Is Diversity in Art a Requirement?

Recently, Stephen King tweeted that he would “never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong.” He seems to be talking about this year’s Oscars nominations, which the BBC has dubbed “not a good year for diversity in the top categories”.

King later followed up to his statement: “The most important thing we can do as artists and creative people is make sure everyone has the same fair shot, regardless of sex, color, or orientation. Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts.” And in another tweet: “You can’t win awards if you’re shut out of the game.”

This incident doesn’t necessarily make Stephen King problematic. I’m not out to criticise him, but to explore the questions that his statements raise.

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Stephen King | Source: pinguino k, licensed via CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

To me, Stephen King’s initial statement and his follow ups feel contradictory. On one hand, he asserts that quality matters more than concerns of diversity. Yet, he also concedes that it’s critical for everyone, including minority groups, to have an equal playing field — which is the exact purpose of the focus on diversity and inclusion.

Another issue, which several people mentioned in their replies to King’s tweet, is that he seems to create a dichotomy between quality and diversity, looking at them as separate qualities. But you can’t really have one without the other.

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