Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don’t Care To Read About

Realms of Fantasy: Full Of Some Whitewashing You Don't Care To Read About

I know that pointing out RoF Fail is a little like kicking a puppy, but you know how it is when Nick Mamatas sends you a link clearly meant to induce blog-worthy rage — you just have to accommodate him.

So, LJ user torrain was reading the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy and didn’t get far before the facepalm reached epic proportions. Inside the magazine’s movie review of The Last Airbender ze found this awesomeness:

However, The Last Airbender has already caught flak for “whitewashing,” meaning, the casting of white actors (or actors who appear to be white) to play non-white characters, especially when those characters are heroic. It’s a hot-button issue that dredges up memories of images like Al Jolsen wearing black-face makeup. Of course, there are two sides to this coin. On one hand, whitewashing can feel insulting, disrespectful, and disappointing to movie-goers. Many may label it as politically incorrect. On the other hand, anyone who has run a casting call will tell you that when you find the right person for the role, something magical happens. Time seems to stop, and you feel as if the character comes to life right in front of your eyes. The character is no longer ink on paper; the character begins to live and breathe. It has nothing to do with race and everything to do with the individual human being reading for the part. Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

There’s a lot of obvious fail going on here, and it’s hard to know where to begin, but I’ll start with this notion that “something magical happens” when the right person comes along for the role, even if that person is white and the character is not. Even if this was ever true somewhere in the world, it’s not true in this movie. Let’s quote Roger Ebert talking about the casting, specifically:

Shyamalan has failed. His first inexplicable mistake was to change the races of the leading characters; on television Aang was clearly Asian, and so were Katara and Sokka, with perhaps Mongolian and Inuit genes. Here they’re all whites. This casting makes no sense because (1) It’s a distraction for fans of the hugely popular TV series, and (2) all three actors are pretty bad. I don’t say they’re untalented, I say they’ve been poorly served by  Shyamalan and the script. They are bland, stiff, awkward and unconvincing.

Entertainment Weekly:

The trouble with The Last Airbender is that Aang, as a character, is a saintly abstraction (Noah Ringer plays him with a sensitive pout that grows cloying), and he’s surrounded by generic young actors who are like place holders for real stars.


Shyamalan has worked wonders with child actors before, but Ringer is no Haley Joel Osment, delivering some fancy footwork but zero charisma in the pic’s key role. Most dialogue scenes are framed in tight Sergio Leone-style closeup, emphasizing the actors’ wooden nature. At that proximity, we notice that Rathbone never blinks; nor can he be counted on to deliver any of the comic relief of his animated counterpart.

I could go on. The issue here is not that M. Night just happened to find these amazing kids to play these roles who just happened to be white. This is what he or the producers or the studio set out to do from the beginning because, even though millions of people love the cartoon and its clearly Asian characters, they felt that audiences just can’t handle brown and yellow people as the heroes. As the evil villains, sure. But protagonists must be white, right?

Whitewashing, no matter how much you pretty it up with the magical casting feeling of amazingness, is still just damn wrong.

The second half of that paragraph, which you probably didn’t even read because the first part was so rage-inducing with its faily wrongness, I shall paste again, because it also needs addressing:

Adding to the mix is the fact that some roles written for white people have been won by actors of color, and some roles written for men have been played by women. In other words, whitewashing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a difficult situation that places filmmakers between the goal of finding magic and not offending audiences. At the end of the day, most directors simply want to tell a good story.

Jesus. Okay, deep breath. First of all, the conceit of having women play roles written for men is usually about deconstruction more than it’s about some magical audition process or someone being “right” for a role. And I can’t come up with any examples of people of color playing roles “written for white people” unless you’re talking about classical theater or something. Maybe they mean Sam Jackson as Nick Fury? But again, when POC play, uh “white” roles, that actually has a different weight and purpose behind it than whitewashing. The power differentials there are NOT equal. Are POC overrepresented in Hollywood movies and American television? No. Are white people? Yes. So when whitewashing occurs, do you know who it hurts and disrespects and diminishes? POC.

The fact that this Realms columnist doesn’t understand any of this is already major fail. The fact that his or her editor doesn’t understand any of this is even bigger fail. And it’s leading many people to question why they would even bother to save such a magazine from its impending cancellation when all they have to look forward to is a bunch of racefail in the non-fiction section.

I’m just going to bottom line it for you: Whitewashing is never okay no matter what. If you don’t agree, then you’re really too far gone to exist in polite and cultured society and perhaps you should do us all a favor and go back to the cave you most certainly crawled out of.

Is that too harsh?

