The Case for Rainbows 

Kayla Hardy


The creative landscape is changing. Some might say not nearly fast enough, but change usually occurs in waves—some high and some low. Right now, I’d argue we are somewhere in the twilight of the high and low as various creative industries—namely publishing, television, and film—grapple with the notion of diverse representation. This grappling has been messy to say the least, muddled by the biggest issue: genuine representation. No longer is it enough to simply cast one black actor in a movie to satisfy those with broader cultural tastes, nor is it enough to simply have a person of color be a sidekick.

In 2019 we want the diverse hero. The diverse leading man. The diverse leading lady. We want, in short, fully realized diverse characters. We want to see a rainbow of representation—all colors, races, genders, cultures.

Nicole (@alamanecer ) with Chris Evans at ACE Comic Con

And creatives are listening.

Most recently, Disney announced they will launch a live action version of its classic tale, The Little Mermaid, with a twist: Ariel will be black. Actress and singer Halle Bailey is young, talented, and black. By being intentional with casting their lead as a black girl, Disney demonstrates they are not above revising their narratives in order to cement their stance of inclusivity and progress in a time in which our country is undergoing a racial and political upheaval. Like its parent company, Marvel is following in Disney’s footsteps by ushering in a new phase of culturally diverse superheroes through the reimagining of traditionally white characters as people of color, albeit in new ways. Instead of simply making Captain America a black man, the mantel is passed onto a black man. This implementation of diversity feels organic and, in 2019, completely necessary.

In 2019 we want the diverse hero. The diverse leading man. The diverse leading lady. We want, in short, fully realized diverse characters.

I hardly see the problem. But, apparently some folks on the internet disagree. Backlash to Bailey’s casting exploded, with some feeling the need to recreate Ariel as white, and others angrily suggesting other white actresses for the role. The general consensus of this group seems to be that racial revising of traditionally white characters disrupts the adherence of creative verisimilitude to the original work. While I am a fan of faithful adaptations like anyone else, how exactly is changing the race of a white character disrupting any sense of verisimilitude? Life is full of colors, complexity, and cultural nuances. That is the truth. In griping about racial revisionist tales (often disdainfully referred to as “race swapping” on reddit) being untruthful to the source material, people neglect to recognize the cultural conditions of systematic racial oppression and erasure that these works were conceived within that made it almost impossible for characters of color to be considered marketable. Companies are recognizing this. They are listening. They are acting. So let them.

Netflix’s upcoming Witcher series, an adaptation of the wildly popular polish fantasy series of the same name, faced similar backlash for daring to cast actress Anna Shaffer, an olive skinned curly-haired woman, as the beloved character Triss Merigold (who is described as chestnut-haired, blue-eyed, and white in the novels). Despite the showrunner, Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, assuring fans that the show’s commitment to diversity had the blessing of the Witcher series author who claimed that the diverse choices are in keeping with his vision of the Witcher world, there was still a certain amount of internet grumbling about the perceived “race swapping”.

As a young black woman writer, I’ve certainly known since I was a young girl that there weren’t many people like me represented on television screens and book pages. But I was expected to read about white characters anyway and to identify with their journeys even though they looked nothing like my own. And for the most part I did. But, like most black creatives, I soon found that this was not enough. As I got older, the hunger to see people like me represented within popular culture grew. Now, as a twenty-five year old creative writing PhD student, I’m like most minority creatives: ravenous for representation.

Racially revising characters is progress, but it should not be the solution. The internet grumbling has at least one point: perhaps it is time to not only reimagine characters as people of color, but to simply imagine characters as diverse from the inception of creation.

The truth is that it starts with the writing. Behind every successful award winning television show, film, and novel is the first draft. Creatives must be intentional in crafting characters and experiences that are diverse. If a screenwriter conceives a character as black, then they will be casted as such, thereby displacing the need to reimagine a character as black. Central to this thesis is the need for diverse creatives.

Perhaps it is time to not only reimagine characters as people of color, but to simply imagine characters as diverse from the inception of creation.

It is not enough for white writers to tell the stories of people of color. This might come as a novelty to some, but the truth is simple: People of color must tell the stories of people of color.

Nicole (@alamanecer)

Diverse creativity is blossoming. Black Twitter remains a cultural cornerstone of pop culture wealth, even if some people refuse to see it. When someone says that they don’t know what Black Twitter is, Black Twitter answers with a brilliant, if not cheeky: Let me show you, poor child. Most recently, it was discovered Chris Evans, the actor who played Captain America, did not know what Black Twitter was. So, a member of Black Twitter–  (@alamanecer )– responded in kind by photoshopping Marvel’s Avengers with protective hair bonnets and long painted nails, common physical attributes among black women. Black Twitter has no chill, not even for Captain America.

This manner of racial revision is a tongue-in-cheek gesture towards the act of “race swapping” that makes for hilariously viral gif material and a subversive “clap back ” to traditionally conservative creative industries that feels right on time. It is in this way that Black Twitter is perhaps the best demonstration of a creative ecosystem rife with a sense of abundant Afrofuturity and progress, one that continually cultivates a subversive and inclusive creative infrastructure.

Then, there are some creatives who’ve simply drawn a line in the sand, such as Jordan Peele, the creative powerhouse behind 2017’s Get Out and 2019’s Us. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Peele said that he didn’t see himself as “casting a white dude” because he had already “seen that movie.”. Well, I have too. Peele can say this, of course, because he is Jordan Peele and has certainly earned the right to be brazenly truthful, but his rationale remains sound. He is a black creative creating art that shows black people. And still, ever predictably, a bunch of white dudes on the internet got mad again. They asked, isn’t it racist that Peele won’t cast a white dude as his lead? No. Why not? Because 99% of movies within the industry have white men as the lead. Jordan Peele refusing to cast another white man isn’t going to cause a shortage of white dudes in leading parts. And like Black Twitter’s reimagining of the Avengers in bonnets and nails, Peele’s clap-back quietly addresses the elephant in the room by gesturing towards the biggest question of them all: where the hell was this outrage when Hollywood refused to cast black and minority actors in leading roles?

Diversity isn’t some box waiting to be checked off or a quota that can be filled by simply casting someone as black, writing someone as black, or re-envisioning someone as black. Diverse creation must give equitable space for genuine representations of minority experiences. “Race-swapping” is a good starting point, but if we ever want the internet to settle down—though Black Twitter is always waiting with an excellent arsenal of hilariously subversive content for those that dare “try them”—we need to create characters and stories that are intentionally diverse starting with the page.

Minority creatives are no longer satisfied with the crumbs that trickle down from the writing room’s table. They just want a seat at the table. And it’s time to eat.

After all, the world is rich with an untapped canvas of colors, cultures, and experiences—a rainbow of stories that have all yet to be told. And if writing is supposed to reflect this world truthfully, then in my opinion, those pages could damn well use more rainbows.

Minority creatives are no longer satisfied with the crumbs that trickle down from the writing room’s table. They just want a seat at the table. And it’s time to eat.

Kayla Hardy 

Kayla Hardy is a twenty five year old African American creative writing PhD student in her third year at SUNY Binghamton University, specializing in fiction and screenwriting. She is the founder of the Minority Youth Writers Lab, a non profit literary outreach currently being incubated with the Los Angeles Review of Books + University of Southern California Publishing Workshop. She has recently completed a west African fantasy novel and is at work on an autobiographical “dramedy” television pilot that follows her mother’s failed attempt at running a mental health group home. Follow her on Instagram @ohkaylago .