In the context of the last few years – where some stories have been deemed too “difficult” or “unpopular” because they don’t feature a white male (or now, thanks to the Hunger Games, a young white female) protagonist – that efforts like Steampunk World, the Tinker Steampunk webseries (which has just funded) and the Steampunk Goggles Playing Card set (still needing some backers) are actively using diversity as one of their big selling points.
I asked Dennis Consorte – one of the folks behind Steampunk Goggles Playing Card set – to talk more about why he saw diversity as something to embrace and celebrate rather than shy away from. This is what he had to say.
From my perspective, in no particular order:
I’m one of those multi-ethnic people myself, so I have a personal interest in promoting diversity. I was one of those half-Asian, half-White kids before it became “cool.” Today you see lots of mixed couples, and children. Walking down the streets of Hoboken, New Jersey, a relatively urban area, it’s very apparent. Other parts of the country – not so much. And in Steampunk, I’d say that statistically there are far more Caucasian fans and participants than any other group. I would guess that this is partly due to the ethnic makeup of states where it is most popular such as Washington and Oregon. I’d also guess that part of the lack of appeal to Black people is that slavery existed in America during that period. I think slavery was abolished in America in 1865, though segregation continued much longer, and the Victorian Era was from 1837 – 1901. At least that’s what Wikipedia says.
From my perspective, the thing about Steampunk however is that it is an alternative future, and so it does not have to follow the rules of the actual past.
Getting back on topic, a multicultural piece on Steampunk is actually creating a new market by reaching out to a broader range of people. I can tell you that when I went to the Steampunk World’s Fair for the first time, in ethnically diverse New Jersey, my first reaction was, “man there sure are a lot of white people here.” (I’m not exactly politically correct – I don’t believe in walking on eggshells – but that’s another topic). By creating a multicultural piece in the Steampunk genre, you’re helping non-Whites find a way to connect to the characters. It’s kind of like when Mattel recognized this and came out with Black Barbie, because young Black girls could identify with it more than a fair-skinned, Blonde Barbie. The same goes for some Disney films.
According to the US Census, the Asian population in the US has the fastest growth rate out of all ethnic groups as of 2012. This is a growing market, and tapping into it would be beneficial to any US business, including the business of film-making.