In a confusing tweet that has since gone viral, famed author Stephen King shared his thoughts on diversity in writing. The tweet, seemingly unprompted, is in reference to a previous tweet in which King candidly shared that diversity simply, “did not come up,” when selecting nominations in the three categories he’s allotted: best picture, best adapted screenplay, and best original screenplay. See tweets below.
Fans and critics alike quickly joined the conversation to weigh in. King has spent his career amassing millions of dollars for novels and film adaptations. His fanbase can only be described as diverse, as people of various races, gender expressions, religious beliefs, and abilities enjoy his work enough to pay him for it. Which begs the question(s): why can Stephen King accept money from diverse people but still consider diversity insignificant to quality work? Does Stephen King consider quality and diversity antithetical concepts?
Statements like King’s inadvertently (or maybe purposefully) uphold white supremacy. Instead of unpacking the reasons behind the lack of diversity at awards ceremonies such as the Oscars, King flippantly, if not defensively, denounces diversity as a topic that just, “did not come up.” This is common reasoning to maintain the status quo. The hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite started in 2015 to rail against the academy for the lack of racial, gender, and ability diversity in their nomination process, let alone who actually wins the awards. Stephen King, a self-declared member of the academy, has been a Twitter member since 2013. It is hard to fathom he has never heard of #OscarsSoWhite and the scathing criticism the academy has faced in the last several years. To tweet that diversity, “did not come up,” is disingenuous at best and a lie at worst.
Two hours following the initial tweets, King seems to drive it back toward the middle of the road with acknowledgement that, “such people,” who are marginalized are under-represented in the arts and other areas of life. Finally, King seems to put the topic to bed by tweeting, “You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.” The tweet seems to be acknowledgment that women, people of color, queer, trans, and disabled people are often shut out of opportunities to win awards.
Which leads to a larger systemic issue within Hollywood: women, people of color, immigrants, queer, trans, and disabled people are often looked over in acting roles, costume design positions, and directing opportunities. Not only that, but casting directors, producers–people in charge of hiring the actors and directors who are nominated for Oscars are likely to be white, cisgendered, heterosexual and able-bodied. Which means white, cis-het, able-bodied people (most likely men) are hiring white people, and white people in the academy are nominating white people in films who were selected by other white people to be in that film. So, when under-represented people who were disproportionately under-hired are overlooked, again, more often by cis-het able-bodied white men, the academy has an even easier time sidelining diversity in favor of continually selecting cis-het able-bodied white men.
So, perhaps Stephen was telling the truth. Diversity doesn’t come up, not when there are barriers and gatekeepers in place to ensure that by the time the academy selects films for nomination, there is little diversity to even consider. Perhaps it’s time for a new academy. One built with not only diversity but inclusion in mind. The Oscars has a international film (previously foreign films) category to honor diversity throughout the world, but passes over what little diversity exists in domestic films. King’s tweets, the initial two and the latter two, display many white Americans’ reluctance to come to grips with continued systemic oppression of marginalized groups, even in realms that are supposed to be freeing, such as the arts.