A recent Forspoken preview has caused alarm due to negative stereotypes and microaggressions surrounding the game's protagonist, Frey Holland. Holland is a Black woman, and although she is fortunately played by a Black actor, Ella Balinska, it seems no Black writers were brought on to the project to make sure she was written with the appropriate cultural care and knowledge.
As reported by Kotaku, motion capture and voice over director Tom Keegan describes the actor's performance of Holland as having a “very hip-hoppy kind of walk.” If he meant a walk with swagger or bounce, he could have said that instead of using the stereotyping language he did.
This comment wasn't the only one that made some concerned about the development of Holland. Her backstory is filled with negative stereotypes and cliches often attributed to Black people. Lead writers Allison Rymer and Todd Stashwick describe her as “being very angry,” feeding into the stereotype that Black women are all angry and sassy. They also said she has "fallen through cracks of society," and is "on the verge of prison."
Kotaku also reported that an Axiom journalist attending the virtual preview directly asked if any Black developers or consultants were involved with the making of the game, no answer was given at the time. An FAQ issued by publisher Square Enix after the event stated BIPOC consultants had helped to portray Holland, although the lack of Black writers involved in the main process is concerning.
People aren't suggesting that only Black writers can write Black characters, just that there should be Black writers onboard such projects to avoid the type of stereotyping language used by the Luminous Productions devs during the preview.
While on-screen diversity in gaming appears to be improving steadily, with more diverse characters than ever before in triple-A titles (indie games have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to inclusivity), behind the scenes, the video game industry is still dominated by white people.
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