, nor is it skin deep. A diverse cast includes the wide spectrum of sexualities, circumstances, races, abilities, religions, sizes, backgrounds, personalities, and genders, so that everyone can feel as though they are properly represented.

For example, Rick Riordan’s latest series entitled “Magnus Chase” includes Muslim, transgender, deaf, and POC characters so that readers all across the world can see themselves in another character. This connection may seem small at first, but seeing or imagining a character that looks like you or believes in the same things as you is the first step towards truly connecting with a book, film, or television show.

Representation is especially important at a young age, because it prepares children for the world around them and teaches them to be accepting of others. Teaching open-mindedness early on can prevent separation and promote respect for differences later in life, and it’s much easier to integrate diversity into a children’s television show than to explain representation to an adult who may not be so accepting of differences.

Dreamworks’ “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” a television series about the paladins of a giant lion robot named Voltron, mainly targets a younger audience and includes racially diverse male and female characters. It includes several powerful scenes in its second season in which Princess Allura gradually lets go of a long-standing prejudice against the Galra people, and begins to accept several of them for who they are instead of defining them by their heritage.

One of the best things that representation can provide is a sense of all of the possibilities out there. Diversity can prevent people from thinking that they can’t do something because of who they are, something they can’t truly change.

Although we can’t go out slaying dragons, casting magic spells, and doing other things only found in fiction, a young child seeing someone like them as a hero could then become inspired to be the hero of their own life. When someone is able to do what they want to because they see others like them doing it, it creates a ripple effect for others that wish to do the same things.

While some may look at representation as insignificant, the damage done by a lack of diversity can be astonishing. When someone doesn’t see some aspect of their identity in a program, it can subconsciously convince them that they must change themselves in order to fit in, throwing concepts like body positivity in the garbage bin. A person may feel entirely alone in this world if they don’t see themselves in any books, movies, or shows, because they will feel as though they are the only person in the world like them. We need more representation in today’s shows, novels, and movies to avoid issues like these.

Though promoting representation may not be easy, it’s still incredibly important. Supporting diverse films, books, and television programs can show creators that they’re doing the right thing. It also prompts other creators to include more diverse characters in their work too. With more representation in fiction, people of all ages will no longer have to look only in the mirror.