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Stephen King backtracks on diversity comments after criticism

"The Shining" writer's suggestion that diversity and quality are mutually exclusive was met with scathing disapproval by Ava DuVernay and other artists.
Image: Stephen King
Stephen King at a special screening of "IT" in Bangor, Maine, in 2017.Scott Eisen

Stephen King appeared to backtrack on his recent comments about "never" considering "diversity in matters of art" after criticism from a number of prominent artists, including Ava DuVernay.

"The Shining" writer on Tuesday weighed in on the controversy that ensued after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated a nearly all-white slate for acting Oscars.

"For me, the diversity issue did not come up," King, who is a voting member of the Academy, wrote on Twitter of his nominations for the best picture, best adapted screenplay and best original screenplay categories. "That said, I would never consider diversity in matters of art. Only quality. It seems to me that to do otherwise would be wrong."

King's remarks were quickly rebuffed, with many criticizing the novelist as being out of touch and "ignorant."

"When you wake up, meditate, stretch, reach for your phone to check on the world and see a tweet from someone you admire that is so backward and ignorant you want to go back to bed," DuVernay, whose docuseries "When They See Us," recently won best limited series at the 2020 Critics Choice Awards.

Roxanne Gay, the award-winning author of "Bad Feminist" and "Hunger," also stated she was disappointed with King's comments.

"As a fan, this is painful to read from you. It implies that diversity and quality cannot be synonymous," Gay tweeted. "They are not separate things. Quality is everywhere but most industries only believe in quality from one demographic."

Sarah Weinman, author of "The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World," added that her work and the work of other women crime writers might not exist had the publishing industry not endeavored to highlight writers of different backgrounds.

"'Never considering diversity' is, in fact, making a choice to privilege certain works of art over others," Weinman tweeted. "WOMEN CRIME WRITERS, a collection I know you have read, would not exist without the specific goal of diversity, in the form of reviving neglected/overlooked writers."

Approximately three hours after King posted his initial comments, he expounded upon his views of the role of diversity in evaluating art. This time he acknowledged that not everyone begins on an even playing field and stated that people cannot win awards if they're "shut of the game."

"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," King wrote. "Right now such people are badly under-represented, and not only in the arts."

Yet, some were not fully convinced of the sincerity of his second round of comments.

"This is a very strange tweet to make after the previous," one person wrote. "I'm curious how you envision we 'ensure everyone has a fair shot' without ever considering diversity."

Others questioned what King planned to do himself to address the lack of opportunities for artists from diverse backgrounds.

"So what are you doing to raise up marginalized writers in mystery and horror?" Jessica Laine, a Latina crime writer tweeted. "How about: creating mentoring programs, access to writing programs, promoting and or publishing works by marginalized writers?"

"You could do a lot about this in the publishing world if you wanted to," Rebecca Renner, a novelist and journalist, added. "Put your money where your mouth is."