CONfabulation Con 2021 Panel Tackles Diversity in The Modern Age

CONfabulation Con 2021, a virtual convention celebrating fandom, took a critical look at attempts to diversify modern media in panel “That’s Not a Diversity Win: Diverse Antagonists in Media with White Heroes.”

CONfabulation Con 2021, held the weekend of October 22-24, was a virtual convention that allowed fans to come together and celebrate fandom. The weekend featured a variety of panels that featured discussions on topics from single fandoms to fan works. “That’s Not a Diversity Win: Diverse Antagonists in Media with White Heroes” was a panel that took a critical look at media’s attempts to diversify their casts in the modern age. The panel provided a thought-provoking discussion and provided tips with how to deal with the pitfalls of diversity issues in fandom.

The premise of “That’s Not a Diversity Win: Diverse Antagonists in Media with White Heroes,” stated that while there has been an attempt to diversify media in recent years, much of the attempts at representation still makes many of the protagonists predominantly white and the antagonists more diverse. While race was the biggest component of this trend, a nod to queer-coded antagonists and antagonists with disabilities were also mentioned in the trend. A note was also made about the amount of white American protagonists who end up defeating an evil Middle Eastern or other foreign antagonist and the message that it sends.

The panel also focused on the colorism present in much of media. Actors with lighter skin tend to be cast more often as protagonists while darker skinned actors are more likely to end up as antagonists. This phenomenon that the panelists dubbed the “Scale of Evil” has been seen in a lot of recent media and has become a hotly-debated topic among fans. Another note was made about how science fiction or fantasy media will cast actors of color as aliens or feature metaphors for racism in the world-building without an effort to truly diversify the protagonists.

On the topic of color-blind casting, the panelists discussed how this often leads to characters that don’t acknowledge or feel authentic to the race of the character or leads to the above issue of actors of color landing in more antagonistic roles or simply roles that inadvertently play up stereotypes. The panelists proposed that color-conscious casting as a better alternative to color-blind casting. Color-conscious casting encourages both diversity and acknowledgement of how a character’s race would impact the both the portrayal and background of a character.

While much of these issues are created by the media, fandom reaction can impact how characters are perceived. White antagonists are more likely to be beloved by fandom and are more likely to reappear, while antagonists of color are more likely to be disliked and be permanently killed off by the narrative. The panelists ended the panel by encouraging that fandom must continue to push for increased diversity in media as well as support media that successfully works to diversify its protagonists and storytelling.

While media has become more diverse in recent history, there are still a lot of issues with the way some of it attempts to diversify its characters. The biggest takeaways from CONfabulation Con 2021’s panel “That’s Not a Diversity Win: Diverse Antagonists in Media with White Heroes,” were that creators need to be careful at how they diversify and that fans need to remain critical of bad representation while embracing good representation. Despite an increasing number of exceptions to many of these issues, there is still more progress to be made in dealing with these trends. Representation matters for a lot of people and the quality of representation is just as, if not more important, than the quantity.

Author: Jessica Wolff

Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.

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