Dither Me This is a weekly publication that presents current, old, spontaneous, or nonsensical musings for the reader to use as a writing prompt, discuss with a friend, lover, or to read and move on. Authors may present questions, creative processes, or thoughtful means to end the week; and while you may still be left staring at the walls, it is not without a new thought mulling the paint into iterative transformation. Thus we send waves into the electronic ether and see what is returned – extending a baton to the world, only a little afraid to let go.
3 – Dear Outdoor Media:
We Have a Diversity Problem. Yes, It’s Treatable.
with Sonya Pevzner
I want to start this conversation with a dare. Go watch a short adventure film about something sexy, like skiing big lines or biking in the sunset. Peruse the average outdoor magazine – pay attention to the photos of the sponsored athletes and gear models.
How many of the faces are not white? Our media world has a diversity problem, and the outdoor media industry is undoubtedly affected.
There are some movements towards change: people of color are being recognized for making first ascents and descents, large outdoor corporations are focusing on telling women’s stories, Instagram handles celebrate black backpackers and latinx climbers, and films feature non-able bodied people competing in sailing races, for example. Adventure films especially have the ability to elicit people’s emotions, instill romantic thoughts, and make even the most reluctant crave adventure. As such, they can be the perfect medium for conveying important messages through adventurous storytelling, and have been used for everything from bringing awareness to environmental crises to fundraising relief efforts for victims of natural disasters. As an active social media user and regular reader of outdoors-focused publications, I am curious as to what steps adventure films are taking towards reflecting the diversity of the outdoors industry.
The main sources for my recent research are the vibrant, community-oriented 5Point Adventure Film Festival based in Carbondale, CO and its younger nomadic sister, the No Man’s Land Film Festival (which features both a sweet-ass name and films about women, produced by women). 5Point did a singular job this year of showcasing non-traditional voices, and telling stories that transcend the typical white-washed, male-dominated, beer and testosterone fueled adventure. The event was larger than life, and the passion of the community to share amazing stories, electrified the air.
Similarly, watching the No Man’s Land Film Festival lineup with a full auditorium (mostly women), I felt like I was sitting front-seat in a vehicle of change. Here were the stories I could identify with!
Representation of all types of people in films is key to fostering interest in the outdoors. Would you expect to find yourself doing something you’ve never seen someone like you do?
And what about the other side? It can be hard as a young, struggling, broke dirtbag (often white) to understand how your struggles are less prohibitive than the struggles of anyone else. You’ve eaten cold beans out of the can, scraped the bottom of your wallet for years, and wondered where you would sleep most nights. You’ve longed for the warmth of community, been hungry for adventure, been cast aside from conversations the rest of the world was having. For you, the outdoors is a refuge, and it can be hard to imagine how someone else’s challenges could have prevented them from not only experiencing the same places in the same way, but from even knowing what was possible.
I hear you. Your struggle is real, and your adventures were hard won. But let’s consider:
Of the 74 total films I watched* –
- 28 of 74 films featured women (including 11 from No Man’s Land that were exclusively about or produced by women)
- 16 of 74 featured people of color (including films where they played a background role**)
- 4 of 74 films featured non-able bodied people
Looking at the No Man’s Land Festival alone: 4 out of the 11 films featured women of color.
Narratives of queer, fat, poor, trans, urban, etc. folks were largely absent.
*Some of these films overlapped between categories, and it’s important to consider that women make up half of the world’s population and, globally, people of color represent far more than that.
**Several movies featured stories of white Americans and Europeans traveling to far-flung destinations full of brown and black people – Africa, Asia, the Middle East – but the people of color played a background role. This happens too often, where the stories of people who live in the places that white adventurers go to find themselves are used as a backdrop to the white narrative. So where are the stories of the people who live every day in the places white folks have the privilege of visiting?
Why does a European model’s experience with a community in the African bush count as adventure, but a similar story in West Virginia wouldn’t be as marketable? Why are we using black and brown bodies as props in our adventure stories?
We need more representation, not exploitation. For many people around the world, spending time outdoors isn’t a privilege or recreational luxury, it’s a part of the everyday, hard-earned life. So how do we appropriately value their stories?
If we can include movies about our favorite adventure dogs in film festivals, we can make the effort to find the stories of more diverse outdoor adventurers, right?
Certainly, each of these films deserved their place in the festivals. Each film, separately, was a key storytelling medium and a work of art. But together, they become a damning statistic.
I offer these potential solutions as remedies to our problem:
Listen to the members of communities you want to include in your films, and include them in your board of directors. Seek out the films that feature non-traditional stories.
Expand your ideas of what “adventure” can mean. Both 5Point and No Man’s Land did a fantastic job of including stories that didn’t follow the typical climber/ skier/ surfer narrative, and that’s an important step in the right direction. By expanding our idea of adventure, we welcome more adventurers to the table.
Push for people of color, poor people, women, non-able bodied people, etc. to have funding for their “traditional” adventures. Support organizations that back first ascents by people of color or support urban outdoor adventure programs and local clubs.
This piece started as a conversation, but it ends in action. I believe we all have the power to change this situation, and it starts with awareness. So how will we act? How will we open the conversation to others?
Sonya Pevzner is a writer, storyteller, and instigator of mental health awareness, equal access to the outdoors, and staunch feminism. She enjoys black coffee, sweet chocolate, and making grown men cry. Her work has been featured in Dirtbag Darling and the She-Explores podcast. You can find more of her writing at www.pevzdispenser.com
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