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Intersectionality and Sense8

My recent post about the boundaries of diversity in Sense8 was upon reflection, incomplete. This is due to the fact that I neglected to discuss intersectionality. Let’s not waste any time and jump right into it.

First, it’s important to define intersectionality. A quick Google search gives the following: “the study of intersections forms or systems of oppression, discrimination and domination” which is a good place to start. Now, what does this mean? People are multifaceted, for example: a person isn’t just gay; they’re also white and poor for example. These are all axes of privilege and oppression; while there is merit in looking at them in isolation at a certain point that kind of analysis breaks down. Intersectionalism is about the contextualization of these axes as they occur in real life.

So what does this have to do with Sense8? As already established: this is a show about human diversity and many of the characters’ plots are defined by who they are and their experiences relating to systemic oppression and discrimination. This adds an important layer of verisimilitude, as diversity in a modern day setting that seeks to sidestep these issues rings hollow. In regards to the characters of Sense8, by and large their conflicts happen on one social axis. Centering conflict in such a manner is good and logical storytelling, but to see that conflict as the totality of the character is missing the point.

While systemic analysis and intersectionalism are useful in real life, there are limitations to this kind of thinking when applying it to a text itself. As such, it’s important to understand that individuals experience systems differently. Not only that, but how individuals feel and deal with the focal points of these systems such as their sexuality or a disability varies from person to person. All of this is to say that there could’ve easily been more diversity within the confines of the show as its structure sits.

Of course, when having this discussion about a show, it’s important to remember that the text isn’t immutable. The product that we see is something that has undergone multiple revisions in order to satisfy some sort of vision. All of the characters are exactly that, characters who have been crafted to tell this story. The ways in which diversity is and isn’t showcased are the product of decisions, both active and unconscious. This isn’t to take away from the diversity that is shown though.

Sense8 is an ensemble show that is literally about the diversity of the human experience, yet it still treats abled heteronormativity as the default. The notion that having more diversity runs afoul of some sort of narrative economics is predicated on the idea that all characters need equal screentime. As I’ve established before, there are entire swathes of the human experience that are ignored and could have been incorporated. While it would have been ideal to diversify the cluster more, it would have been better to diversify the supporting cast more.

Diversity isn’t some binary metric that we judge media on by comparing it to the perceived norms. It’s a wide spectrum of the human experience, with the inclusion and exclusion thereof worthy of criticism.  Sense8 may be too rooted in its own devices by now to remedy these shortcomings, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are shortcomings. At best it is something to keep in mind for the future. Next week is another mystery post, till next time.


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