So You Have a Problem With Diversity….

So You Have a Problem With Diversity…. March 19, 2018

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Though I’ve been wanting to see Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time film, I’ve also been prepared to be critical of it, because a) Disney, b) filmmakers do such terrible things to my favorite books. The previews look spectacular, however, and when I watched them with my son we both got the same chill when they showed that clip from the evil planet of Camazotz. You know the one. Where the children are all bouncing their balls in unison, a scene in which Madeline L’Engle painted an archetypal picture of the suburbs as the terrain of horror – in contrast to the Murrays’ messy, Bohemian existence.

I haven’t yet had a chance to see the whole movie, though. And after reading fellow Patheos writer Emily C.A. Snyder’s critical review, I’m less keen. It seems as though in the transition from book to film, the story lost cohesion – and also lost religion.

I appreciated Snyder’s review not only for making me feel less anxious about missing the film, but also for her recognition of the importance of the film’s commitment to diversity – an area in which, at least, it did not fail. This is important first of all because diversity is essential to L’Engle’s story. No, Meg in the novel is not a young woman of color, but she is aware of her difference and otherness. The contrast between Camazotz and the Murphy home – the kind of place where you get dragons in the vegetable garden – is a contrast between conformity and diversity. Between a world in which difference is abolished, and one in which difference is celebrated. In the showdown between Meg and IT, the monster-brain attacks her sense of the value of her own difference and uniqueness. It’s too bad that the film neglected the religious element, because the story’s celebration of uniqueness is not simply social but theological. You are loved in your uniqueness. God rejoices in the manifold weirdness and unending diversity of creatures.

It’s also important because among Christians there is a disturbing anti-diversity tendency plaguing us. This isn’t a new thing. It seems as though it has always haunted our religious tradition, the power-principle that wants to force everything to conform, to obey. To keep out the stranger, to silence the Other, to reject the alien – in direct disobedience to the gospel.

Just last week, scrolling down my Facebook feed, I happened upon a conversation among Catholic intellectuals all saying they had no interest in seeing A Wrinkle In Time – because of the “diversity.” There was a pile-on of diversity-haters. I wanted to ask them, “what’s your problem with diversity? Do you want everyone to be the same? Like in, you know, Camazotz?”

When you ask people why they dislike diversity, they’ll usually try to skirt the issue, and say “oh, diversity is fine, but it’s not an end in itself” or “the problem is when it’s being forced.” I am reminded of a Catholic film critic, a few years ago, complaining in a discussion on The Hunger Games that they’d cast too many black actors. Not that there’s anything wrong with black actors, everyone will hasten to add. It’s just that it’s “so forced.”

Do you see the presupposition behind this?

It’s that non-diversity is natural, organic, and better. That past cultures which excluded the racial, sexual, or religious Other were not operating through force at all, but simply behaving organically. These presuppositions depend on historical ignorance of the forcibly enacted laws keeping racial minorities, women, queer persons, the disabled, and the religiously different out of public office, out of the market, out of society itself.

But they also depend on an automatic assumption that sameness = better. When someone rails against the presence of racially diverse persons in artistic and cultural spaces, the clear subtext of this is a prejudice in favor of racial supremacy and ethno-nationalism –  which is, by the way, utterly contrary to the Christian theological imagination which shines through L’Engle’s story.

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