Diversity in any medium is a hot topic right now, especially for video games and movies. Recently at E3, a lot of games have announced female protagonists, choices to let the player choose to be gay or lesbian, and characters that are designed to be gay or lesbian. Of course, people who are misogynistic or homophobic have cried foul against the industry. That is not what I am going to discuss. Some shows, movies, and games create these characters as a statement, which is fine. However, making a statement with a diverse character can be a slippery slope. Doing so can alienate the audience or take away from the cast. The writers need to write a character who feels natural that does not feel forced. That will let viewers adjust and accept a character quicker than forcing a characteristic into whatever medium the character is apart.
Often characters are stereotyped in the worst ways. If done well you might be able to utilize a stereotype that is not offensive. However, too many times we see overly flamboyant characters who fall in line with every stereotype that society has created. In I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is a great example of stereotyping in the worst way. Kevin James and Adam Sandler are straight characters who pretend to be gay for their benefit. The way they play off being gay is by overacting on every stereotype. The film tries to give a meaningful point of view by the end, but the film is unable to save itself. Continuing certain stereotypes will keep LGBT characters in particular archetypes without being able to expand to more unique characteristics.
A universal sin for any medium is when an LGBT character is pointed out for their identity in hopes to show how diverse the show, game, or book are being. The problem is that the character is used as a tool. The main cast of characters will get more development than once a character comes in who is different, the whole point will be to show that someone is not a white straight character. The characters can be any color of skin or sexuality, but when the creators feel the need to shoehorn in someone different, the audience will pick up on what is happening.
A third issue we often see are LGBT characters who are kept a secret in the primary source material. The character is only revealed to have specific sexuality by the creator of the medium, but the audience does not get to experience the character for who they are meant to be. Harry Potter is the best known for having a secretive gay character, Dumbledore. J.K. Rowling has confirmed that he is gay, but never made an effort to flesh this out in the novels. Doing this makes Dumbledore’s sexuality a piece of throwaway trivia for die-hard fans who want to know everything. Making him more apparent with his sexuality would be groundbreaking and help young LGBT readers.
A way to fix the issue is to treat every character the same when developing them. Taking a character in anything by giving them a backstory, personality, looks, and more to make them as believable as possible should be done for everyone equally. Two great examples being The Last of Us and Day 5. Day 5 is a drama from the internet production company called Rooster Teeth where a group of survivors struggles with an epidemic that causing people to die when falling asleep instantly. One of the main protagonists is Ally, a nurse who is alive because of a long night shift. The reveal of her relationship with a colleague Lex is natural. The audience is not subject to any messages or pointing out the young lesbian couple in any disrespectful way. The audience gets to know Ally over time and sees another aspect of her personality, which happens to be her sexuality. After a brief kiss, the show continues its story. The Last of Us has done the same and will continue to expand on Ellie has a character in the upcoming sequel. In the game’s DLC the player gets to see Ellie kiss her best friend, Riley. The quick reveal is interrupted by zombies coming into the room and chasing the two girls. The latest trailer and gameplay video shown at Sony’s press conference this past E3 shows more of Ellie. Her new companion is demonstrated as they dance then eventually kiss. The relationship is not focused on too much allowing the audience to experience the game’s gameplay. Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann crafted realistic characters in a believable apocalyptic world.
Characters across the board need to be organically developed just like any other character. When the writers of a movie, game, or book decide to make an LGBT character or even a character of a particular religion or race, they must make a believable character. Shoehorning in someone to have certain traits does not do the character any justice. People who do not want the diversity will shut down much easier if they feel something is forced upon them. Of course, it is difficult to handle the naysayers in any way. The people who will accept a character who is transgender or gay, that person still needs a character well developed to enjoy.
I believe one of the core reasons we get a lack of LGBT characters and so many bad ones is on the writing. People who write are the ones creating a person on paper to put on a screen or many pages of paper. That person needs to know enough about LGBT people to properly craft the character. People need experience in creating a diverse set of strong characters who can help carry the story.
As audience members, we need to voice our opinions properly to creators. I am not talking to those who want to shut down a person’s vision for having a character like Rosa Diaz from Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Ellie from The Last of Us. We do need to make sure to voice when a character feels wrong that makes it feel more disrespectful to the LGBT community. We are a long way away from having an organic set of characters with their backgrounds whether they are straight, LGBT, or anything else. With E3 just passing, the sun is shining bright for the video game world. Players are getting choices in games such as Assassin’s Creed and Cyberpunk 2077 that allow them to choose a character who can be the sexuality or gender of their choosing. While television and movies may need some help in some areas, things are progressing in the right direction.
Header image via Naughty Dog