This is the second annual Racebending panel on media diversity; this year the panel featured comics writers Marjorie Liu and Brandon Thomas, video game writer David Gaider, screenwriter Javier Grillo-Marxuach, writer Sarah Kuhn, and author N. K. Jemisin.
That there are still problems with diversity in mainstream media is the foundation on which the entire discussion is predicated, and this thesis is borne out by the experiences of the panelists. Misconceptions, bias, and prejudice abound, on the editorial side and in the audience. Liu was encouraged by an editor to adopt a less obviously Asian pen name; Thomas talked about how his mother worried that there would be problems if the readers of his comics column knew he was black (“and she was right!”). N.K. Jemisin observed that epic fantasy is still thought of as being restricted to a whitewashed version of medieval Europe; as a fantasy writer who is black (rather than a “black fantasy writer,” she points out), she encounters both readers who are shocked to discover her race and also those who assume that all her characters must be of a like race.
If there’s one theme that seems to be emerging at SDCC—not just in the panels, but in the convention as a whole—it’s the tension between what we’ll call the “mainstream” and what lies outside of it—the indies, the marginalized, the outliers. The definition of “mainstream” varies, of course, depending on where you’re standing; if you’re a comics person, “mainstream” might mean the Big Two, but it also might mean the Big Studios setting up camp in Hall H.