The fantasy genre is arguably one of the most popular genres of books, films, and television shows. Programs like Game of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, and others instantly come to mind. Nerd culture is practically dominated by the Thrones fandom, as well as Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.
As these have been adapted to their respective mediums, they have been met with calls to have more diverse castings that would be representative of fictitious worlds. These calls are almost always met with: “Well, the world of _____ is based on _____ which doesn’t have _____ people in real life.” This, of course, is a ridiculous assessment. Why, if dragons and hobbits, and witches exist in these worlds, is it unthinkable to have persons of color, disabled people, LGBT+ people in these worlds? When will the fantasy genre begin to reflect the real world we live in?
First, I would like to begin by saying that including traditionally marginalized communities in major fantasy works goes beyond the topic of diversity. Often times, we hear those in positions of power behind these major television shows, films, and books say that diversity is needed, but saying this is absolutely useless if nothing is being done about it.
Diversity is more than tokenizing persons of color, disabled people, and LGBT+ people in these spaces. Dean Thomas and Lavender Brown of Harry Potter come to mind, though it is worth mentioning that Lavender Brown was a Black girl until she became a love interest for Ron Weasley. Still, it is writing these very real people into spaces where their identity is not their defining characteristic – that is more important to me. As a Black bisexual woman, I need to be able to see myself in these very same worlds that I am so avidly a fan of.
So what should fantasy look like now in 2018?
Fantasy should be all-inclusive. These worlds and the characters may be fiction but the hope they inspire in the lives of real people are not. Fantasy is typically a genre where the problems and hopes of the present and future are often reflected. In light of a world now seemingly dominated by divisive racist, sexist, homophobic, ableist, and transphobic rhetoric it feels imperative, now more than ever, that we see ourselves represented in worlds we are “not supposed to be in”.
It is not being political or “forcing” diversity to have people in fantasy mediums that are not straight and white. Politics are everywhere whether we like it or not. Many of us don’t even have the luxury to pretend that politics are restricted to the times we watch MSNBC or scroll Twitter to see the latest ridiculous thing to happen in the political sphere.
The fantasy genre, whether it be through film, television, or books, should give us hope in a world that seems hopeless. It should give us the strength to overcome the dragons and monsters we face in our real lives. It should make us feel like anything is possible.
Fantasy should look less like tokenization and more like real and nuanced representations of people of all identities. It should look like taking classic “overdone” tropes and giving them a fresh, and interesting take by letting people who aren’t just straight and white into the writer’s rooms. It should look more like strongly promoting fantasy works created by people who may be persons of color, LGBT+, or disabled so that they can become household names too.
Above all, we must remember that fantasy can be as real as the lives we lead depending on our own interpretations. The castles, dragons, witches and wizards, hobbits and elves may not exist, but how these creatures and entities see the world is often a result of the people writing them and portraying them.
Our world is experiencing rapid change. The worlds we read and see and dream about should be experiencing rapid change too.