On Writers, Sensitivity, and the Supposed Threat to Free Speech

Last week, I wrote about sensitivity readers.

That is to say, about those who are subject matter experts on different forms of marginalization in society, who writers can recruit to help them bring verisimilitude to the portrayal of marginalized characters in fiction.

The use of sensitivity readers is a growing trend in fiction as more and more stories about marginalized characters are being published – particularly since more and more of these sorts of stories are being written by writers who themselves are not marginalized.

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On Writers, Sensitivity, and the Savvy of Modern Readers

Fiction writers have always employed the advice and experiences of subject-matter experts to help bring authenticity to their stories.

Sensitivity readers, as it happens, are subject-matter experts on experiences with different types of marginalization in mainstream society.

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Whitewashing vs. Racebending: Yes, There is a Difference

Samuel L. Jackson starring as a racebent Nick Fury

Samuel L. Jackson starring as a racebent Nick Fury

You can count on it.

Whenever a major media outlet posts an article about the problem of whitewashing in mainstream entertainment, there is a certain response that’s guaranteed to appear in the comments thread.

Well it’s no different than casting a person of colour in a role meant for a white person, so if they had a black James Bond, it’d be equally racist and offensive.

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Whitewashing is Still a Problem in Mainstream Media (even if it’s not happening this time)

Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness, playing the role of an important non-white character from the Star Trek universe

Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek: Into Darkness, playing the role of an important non-white character from the Star Trek universe

I’ve always had a fondness for stories about female warriors.

Among my favourites is Hua Mulan, the legendary subject of an Ancient Chinese epic poem about a young woman takes her aged father’s place in the military by disguising herself as a boy.

In the 1998 Disney cartoon, Mulan, she is shown exhibit bravery, ingenuity, and honour, and succeeds in helping save China from invaders.

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On Captive Protagonists, Slash Fiction, and the Fantasy of Gender Equality

Kirk and Spock

There was an unsuspecting evolution that led to me reading a work of male/male original slash fiction.

It started when an online friend of mine recommended a book to me through Goodreads: Uprooted – a beautifully written, dark fantasy fairytale by Naomi Novik.

My friend I discussed this book extensively via Goodreads as I read it, and when I finished, I suggested we next read the same book simultaneously so we could discuss our reactions to it in real time.

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On Appropriation, Censorship, and the World of Possibility in Between

Image of a Native American man from J.K. Rowling's History of Magic in North America.

Image of a Native American man from J.K. Rowling’s History of Magic in North America.

How do I know if I’m appropriating the traditions of another culture in my writing versus creating a respectful adaptation?

Admittedly, this isn’t an issue I’ve devoted much thought to in the past.  Of late, however, following the J.K. Rowling #MagicInNorthAmerica controversy, it’s been on my mind a fair bit.

For those not familiar, #MagicInNorthAmerica has to do with a series of fictional monographs discussing the history of magic in the Harry Potter universe.  Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling recently released these on her Pottermore website to promote the release of the upcoming movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

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Motivation Doesn’t Matter: On Instrumental Valuation, Diversity, and Barbie’s New Curves

Mattel's new "Fashionista" line of Barbies

Mattel’s new “Fashionista” line of Barbies

People are often surprised to learn that I have fond memories of playing with Barbie dolls as a child.

This disbelief could be interpreted in a number of different ways, each a bit more biting and backhanded than the last (you don’t seem feminine enough to have been interested in dolls; to look at you, I’d never guess you played with a doll that was so connected with fashion).

Most likely, though, it’s a puzzling discrepancy that draws folks up short: I care a great deal about diversity and representation in popular culture, yet in that regard, Barbie has often earned a failing grade.

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