Updated: Feb 19, 2019
It’s difficult to convey just how exciting this relative wellspring of diverse contemporary black voices in mass media is for me. I remember growing up without many black characters to identify with and, needless to say, I know well the feelings of alienation that accompany not being able to visualize yourself in the realm of “important” characters. Although the scope of my nerd-dom would, in time, expand to include video games and anime, the pool of characters who looked like me failed to expand likewise.
I took to writing and illustrating my own stories early on but, in emulation of the media I consumed, I found myself only able to conceive of and create white heroes. It wasn’t until high school that I was really able to unpack just why I couldn’t see myself in my own stories and start addressing this.
Representation in media matters so so much. It feeds our ability to see ourselves as valuable and worthwhile human beings. A dearth of positive images can lead us to believe that we are inherently unfit, incapable, or even unnecessary for consideration. And when you can’t see yourself as worthy of consideration, it’s hard to feel that you even have a story worth sharing with the world.
Though there is still so much farther to go, I am extremely heartened by the Black stories being told in the mainstream today. These stories (such as Ava Duvernay’s “Queen Sugar”, Donald Glover’s “Atlanta”, and the spectacularly cathartic PSA of Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”) feature refreshing takes on the myriad incarnations of Black identity and deviate from Hollywood’s incessant fetishization of black suffering. For my own part, I am eager to raise my own pen in pursuit of a world where people like myself can truly feel like their stories, experiences, and lives matter. As a writer for Planet Rise, I’m pleased to be a member of an international team of creators that truly gets the power of images and representation. I do not take for granted what our game means and what it may mean for others and I hope that our work here may in some small way, inspire others to (believe in the worth of and) create their own stories as well.
I’d like to close out with a few thoughts about Black Panther.
First off, the film was spectacular and I highly recommend it, but that said, while I sit here tearing up, I reflect on what the film meant to me. Beyond all of the concrete elements that make it great, “Black Panther” is, in itself, a symbol of what’s possible. It offers one vision of a world in which black people and black dreams are physically and emotionally liberated from the spectres of colonialism, enslavement, and racism. It is this kind of tale that helps us to visualize loving ourselves, our heritage, and the control of our own destinies. This is the true power of stories and it is my hope that we are entering a time in which more and more people will feel empowered to share their own narratives and creative visions with the world.
Fen Smyth is a Writer, Game Designer, and Musician from the Bay Area. When not doing any of the aforementioned, he can often be found embarking on zany adventures or playing whimsical instrumental music deep in the forest. His musical work can be found at: www.fenyang.me
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