Give me Fiction Featuring Activists!
The 2014 movie Pride depicts an LGBT group building solidarity with British union members during the epic 1984-85 coal miners strike
In this super-challenging time, we often take refuge in fiction—movies, books, TV shows, video games. Dosing ourselves with stories provides us with relief, stress reduction, recreation, and escape.
That’s great, but, as with food, not all fiction is equally good for us. I’m not here to dis people’s tasty favorites—I have mine, too!–but what happens when that’s all we take in? Like trying to subsist on donuts and chips.
Authentic stories also offer us understanding and inspiration, opening windows into other viewpoints, lives, places, and times. Such fiction helps cure closed-mindedness, ignorance, false assumptions and stereotypes.
What if, alongside our cozy romances and satisfying thrillers, we take in a healthy measure of stories about people rising up together? In the midst of all the stress and enforced isolation, what could be more strengthening than dramatic, adventurous, heartwarming, exciting, engaging narratives of regular people fighting injustice together and transforming the world?
Such fiction is powerful medicine against malaise, passivity, isolation and hopelessness, reminding us what’s possible in the world. With fiction’s unique superpower of bringing us right into the hearts and minds of others, why not look for stories that bring us into union halls, courtrooms, classrooms, streets and kitchens of real, human characters engaged in the daily details of organizing for justice, peace and planetary survival?
Yes! you say, but where is it?
Who exactly ARE we talking about?
Protect Our Activists is looking for answers, with the help of our very own characters…
and our very own Protect Our Activists team…
And, we hope you’ll also help us! answer it! True, this flavor of fiction is not so easy to find, but neither is it impossible.
Which is why we’re introducing…
The POA Fiction Featuring Activists List
As with most alternative healing, we may need to step out of the mainstream to find it. We can look, for example, at the feature films about labor struggles shown during the #DCLaborFest. Many are documentaries, but some are fiction or dramatic recreations of real events. Two examples are Pride, a movie about British gays and lesbians supporting miners during a lengthy strike in the eighties (shown in the featured image of this post, and Radium Girls, about the struggle of young women workers against their utterly unsafe working conditions using toxic radium.
Both of these, and many more appear on our list. As do numerous others, if you go looking.
Unfortunately, the kind of intimate, humanizing closeups into daily lives and struggles of activists that fiction offers tend not to abound, nor do existing ones get much play, despite the benefits to health and spirit of watching everyday people confront injustice–whether the ones rising up are miners and LGBTQ+ folk in 80s Britain or anti-racist demonstrators in 2020 United States.
In the POA Journal we further explore full and fair representation of activists in fiction–where it is, why there’s so little of it, why it’s needed.
We’re compiling a listing of movies, novels, TV shows and other fiction with at least one named social justice activist character significant to the plot, who is shown “onscreen” doing activist things, like attending or organizing marches, meetings, etc.
This simple standard is inspired in the Bechdel Test for works featuring women, and is, like that one, a first step rather than the best we aspire to. We want to make it easier to identify existing fiction featuring activists, and to develop this genre further, by
- reviewing portrayals of activists in fiction
- inviting activists to share stories as authentic ingredients for fiction featuring activists
- encouraging people to create works of fiction with this focus
- challenging the way activists are often stereotyped, and…
- collectively developing the Fiction Featuring Activists List.
The list is just getting started, and we hope fiction-lovers and justice-lovers will enjoy sampling works on it and contribute their suggestions.
This kind of fiction is good to have in general, and it’s particularly good in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, for nourishment to strengthen us in the face of isolation and disempowerment. (We focus on works written and translated into English, so far, with US audiences in mind–though we hope it will be useful to others and eventually rendered in other languages.)
At the same time–because a lot is going on at the same time!–we need fiction featuring activists to inspire us in the midst of the uprisings and resistance we’re experiencing in 2020. And we need the assistance in broadening our vision and understanding that we get from seeing, hearing, and reading how others experienced extreme situations around the world and throughout history.
In further posts we’ll be exploring other reasons for lifting up fiction featuring activists.
For now, we’re not judging or rating these works, although we don’t want anything overtly hostile to activists.
If you’d like to share your views on a work of fiction featuring activists, whether it’s a stellar example of full and fair representation of activists as authentic humans, or because it’s an example of activist stereotyping (which we’ll be further exploring in posts about stereotype spotting), consider reviewing the work using our FFA Review Guide.