Horror writer Stephen King made his contribution to the #OscarsSoWhite discussion. As the title suggests, it wasn’t very good.
On January 14 King tweeted about his approach to diversity in his role as an Oscar voter. Which seems to be to not consider the issue at all.
Now there have been quite a few headlines claiming that the reaction to these tweets has been “fury” and “outrage.” But frankly that’s not the attitude I’ve seen. Mostly the responses have been disappointment, annoyance, and even exhaustion. Because these tweets are tiring. They spark a conversation that anyone who has thought about these issues for more than a minute is already tired of having.
But 2020 is already shaping up to be the year of discourse we thought we’d already covered. So let’s get into it.
Why This Is A Dumb, Bad, Annoying Take
The broad message is pretty much “I don’t see color,” which is an approach to diversity that has been shown to be useless many times. Not seeing color, or any other axis of oppression is not a virtue. They exist and to ignore them is to ignore the needs of marginalized people. It’s simple ignorance.
Ignorance is really the best way to sum up the rest of the tweets. Because I think (and hope) that King isn’t fully aware of what he’s implying. To say that he considers only quality and not diversity, suggests that the two are mutually exclusive. He seems to think he has to choose between a diverse film, or a quality one.
What is also on display here is a deeply uncritical approach to the status quo. King sees diversity as a force that clouds ones judgement when assessing art. But he has never once considered that the same can be said for exclusion and privilege.
The consensus on what is deemed quality art is deeply affected by who is allowed to make the call.
Most of us know this already. The term “Oscar-bait” became popular because it can be fairly easy to predict what type of film the Academy appreciates. Not because quality is easy to predict, but because people are. The Academy is mostly made up of people in the film industry, which means films about the film industry usually do well. It’s mostly actors, which means character driven, dialog heavy films do well. It’s mostly old people, so films about World War II do well.
The preferences of The Academy are well known even by people who aren’t experts on the film industry. With this in mind it’s laughable that anyone can suggest that the fact the academy is mostly white and male doesn’t put films from diverse perspectives at an inherent disadvantage.
The Fact That This Take From Stephen King is also important.
Because as well as exhaustion, there were also people who reacted with a deep lack of surprise.
Reading King, it is pretty easy to tell that he has never put much thought into diversity.
King is one of the most frequent authors to be featured on Men Write Women. This account documents the absurd and sexist ways male authors write women.
For instance insisting on describing every woman’s breasts even if it’s a really weird time to do it.
Let’s also not forget his weird thing with periods. Two of his most famous works both awkwardly work in periods as a source of horror for the female characters.
His approach to Black characters has also come under scrutiny. His books are very white. But when Black characters show up, they often fall into tropes.
Very little about the tweets is surprising.
Not the sentiment. And certainly not who it came from.