Female leads, diversity and an engagement with complex global issues makes science-fiction so popular among young people

'Differences - such as race, sexuality and gender - all fall away as young people become less willing to accept the typical story that only depicts one kind of person'

Esther Nassaris
iStudent
Thursday 21 January 2016 17:53
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Sci-fi has created a major turning point for women on screen
Sci-fi has created a major turning point for women on screen

Science-fiction has always been a popular genre, from Star Trek to Alien, ET to Blade Runner. But more recently, it’s had a resurgence in the form of youth-orientated media. More and more often we are seeing sci-fi marketed towards, and featuring, young people. While some may scoff at how often the ubiquitous world-saving teenagers pop up, it would be silly to ignore the impact sci-fi has had on the youth of today - and vice versa.

Global franchises such as The Hunger Games and Divergent have worked to change the face of, not just sci-fi, but movies, television, and literature everywhere. There’s a level of safety that comes with them, a knowledge that cinema seats will be full, the television screens eagerly tuned in, and the related hashtags tweeted out for all to see.

But why is it young people are so interested in these stories? Well for starters, sci-fi offers young people a unique opportunity to see themselves on screen. The frequency of young cast members in starring roles makes it much easier to find relatable characters. For an age group often overlooked and looked down upon, it’s nice to be able to feel catered to.

The stories go beyond the simple coming-of-age tales we are used to, and delve deeper into the psyche of young people. A good example of this is The 100, a TV show that places teenagers in difficult situations in which they are forced to discover what lengths they will go to for survival. Examining such complex issues through the eyes of teenagers means young people watching are less inclined to believe they are being talked down to by adults, and more likely to think critically about topics such as war, politics, and morality.

Due to the nature of science-fiction, the worlds featured are often incredibly diverse in comparison to what’s portrayed in the rest of the mainstream media. Boundaries that are in place due to biases towards differences - such as race, sexuality, and gender - all tend to fall away. As young people are becoming less willing to accept the typical story that only depicts one kind of person, these types of stories are a welcome relief. Science-fiction often takes this one step further by including characters of diversity without binding them to the tired tropes that have long since been a problem in the traditional media.

It’s also created a major turning point for women on screen, as many of these projects are female lead. There is no longer any doubt that female driven narratives don’t sell and, instead, there is a platform for a higher quantity and quality of projects available for women. Science-fiction has allowed girls to see strong females portrayed, instead of the damsel in distress character that has previously been so popular. An excellent example of this is Star Wars: The Force Awakens featuring a woman as the central protagonist - in stark contrast to both previous trilogies which were male led.

What’s also interesting to note is how popular dystopian science-fiction has become. With the success of teen-oriented franchises, such as the aforementioned Divergent and The Hunger Games, and other successful franchises such as The Maze Runner, it’s easy to see how prominent post-apocalyptic sci-fi is. However, examining the reason why young people find such comfort in these stories is important to consider.

Many science-fiction stories today revolve around some sort of revolution. This creates a level of wish fulfilment for many youths who feel like they have been systematically oppressed. This highlights a worrying view of the world many young people currently possess.

Despite often dipping into the genre of fantasy, science-fiction offers young people a more relatable and accurate depiction of their lives. It’s clear that, for other genres to catch up, they need to look at what they are doing to portray all young people on screen - not just the small minority that has previously been declared the norm.

Twitter: @EstNas

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