Give me Fiction Featuring Activists!
Graphic from the 2014 movie Pride about building solidarity between gays and miners during a British coal miners strike
One thing people are dosing themselves with daily in this time of racist/coronavirus/electoral madness is fiction—movies, books, TV shows, story-games—for entertainment, de-stressing, recreation, and escape.
Fiction satisfies a need as basic as food, but, as with food, not all kinds are equally good for us. I’m not here to dis people’s relaxing favorites—I have mine, too!–but what happens when that’s all we take in? Like trying to subsist on donuts, chips, beer and coffee.
What if, alongside our cozy romances and satisfying thrillers, we dose ourselves with stories about people rising up together? What if some of our fiction choices feature activists? In the midst of all the electoral and Covid-induced stress, wouldn’t we benefit from dramatic, adventurous, heartwarming, even comic (yet respectful) narratives of regular people fighting injustice and transforming the world?
Such fiction can be powerful medicine against malaise, passivity, isolation and hopelessness. It can remind us what’s possible in the world, and might even inspire us to take action.
Sure, you say, but where is it?
Protect Our Activists asks this very question, and hopes you’ll help us answer it, at this time when people need fiction for relaxation and stories that open windows into the world of social movement building and portrayals of real, human characters engaged in the daily details of organizing for justice, peace and planetary survival.
True, this flavor of fiction is not so easy to find, but neither is it impossible.
The Fiction Featuring Activists List
As with most alternative healing, we may need to step out of the mainstream to find it. An example: the DC LaborFest, which shows films centered on stories of activists and social justice movements. Many are documentaries, but some are fiction or fictionalized takes on real events. An example is Pride, a movie about British gays and lesbians supporting miners during a lengthy strike in the eighties, from which the head illustration of this post is taken.
There are others, but you have to 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.
Fiction Featuring Activists
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