A pair of Stephen King tweets about diversity sparked controversy. Now, the author has responded with an op-ed in the Washington Post.
In the article, King clarifies what he said, what he didn’t say and where he stands on the issue.
As I unpack this for you, I want you to think about something: As a creator, when your work is judged, do you want factors, such as your sex, sexual preference, religion or race to be considered?
The Contentious Stephen King Tweets :
These comments are in reference to the Academy Awards.
As a writer, I am allowed to nominate in just 3 categories: Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Original Screenplay. For me, the diversity issue–as it applies to individual actors and directors, anyway–did not come up. That said…
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
…I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) January 14, 2020
Now, here are some of the types of replies that likely motivated Stephen King’s op-ed:
And the fact that you openly admitted this is just. Wow. Lost my respect.
— MJ ✨ (@MJDraperBlake) January 14, 2020
The assumption that quality would suffer because of diversity 😑
— Ariel (@arielgolightly) January 14, 2020
There is an assumption here that quality is not synonymous with diversity.
— Midwin Charles (@MidwinCharles) January 14, 2020
— we vote. (@cakeycatt) January 14, 2020
White men stay blind to problems they clearly create.
— Mairadona (@SonicFeminista) January 14, 2020
This is the EPITOME OF WHITE PRIVILEGE. This is like a white person saying “I live in a colorblind society”. You and all the WHITE MIDDLE AGED (AND OLDER) OSCAR VOTERS need to recognize that there exists an implicit bias towards films by people of color! DIVERSIFY THE MEMBERSHIP
— K (@arigrandesfan1) January 16, 2020
To imply quality and diversity are mutually exclusive tells us quite loudly how threatened you are by the potential of a level artistic playing field in which said ‘diverse’ stories are exponentially more compelling, vast, resonant, poignant than your own…
— Octavia Butler knew… (@NotNikyatu) January 14, 2020
Wow, this is disappointing from my favorite author! It’s like saying “I don’t see color” please check your privilege Mr. King
— JZ (@jacquiezarley63) January 16, 2020
Must be really convenient to be able to be completely oblivious, and not recognise the extra leg-up you got just for being white. I’m literally watching The Outsiders now (just paused it), and I’m so disappointed to know you think this way. You’ve ruined your works for me now… pic.twitter.com/Y5xr6LSHms
— Tracey Whitney (@SingItPretty) January 17, 2020
Now, before we get into Mr. King’s response, you should know that many, many people who actually read the Stephen King tweets for what they said and NOT for all of the stuff that they think are packed between the lines, showed support and some asked the author not to back way from his comments.
Here are some of those:
As a person of colour, I don’t want to be pandered to, patronized, or accommodated because of what I look like. Yes, I want a fair shot, but one that gets me there because my work spoke for itself, not cause someone ticked the diversity box.
— Abigail (@abigailbsays) January 14, 2020
I completely agree and have always thought this when the diversity issue arrived. I have never considered ethnicity when talent is being judged. It’s simply the genius of talent regardless of who it is.
— Michelle Bradt Hedden (@BradtHedden) January 15, 2020
It should all be based on quality of work. Diversity should not have anything to do with it.
— Maryann Breece (@MaryannBreece) January 15, 2020
People seem to be missing the point totally here. As far as I can tell @StephenKing is the only one not being racist/sexist. He’s saying it’s best to just judge the product, nothing else. ❄️🤔
— Nicola W (@nickers13580) January 15, 2020
Forcing the diversity in films these days makes me feel uncomfortable although I’m also Asian myself.
— รสมคร (@MariHimeka) January 16, 2020
The fact that you have to tweet that obvious logic is sad….the fact that it is receiving backlash is scary.
— Milosexual.com 📣 (@PrivilegedVictm) January 15, 2020
Prepare yourself, Stephen. You have invoked the wrath of WOKE TWITTER! Sure, you might be right, but that doesn’t matter to them. Only one thing works against the evils of Woko Haraam: ignore them. But still, bravo on saying the obvious truth.
— Kunchok Tendar ☸️🇺🇸 🧢🇮🇱 🇭🇰 🇹🇼 🇮🇳 (@KunchokTendar) January 14, 2020
From Stephen King’s WaPo Op-ed
The title of King’s op-ed is The Oscars are still rigged in favor of white people.
King starts out saying, “Discussions of arts and culture, like discussions of politics, have become increasingly acrimonious and polarized in recent years. Lines of belief are drawn with indelible ink…
‘I stepped over one of those lines recently, by saying something on Twitter that I mistakenly thought was noncontroversial…”
After giving a little background on his tweets, King explained that in essence what he said in them is that “those judging creative excellence should be blind to questions of race, gender or sexual orientation.”
“I did not say that was the case today, because nothing could be further from the truth. Nor did I say that films, novels, plays and music focusing on diversity and/or inequality cannot be works of creative genius. They can be, and often are,” he added.
Then, seeming to address comments such as these:
Is it possible that if the majority of voters look a certain way they are going to resonate more with stories and actors and films that reflect them? They are of “quality” to them. And while we have some outliers, the majority of nominees throughout history remains the same.
— Dani Fernandez (@msdanifernandez) January 14, 2020
The Academy voting body is mostly white men. Women comprise 31% and POC comprise 16%. That doesn’t reflect US population. And how many members actually watch each film up for a potential award? There’s an Honor Code but no real safeguards to ensure films are viewed.
— Caitlin McCarthy (@CaitlinMcWriter) January 14, 2020
King wrote that some progress has been made toward diversity in the film community.
BUT, “Not good enough. Not even within shouting distance of good enough,” he said.
Another “piece of the puzzle” is that there were about 60 films in serious contention this year, and yes, voters are on the honor system for watching them, he admitted.
“How many of the older, whiter contingent actually saw “Harriet,” about Harriet Tubman, or “The Last Black Man in San Francisco”? Just asking the question.’
“If they did see all the films, were they moved by what they saw? Did they feel the catharsis that’s the basis of all that artists aspire to? Did they understand?” he asked.
King said it’s fair to ask where he stands on diversity, especially since he’s “white, male, old and rich.”
King also noted:
When people complained on social media a few years ago about Idris Elba being cast as Roland Deschain, the gunslinger at the center of “The Dark Tower” books, I replied that I didn’t care what the character’s skin color was, as long as he could draw fast and shoot straight.
“The response reflects my overall attitude that, as with justice, judgments of creative excellence should be blind,” King added.
I believe that’s what those Stephen King tweets about diversity were trying to say.
He is one man. He had one vote per category. And as fellow creative, he believes he should judge his peers on their skill and how they used it.
And I wonder if the writers, photographers, YouTubers… who disagree with King’s attitude want others to first consider that they are black, female, gay, Muslim, etc. and award additional merit for that before judging the quality of their work.
So, that brings us back to my question, as a creator, how do you want to be judged?
The comment section awaits. And if you have something else you’d like to say about the Stephen King tweets, feel free.
By the way, check out: Top quotes from On Writing Well