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

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Grillo-Marxuach said that people don’t believe he’s Puerto Rican, despite the name. Racially he believes he’s a work in progress and finds himself always trying to define himself and his work. He recently wrote Ramiel: Wrath of God, and in writing the black superhero, he wanted to make sure the character’s race was present but not mentioned. He’s also working on Unfathomable, which he described as “Transformers with fish.” The main character is of Swedish decent on his father’s side and his mother is black. Grillo-Marxuach said that this, in a way, addresses what it was like for him growing up as a white Puerto Rican, coming from privilege, having the name, and not being understood as straddling the different worlds.

Liu then mentioned that with the exception of things like The Middleman, it’s typically only okay to show diversity amongst the token characters. It’s more difficult to have the protagonists be diverse. A friend of hers wrote a story about teenage Asian superheroes that live in a white suburbia and is pitching to have it made. He was asked if it has to be an “Asian” show. She finds that Nick and Disney are much more progressive with their protagonists.

Jemisin brought up the internal debate she had when deciding to become an author in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. She had to make considerations as to whether she wanted people to know who the author was beyond her work. People didn’t know she was a black writer of sci-fi/fantasy, and she found that gender was less of an issue than race. She prefers to be seen as a fantasy writer that happens to be black. Occasionally her fans are shocked by her appearance when they meet her in person. Her goal is to depict fantasy in its full form, to create a realistic world built with realistic diversity of characters.  Jemisin is sometimes surprised by readers who didn’t read the description of a character as of color and picture them as blonde and blue eyed.

Liu noted that African-American romance novels are shelved often shelved together in stores and mentioned segregation in the publishing industry. Some authors she had spoken to like it and feel it directs people to their novels. Others against it because it is still a form a segregation. In response to the thought, Jemisin said it limits their sales. They’re selling only to 12 million people. They’re shelved in the back of the store and and they don’t sell as well overseas. She thinks it makes a huge difference to your survival if you are not segregated.

Grillo-Marxuach said that he was recently developing a CSI-like show. He wanted the main character to be a woman and received a note from a producer saying that the diversity seemed very forced. Grillo-Marxuach then wrote two scenes in which the character has a white, male boss in Washington, who during a phone call yells at her about the commissioner being on his ass and only being able to give her 24 hours. Within that producer’s head, that made the guy the lead of the show, while functionally the woman is running the team. If you recognize that there are “-isms” around, you can maneuver them and in a lot of different ways you wind up getting the same result.

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