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SDCC2012: Panel Report for Racebending.com: Creating Spaces for Diverse Characters and Representations

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Racebending, just in case you’re unfamiliar with the term, is the act of casting a live-action actor of a different ethnicity or race than the character he or she is portraying. The act itself has been prevalent in media for many years, though the specific instance that gave life to the term was the live-action movie of Avatar: The Last Airbender, in which Caucasian actors were cast in roles that had been clearly defined as non-white in the animated show.

Racebending.com is is a grassroots organization of media consumers that advocates for underrepresented groups in entertainment media. The purpose of the 2nd annual Racebending.com panel, moderated by Mike Le, was to exchange experiences and discuss efforts in creating diversity in all media and to let their fans know how to support their diversity efforts. Panelists included novelist and comic book writer Marjorie Liu; video game writer David Gaider (Dragon Age); co-creator of Miranda Mercury Brandon Thomas; showrunner and screenwriter Javier Grillo-Marxuach (The Middleman); writer Sarah Kuhn (One Con Glory); and sci-fi/fantasy author, N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). Le began by asking the panel to discuss the different challenges that arise when trying to introduce diversity into different mediums, such as books, television and film.

Liu said that the challenges begin at ground zero, right with your name. Sometimes you’re told to change your name if it sounds too ethnic. She’s also seen covers not accurately representing the race of the characters she’s written, and also received racially and sexually charged death threats over having written Astonishing X-Men #50, in which the character Northstar married his partner, Kyle.

Gaider said that the challenge in the video game industry is the perception of the public at large that video games are a medium for children and shouldn’t be dealing with mature topics and depictions of gay characters.

According to Thomas, pitching the story of the black female superhero Miranda Mercury took a while back in 2005. Those he met with didn’t know how to market it. He said that people usually see him as a black writer first, when he wants people to see him as a writer first.

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