This last year, two super hero movies have made an enormous splash: Wonder Woman and Black Panther. One of the major reasons for this is representation. Typically, super hero movies are not made with women or people of color (POC) as the primary characters. In fact, women are generally the “refrigerated” character, and minorities are typically either comic relief or the bad guys. For the first time, women and brown people from all over the world can see strong women and men like themselves represented on the screen. Characters who are competent, capable, smart, and powerful. They offer powerful representations for audiences who don’t often see themselves on the screen in positive ways.
When we talk about diversity, we are talking about representation, of the chance for our readers to see strong potential in themselves because of the characters they engage with on the page. Aside from POC and women, that representation includes all the segments of society that aren’t typically portrayed in a positive light: disabled people or handicapped people, non-skinny people, varied religions, poor people, LGBTQ, transgenders, and more.
I remember when I first read Ilona Andrews’ On The Edge, it was remarkable to me, because she wrote about someone who was truly poor and showed what that meant to her life. Likewise, Lauren Myracle’s YA novel, Shine, is a powerful story about an extraordinarily economically depressed town. The themes of the book revolve around hate crimes, poverty, drugs, sexual assault, and hopelessness. It’s a remarkable book, incidentally, and definitely worth reading.
One of the battles that has been ongoing in the SF/F world for some time is over covers. Frequently covers are whitewashed–POC characters are made white on the covers. Authors fight for accurate covers, but the battle hasn’t been won. This article from BookSmugglers shows you the covers to explain what this means. I strongly recommend that you have a look.
So the upshot of this is that Representation Matters. Being able to see someone like yourself in a position of power and agency on the page and screen is fundamentally important.