After announcing the BookCon children’s books panel last Thursday on Publisher’s Weekly, organizer ReedPOP had to respond to the “firestorm that erupted on social media” over the lack of diversity from the author lineup.
“Blockbuster Reads: Meet the Kids’ Authors That Dazzle” will assemble Jeff Kinney, James Patterson, Rick Riordan, and Lemony Snicket on the same stage for the first time.
~ ReedPOP announcement
Lerner Publishing Group editorial director Andrew Karre, who discussed the topic of children’s books diversity with NPR in 2013, noted:
“It’s a self-inflicted wound, is exactly what it is. It’s four middle-aged white guys. If we don’t apply a certain amount of pressure, this isn’t going to change. It’s our job to speak up.”
With over half the children under the age five being non-white, the topic of diversity in children’s books has been covered by the New York Times and CNN. As Karre notes, “There’s no one in the industry who’s not aware of this.” Karre called the makeup of the panel a “self-fulfilling prophecy,” a term I have often applied to the lack of diversity in the creative teams for Star Wars.
ReedPOP’s global VP spoke about the issue with Publisher’s Weekly shortly after he deplaned after returning from the London Book Fair. He promised to add one or more additional panelists to “reflect the community and make a great panel even better.”
ReedPOP is the company behind the last two Star Wars Celebration conventions, as well as the upcoming Celebration Anaheim and a third Celebration Europe. It also produces New York Comic-Con, where last year two incidents incited fan criticism: a sexist video and presentation that initially played at the Empire Stage and badged media members harassing female cosplayers.
With next year’s Celebration Anaheim well under way in planning – the stage hosts were announced in Star Wars Insider #149, arriving to subscribers this week – perhaps there is no better time to reiterate blogger Kelly Jensen’s comment about the BookCon panel:
“It would be nice if this had been taken into consideration during the initial planning instead of after it was pointed out, after the announcement. Four white men don’t reflect what the book world is like, not even to a general audience.”
While undoubtedly the announced hosts – James Arnold Taylor (Celebration Stage), David Collins (Digital Stage), Jason Swank and Jimmy McInerney (Behind-the-Scenes State), and Gus Lopez (Collecting Track) – create a stellar team, it is an entirely male lineup. Representation across the board on panels at the past two Celebrations were skewed heavily male. The question then becomes: Will ReedPOP, Disney, and Lucasfilm balance out the panels on these stages to be more reflective of their diverse fanbase?
That brings me back around to Star Wars Reads Day, which was also officially announced this month. From StarWars.com:
The following authors are confirmed to participate in official Star Wars Reads Day events: Chris Alexander (Star Wars Origami), Tom Angleberger (Origami Yoda series), Jeffrey Brown (Goodnight Darth Vader, Star Wars: Jedi Academy), Troy Denning (Star Wars: Crucible), Ian Doescher (William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, William Shakespeare’s Empire Striketh Back, William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return), Jason Fry (LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary: Updated and Expanded, Star Wars in 100 Scenes), Daniel Lipkowitz (LEGO Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles), John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Kenobi), Chris Reiff and Chris Trevas (Star Wars: Death Star Owner’s Technical Manual), Daniel Wallace (The Bounty Hunter Code, The Jedi Path), and Ryder Windham (Star Wars: The Ultimate Visual Guide, Star Wars Rebels Junior Novel).
Unfortunately, not one woman was included in the original announcement, and it’s mostly white. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be women or people of color added later, but as noted after last year’s Star Wars Reads Day, no female creators made the Star Wars Reads Day video, only one female creator was represented on the San Diego Comic-Con panels, and shirts offered at WeLoveFine in conjunction with the event were only in male sizes. None of those actions send a message of inclusion for women.
Like the BookCon panel, it isn’t a malicious attempt to alienate a set of fans, but it certainly reflects a failure to challenge the status quo within the publishing arm of Lucas Licensing. Previously, the rollout of the Star Wars Rebels toys resulted in criticism of the way the genders were represented, leading to some scrambling to deflect the public perception that Disney|Lucasfilm is still approaching the franchise as “for the boys.” There is potential for Celebration Anaheim and Star Wars Reads Day to end up with a public outcry similar to what followed in the wake of the BookCon announcement and New York Toy Fair’s Rebels’ toys reveal. Disney|Lucasfilm needs to be more proactive to ensure efforts to publicize licensed products, toys, comics and books don’t detract momentum intended to build an audience for their movies and television shows.
I’ll reiterate what I have stated previously: Episode VII will not win the box office in 2015 without female fans as engaged as their male fans. The movie is up against Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Both Lionsgate and Marvel have been actively building traction with female and non-white fans. Disney|Lucasfilm keeps making many positive steps forward in its efforts to prove Star Wars is for everybody, including adding more diversity to the creators presented in Star Wars Rebels videos and the addition of Vanessa Marshall at the Star Wars Rebels panel at Wondercon this weekend. There is a lot of potential energy in the way upcoming events like Celebration and Star Wars Reads Day are being framed, but it’s being hindered by the unintended adverse messages. Some planning and awareness now can avoid the two steps forward, one step back dynamic.
On a positive note, twenty-five bloggers have been invited to attend a dinner on May the 4th that will feature Star Wars Rebels. This event is running in conjunction with a press event for Disney’s Million Dollar Arm movie starring Jon Hamm. Kudos to Johnamarie Macias for finding the Twitter handles for quite a few of the bloggers invited. As the news trickled across Twitter, it was interesting to see the reaction from Star Wars fansites. I even saw the question asked whether any of “us” were included in the short list – “us” meaning Star Wars fansites. For one, it’s always good for bloggers, marketing professionals and franchises to be looking for new audiences and venues, as the ones selected are. Secondly, this is the same mindset in the Powers That Be that keeps churning out decidedly white-male panels. Longtime fans need to rethink who “us” is and recognize that the Star Wars franchise’s future success depends on broadening the fandom as much as possible. With Dave Filoni and Greg Weisman at the helm, I have no doubt Star Wars Rebels will consider existing fans’ desires, but the show isn’t being created for the consumer base that most hardcore Star Wars fans think of as “us.” The show is being made to draw in a new generation of fans. That is why the invitees for the May the 4th dinner are mommy-bloggers, and quite a diverse group at that.
As a blogger, I’m happy “we” got a shot at a publicity event, as opposed to mainstream entertainment media. That in and of itself says something huge about how Disney perceives it needs to market its properties. Just this past week Disney executives participated in the fifth annual Disney Social Media Moms Celebration conference, which actively cultivates relationships with mommy-bloggers who love Disney. (It even has its own Twitter account.) Over the past year subsidiaries of Disney like Disney Animation and Lucasfilm have made the leap to Tumblr, where female fans are the driving force. Film blogger Devin Faraci dove into Tumblr recently, as well. These are all signs for the better where female fans are concerned. Even more so than on Twitter, issues like diversity, the objectification of women, and the exclusion of female geeks receive much more coverage, and they can take on lives of their own because discussion is actually possible and uncensored like it often was on message boards. The invitation to mommy-bloggers also suggests Disney is confident in their product, because these women have no qualms about speaking out when they have concerns.
Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and strong female characters. She also writes about Star Wars for Random House’s science fiction and fantasy blog Suvudu.com and Star Wars Insider magazine and is a contributor for Her Universe’s Year of the Fangirl. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Assembly of Geeks and RebelForce Radio Presents Fangirls Going Rogue.
Tricia has completed her first novel, Wynde – a military science fiction with a fantastical twist that features heroines Vespa and Gemini. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.