Sunday, September 3, 2023

Why Diversity? By Alicia Colon

Our world in 2023 is filled with different cultures, and we are familiar with the individuals from these diverse nations. This is a wonderful connection and one of the reasons I loved growing up in Manhattan and being exposed to so many people from other countries. As a woman of color who had grown up in the 1950s, my exposure to what constituted American culture was exclusively White although at the time it wasn’t labeled as such. It also made no difference to me that the idea of diversity in culture was even necessary. However, I certainly agreed that economic opportunity in all industries should be open to all qualified individuals. This includes the entertainment industry, but something strange has happened in this century and I will probably be condemned for even mentioning it.

I am reminded of a conversation my husband had with a Jamaican co-worker who had just returned from a cross-country vacation. He said he was shocked that once he left the northeast, he found that everybody he met in the country was White, that many were in low-paying positions like cashiers and housekeeping motel maids and, he added, they were really nice people. Demographically, America is still mostly White with Blacks a 13% minority and Hispanics now the largest minority at 18%. Considering these statistics, it should be quite remarkable that nearly every television and film now features Black actors in various roles. Commercials and magazine ads also invariably showcase persons of color. In spite of this proof of success, we are being labeled by the Left as a racist nation.

Hollywood and in particular Disney has found it necessary to remake former hit feature films but with more ‘diverse’ casts. Since these vehicles have not been successful, one has to wonder why they are continuing this failing effort. Simply remaking a former classic vehicle and substituting persons of color as leading characters is a disservice to the performer, who will always be compared unfairly to the former star. It is also clear evidence that originality is a scarce resource in coke-addled Tinseltown.

I’ve always thought that the most creative and original vehicle for the Black community that ever came out of Hollywood was The Black Panther film. Unfortunately, while the original was a blockbuster, the sequels were less successful without the Panther’s star Chadwick Boseman who passed away way too soon in August 2020.

As poorly conceived as the diversity substitutions are in the film and television industry, the ones that really irk me are the ones made for adaptations of popular books. When one reads a favorite series of novels one creates an image in our minds depending on the author’s distinct description of the protagonist.

Hollywood used to try and match the star to a popular character in the book and thus we had Vivien Leigh as the perfect Scarlett O’Hara. Alas that was long before the diversity bug infiltrated the industry in the past decade of political correctness.

When corporate bigs in Disney and other major studios decide erroneously that the novel must reflect a diverse community instead of what the author has described, they then throw money around to dissuade the authors from protecting their creation.  I can’t blame the authors for succumbing to the millions in  bribes but wish they had the integrity to turn it down.

It was a real pleasure to see that Lee Child’s Reacher (overlooking the first version) in the Amazon feature series was almost as depicted in the entertaining series except for a few inches. Star Alan Richter is 6’2 not 6’5 as alleged in the novels. 

Two other authors of my favorite series have either given in to the pressure or simply don’t think much of preserving the images of their characters that we’ve cemented in our minds thanks to their precise  descriptions.

I’ve been a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series about a Wyoming game warden and have read all twenty books. There’s a mesmerizing sidekick character called Nate Romanowski who is written as a blue-eyed, blonde pony-tailed Viking survivalist and ex-special forces vet who saves Pickett in just about every book and frankly he’s my favorite character. He raises falcons and consequently I’ve been obsessed with peregrine falcons -- the fastest animal on earth. Two years ago, we spotted one feasting on something in my backyard in, of all places, Staten Island.

Forgive me for not having the foresight to imagine actor Mustafa Speaks in that intriguing role for the series now streaming on Paramount TV. I envisaged Charles Hunnam as my choice for Romanowski but I’m not hep to what’s casting dogma now in the entertainment industry.

Another of my favorite novel series is by the prolific author Harlan Coben, and his Myron Bolitar series recently emerged on Amazon without Myron. The novel Shelter highlights Myron’s nephew who is convinced that his father Brad, Myron’s late brother, is still alive. It was an entertaining book and I enjoyed every book in  the Bolitar series. I’ve communicated with Coben to suggest a perfect choice for his main character Myron who is a former basketball star turned sports agent/ amateur detective. Visually I pictured actor Zachary Levi who is the right height at 6’4 and a decent actor now starring as superhero Shazam.  

In the book Myron’s brother Brad married a famous young tennis player who succumbed to drugs which destroyed her career. Once again my failure to imagine the characters as diverse enough was evident when lo and behold, the tennis star on the new streaming version was now a Spanish-speaking Black woman and his nephew resembles her rather than his Jewish father.

So, what, you may ask? My question instead is, why? What is the reason for diversity? Give me a good reason that makes sense. Where is the demand for diversity coming from? When I was living in a slum in Spanish Harlem, I had no problem with everything in the films and television showing me a world I could not identify with but which never stopped me from aspiring to a better life. Then in the late 60s, television shows began offering programs showcasing the lower economic side of American life and I wondered why?  The show Good Times was a comedy set in a Chicago housing project but all the years I spent living in the projects were hardly amusing, although I had to admit living in one was a step up from the hovel I lived in on 110th street. At least the walls were intact in the project. I found the TV show disingenuous because in most housing projects,  fathers and husbands are rarely part of the household.

Were these programs created by bleeding hearts sympathetic to those less fortunate or was there a darker meaning? The 50s and 60s were more successful in mainstreaming minorities to succeed with the traditional advice of "get an education, work hard and you will succeed." Patronizing us by denigrating our American heritage is just a way of keeping us in our place, isn’t it? In my 8th-grade photograph at my Catholic elementary school, I counted 41 students. Thirty-six of us were Hispanics of Puerto Rican background and all of us spoke English without any accent. This was before the city starting accommodating the imigrants with signs in all different languages.

Not bothering to learn the language of the country you live in will lessen the options you have to succeed in the mainstream and thus become dependent on government assistance. Perhaps that’s the point after all.  

The plot thickens.