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POA Journal Topic

Fiction Featuring Activists

Once upon a time scroll with beast and activists

Fiction is Powerful

Humans need fiction–tales where we recognize ourselves but at the same time are taken beyond  ourselves. In times of trouble fiction can help us cope, escape, and also gain deeper understanding of diverse people and places, and of ourselves.

Fiction can also obscure and falsify reality. That fiction can be used to manipulate people is not news. Ruling classes throughout the ages control populations with compelling but distorted narratives and stereotypes. Deliberate false portrayals are harmful, but insidious, unaware stereotyping can be worse, slipping past our defenses, masquerading as truth or conventional wisdom. Colonizing the minds and influencing the behavior of everyone, even those against whom they are aimed–including activists.

Activist scholars write and teach (sometimes facing ferocious opposition from their own institutions) about the effects of cultural marginalization and stereotyping on women, working class people, people of African, Latinx, Asian and Native heritage; people who don’t conform to norms of gender, appearance, ability, beliefs or behavior; on people who are poor and oppressed. We have become more aware of the many ways that inauthentic depictions of groups and cultures bolster the oppressive status quo, and how important it is for works of fiction–novels, films, television shows, etc.–to fairly represent the truth and the points of view of real, diverse people. Social movements and the strong voices of activists have done much to push mainstream fiction towards more inclusive, in-depth and non-stereotyped portrayals of a range of targeted peoples, though there is still a long way to go.

What About Activists?

Detective Drunella

Yeah, where are the books, movies, games, comics and TV shows about cool, heroic activists?

granny gus protect our activists

There are some, but nowhere near enough to reflect the numbers and importance of activists, let alone accurately show what activists do and how we live.

sour puss protect our activists

We need to do something about this!

Juliana Barnet

Indeed! We need full and fair portrayals of activists in fiction.

Detective Drunella

Why is this important for activists?

Activists Can Use the Power of Fiction

Activists need to create truth-filled fiction about our reality, in order to share our experience and inner landscape, as well as the excitement, urgency, complexity and tenderness of our work.

The best way to fight stereotypes–which harm our community as they do others by marginalizing, stereotyping, otherizing us–is to provide realistic portrayals that counter simplistic distortions by showing the complex, multifaceted reality of the activist community and activist culture, revealing how inadequate and inaccurate the stereotype is, rather than merely attack the stereotype. 

The best way to increase understanding and empathy for activists is to craft good, true, interesting, fun stories of our adventures, trials, triumphs, and ordinary days, so people can see what we and our lives are really like.

Fiction opens windows into new worlds, inviting others to experience intimately other realities and different points of view. Full and fair depictions of the activist community, activist situations and settings, and of activist characters portrayed as real, multidimensional human beings, both supplant and shine light on false stories (otherwise known as rumors, stereotypes and lies).

We need more fiction featuring activists to tell better, truer and more complete stories about ourselves.

Juliana Barnet

POA offers a useful instrument for gauging how fully and fairly (or not) a work of fiction (aka WoF) features activists: the Fiction Featuring Activists (FFA) Test. We hope you’ll try it!

granny gus protect our activists

Help us compile a list of the Ten Best Activist Portrayals and the Ten Most in Need of De-Stereotyping!

sour puss protect our activists

So we can all congratulate the coolest cats and denounce the dud dogs.

granny gus protect our activists

We’re not denouncing or dissing! 

sour puss protect our activists

Not even hissing?

granny gus protect our activists

No. All of us have had our minds colonized by the Beast, and decolonizing takes a lot of personal and collective effort. Insults don’t help.

sour puss protect our activists

Okay, we’ll give the benefit of the doubt to creators who stumble into stereotypes, but expect improvement!

And, for the record, I refuse to be nice to the Beast.

beast head

As if I care!!!

Fiction Featuring Activists Posts

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Once upon a time scroll

Fiction for Protection?

Stories connecting people with authentic activist s/heros, showing how they live, love and create movements, can make it harder to marginalize and harm real-life activists.

Stories of Our People (SOOP)

Fiction for Organizers

Fiction featuring activists and activist settings, portrayed authentically and challenging stereotypes, could be a powerful tool for organizing.