This column is written by Sally Hassan, the creator of Ghetto Nerd Girl. I talk about how to get through the vital steps of making a web series as smoothly and painlessly as possible.
Recently I heard “A Whole New World,” from Aladdin and it had a profound effect on me. I felt tears in my eyes and I wasn’t sure why I was feeling so emotional. Yes, I’m a big fan of the film but it wasn’t until that moment the realization hit me. Aladdin holds a special place in my heart because it was the first and only thing I saw growing up which had Middle Eastern characters depicted in a positive light. Yes, it’s an animated film, but a win nonetheless in my book. This is a perfect example of how much of an impact diversity can have which has stayed with me decades later in life. As a child, I didn’t realize why I loved it so much, but now it all makes sense.
Diversity counts in animated works too!
Fast forward to today. Within the Stareable community, I noticed that users have asked how they can include diversity in their series without forcing it. I didn’t have to think about this when I sat down to write my web series because of my heritage and upbringing. I never thought I’d say this, but I have an unfair advantage because of who I am. Genuinely being diversified in my projects comes naturally because of my perspective, but that doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible to you. There are steps you can take to be inclusive too.
Write Your Story First
If you start to think about inclusivity and diversity before you put the pen to paper you’ll get bogged down. Don’t derail your progress by trying to be someone you’re not. The best way to write is to listen to your heart and open up to the world. The dirty secrets, the things that scare you, and anything else that you’d hate for people to know about you. Your emotions will not steer you wrong because it’s the universal language.
Ask Questions Later
At this point, you should have a working draft of your script. Think about who your characters are and what they look like. What do they struggle with? Who is important in their lives? You can easily diversify your series by including a wide range of race, sexual orientation, age, religion, and socioeconomic status.
You might not know how to write certain characters you’ve included and that’s okay. You have options of either collaborating with someone who has similar life experiences or consulting with that person. Finding the perspective you’re looking for isn’t as difficult as you think. If you’re an active member of any artistic or filmmaker community you’ll come to know and befriend people you’re looking for. Eventually, their world won’t be so foreign to you. I’ll use my web series as an example. My main character Susan is the teen version of me I recreated but she’s not the only one who stands for diversity in GNG. Her bestie, Chase is part of the LGBT community and I write his voice by remembering my friend he is based on and the other people in my life who have had similar experiences. Open your heart and open your world. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s so worth it.
Our diversity includes Chase & Susan
Choose Your Focus
When it comes to any series you only have a handful of main characters before it gets unsustainable. You’ll have to pick and choose whose story you want to focus on. Think about what issues speak to you and who you have access to. Contrary to popular belief, focusing on one group of people does not take away from anyone else. Take one of my favorite teen shows, Switched At Birth, as an example. I love this show because they have a diversified cast in more ways than one. Daphne, one of the ‘switched’ girls, is hearing impaired and a lot of how she interacts with the hearing world is relatable to me. I may not be deaf but I identify with her struggles because she has to work harder than everyone else around her to be on a level playing field. Another bonus is that I learned sign language and know a little bit about non-hearing people’s struggles just by watching the show. That’s what it’s all about!
You’re Not Pizza (You Can’t Make Everyone Happy)
Understand that you’re taking a risk by trying to be inclusive. Not everyone is going to love the fact a nonmember of their community is telling their story. Do me a favor and don’t listen to the haters. Your efforts are coming from a good place because you recognize that different perspectives are necessary in order to mirror the world we live in. Follow your heart and don’t worry about the naysayers. Whoever badmouthed you (Internet troll most likely) doesn’t have an issue with you. Misery loves company and it’s just an effort to bring you down with them. Keep it moving.
I also understand that diversity/inclusion may be a heavy topic to dive into. There are some light risk-free ways to add diversity to your series without possibly igniting an angry mob.
1.) Change Ethnicity - If a character’s racial background doesn’t pertain to the story you can change it and voila! This especially works in a fantasy/horror/sci-fi series. A great example of this is The Walking Dead. Robert Kirkman created characters we know and love of different races even though he’s a white guy!
2.) Work with Women - When all else fails you can’t go wrong by hiring, working and collaborating with women. It turns out we’re accessible pretty much anywhere you go and our stories are nowhere near complete. Even if you’re a female yourself you’ll make your project more dynamic collaborating with one.
If you didn’t have the time to read this rather long article I’d like you to take away the following.
1.) Representation matters both in front of and behind the camera.
2.) Even if you misstep, your efforts are not in vain.
3.) Traveling outside of your comfort zone will be worth it.
4.) Aladdin was made by white people and I ain’t mad about it.
What steps have you taken to be more inclusive in your series? I’d love to hear about it!