Stephen King Coming Under Fire For Anti-Diversity Tweets

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In the wake of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ announcement of a slate of award nominees for this year’s Oscars that is once again overwhelmingly Caucasian and significantly male – a decision that inspired the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag just five years ago – one of the biggest names in popular literature is drawing criticism for defending the homogeneity of this year’s nominees.

In a pair of tweets shared yesterday morning, horror novelist Stephen King, whose own works have been adapted to film with varying degrees of success, said:

“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… / I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.”

And in an ideal scenario, King would be absolutely right. All things being equal, filmmakers certainly should not be, as another King put it some 56 years ago, “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” or in this case, their art. But that was, and continues to be (albeit decreasingly), a dream, because even today, all things are not equal. As King’s fellow novelist Laura Lippman rightly responded: “A meritocracy could work only if the game weren’t rigged.”

Eisner Award winner Roxane Gay likewise responded that “diversity and quality … are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries believe in quality from one demographic,” which speaks to the true issue that underlies King’s initial sentiments. Not that he turns a blind eye (or tone-deaf ear) to diversity, but that he can only apply his standards of quality to the works that the industry presents him with.

Later in the day, King mitigated some of the backlash, explaining in another pair of tweets:

“The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, and orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts. / You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.”

Given his professional and personal history, it’s extremely unlikely that Stephen King would imply that non-white non-males get nominated for and win fewer awards because they inherently produce fewer worthy works of art. Rather, as usual, this is a clearly case of a mere tweet or two only barely grazing the surface of a vastly complex social issue, and thereby misrepresenting the author’s opinions.