Yesterday my husband turned on Bill Maher. He said this:
Bill: Bangladesh is not very educated.
Dr. Cornelius West: I’m not so sure about that.
Bill: Really? Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire?
Dr. Cornelius West: Brother don’t believe everything you see in Hollywood/Bollywood.
A few months ago I wrote a piece about Tyrant. I worried about how a show like this with a fake Arab country to stand in for all Arab countries could do so much harm. People shrugged. They said it was entertainment. Worrying about it was reading too much into it.
Then I saw the ads for Homeland. Ads that promised insight into Pakistan and then featured “little red red riding hood” among a sea of black nameless “wolves’:
When people posted about how upset they felt about this. About how poorly the Urdu accents were and inaccurate the setting and scenes- people shrugged it off. It’s entertainment. Stop reading so much into it. That’s Hollywood for you.
But that’s the thing. Our shows, our books, our media, our stories inform us. They tell us about the world around us. We can tell ourselves its fiction but we take it in. We absorb no small part of it that settles into our hearts as truth with a television personality like Bill Maher shrugging off an entire nation as uneducated because he watched Slumdog Millionaire [never you mind that movie isn’t even set in Bangladesh].
My point isn’t that Slumdog was awful or that it is to blame for Maher’s ignorance. It’s not. But when we only see one perspective of a region or a country or a faith, we begin to think it is reality.
That’s a problem. And that’s why I’m part of We Need Diverse Books. It is what keeps me up at night, working through naps, and weekends. Because we need diverse stories. We need authentic diverse stories. Because what we hear, and see, we absorb. And it affects our worldview of others and ourselves. I want my children to see themselves in print and media in all their complexity. I also want them to learn about other people who are different from them.
Hearing Bill Maher’s bigotry, and then his ignorant remark about Bangladesh, I know I can’t change his mind. I know any letter I write to HBO will be laughed out of the office. I cannot change the world, but maybe, just maybe, I can help change one tiny part of it. And that is why I’m committed to working on making sure that when it comes to literature, we can see a more diverse and nuanced world for our children.
I’m not one to make a lot of pleas for people who read my blog, but I really do believe we need to create change, and that is what we’re doing, we have a thirty day campaign you can read about more at this link. You can see our mission, if you agree we need a world with more diverse stories told with complexity and authenticity, you can pick a perk ranging from original art to totes, to t-shirts, and you can be part of a movement that is sincerely and without any irony striving to change the future for our children. It gives me no small measure of joy to see the names of people I know showing up on the contribution page, giving and supporting this cause, thank you to all of you for believing in WNDB and for helping us change a tiny but vital part of the world.