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Friday, December 22, 2017

Too many stories about privileged white people: an understandable complaint

I at least somewhat understand where people are coming from when they say variations on "I'm not interested in more stories about privileged white people" or "I just can't watch another show about rich white people's problems". (I have heard this recently in response to Ladybird, Pretty Little Lies, and Mrs. Maisel.)

White people, and especially privileged white people, are certainly not in aggregate need of more representation, more funding of our stories, and more audience for us as creators.

And the notion that there should be more stories about, and by, everyone else is absolutely right.

(Not to mention that I also have plenty of complaints about the narrow range of understanding and creativity in some of those shows/movies; eg, I thought PLL was unwatchably boring.)

And, I think it's a mistake to assume that stories can't have something universal to say, just because they're about privileged white people. (Not to mention how it's reductive to lump Ladybird in there.)

I think we can demand walls and ceilings in Hollywood and TV and everywhere come down, and we can say there's something wrong when so few women and people of color are allowed into the networks of mentorship, money, and power. And, we can be open to there being something valuable to humanity about telling the story of, say, rich Nicole Kidman's domestic abuse.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in answer to the question "Where is the Tolstoy of the Zulus?" that Tolstoy is the Tolstoy of the Zulus.

The problems of representation and access are deep. That makes the categorical complaint especially understandable.

But it's when complaints are most "understandable" that we should be the most alert to the doors they close in our imaginations.

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