Fen of Color United

Spreading the word about this, but apologies if you’ve seen it on your feedreader/f-list already. Repost as desired!

As RaceFail 09 continues, it has become clear that there are those who are hellbent on marginalizing and silencing people of color. In the past few months, minorities have been denigrated by bigoted authors and publishers who have also asserted that Fen of Color are rare and pratically non-existent. Despite numerous discussions and attempts to enlighten on the fact that POCs are fans, writers, artists and just as integral to this genre as our white counterparts, we are continuously dismissed.

On Monday May 18, 2009, we are asking anyone who identifies as a POC/non-white to post this banner, their speculative short stories, artwork, poetry or simply write a post on their favorite fandom on their blogs as an act of protest to show we will not be silent or invisible. The day of protest is entitled Fen Of Color United or more aptly, FOC_U.

White allies can also show solidarity for this event by posting this banner and expressing the need for diversity  and speaking out against the bigotry in the genre, through posts and/or their creative work as well.

In addition, a new community entitled FOC_U has been created. It’s designed to be  a safespace for POCs/non-whites and white allies to discuss the issues pertaining to RaceFail and a place to counteract its destructive effects. And it’s also a fun place for everyone to also discuss their favorite fandoms. While memberships and posts are under moderation for the time being (until the community gets more established and input is welcomed), everyone is encouraged to join and make this a home.

You can help out by spreading the word and reposting this banner on your personal blog or creating one of your own if you’d like.

The gauntlet’s been thrown and I for one think it’s past time for us to take a stand and let our voices be heard, whether some people want to hear them or not.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to contact me personally or stop by FOC_U.

Tor Books: A Perspective

Tor Books: A Perspective

That bit of RaceFail I pointed to the other day in my open letter to Bujold has led to some good things (discussion, increased visibility, less foolishness) but has also re-animated the notion of just boycotting Tor Books and having done with it. This latest thing got started on by a Tor author after all.  Just another in a long line of disappointment coming from that particular corner of the world.

But I’d like to point something out.

Before I do, I’m going to mention the following things which may have some bearing on how you feel about what I’m going to say.  First, my blogging gig for starts this week (tomorrow, maybe, still need to polish that post). Second, Patrick Nielsen Hayden was one of my Clarion instructors. Third, I’ve been friends or acquaintances with various Tor editors (current and former) for many years now, including some involved with RaceFail. Fourth, a lot of my good friends are Tor authors.

That all said, I also have a lot of friends who are published by Tor’s competition and I have plenty of friends who work for Tor’s competition. Other than my blogging gig, I have no personal stake in Tor — no book of my own coming out, no book deal on the horizon. So that’s out of the way.

Here’s my thing about boycotting Tor: I don’t think it’s  good idea. I understand and fully respect the reasons why people want to do it.  That anger you feel about this shit going on? I feel it, too. You know I do.  However, refusing to buy all Tor books all the time doesn’t take a few key things into account.

Mainly that the editors involved in RaceFail are not all of the editors at Tor. Many of them are senior, have been at the company a long time, etc. but are not the ultimate and final gatekeepers of anything. The reason you don’t know about or hear from a lot of the others is that they either don’t have huge online presences (or any) or they are online but wisely do not perpetrate fail on a massive scale.

Some of these editors you don’t hear about or from are long-time employees or senior editors. Many of them are around my age, some younger, and there are always assistant editors around, too. Their ideas and ideals are probably in line with yours — I know for a fact some of them are. These are the editors at Tor that I care about. Whether they stay on at Tor forever and eventually become the senior editors in charge of everything or move on to other publishing companies, they are the future (if you’ll pardon the corny sentiment).

And, like I said, they have more sense than to engage in RaceFail activities. They’re off looking for good books to publish, instead.

The Tor editors and authors whose names keep cropping up in RaceFail are already associated with each other in my mind since they all seem to be part of a similar grouping. (Most of them.)  A lot are old school, a lot are fen. Also, a lot of these folks have known each other a long time. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things.  It’s just a marker that may indicate some similarities of thought, experience, and behavior. It’s not a good idea to assume that all or even most of the editors at Tor are old school fen who only publish old school fen.

On the author side of things, boycotting Tor books means not buying a lot of great fiction by POC or by authors who not only stood on our side during RaceFail but try to and succeed in creating fiction that reflects what they feel about race and culture and the importance of not erasing us from SFnal or fantasy worlds. These books and authors may not be in the majority. There aren’t any major publishers where they are, I think. And what do we do in the wider world where that’s true? We support those authors we can get behind and tell other people to as well.

A little while ago I talked bout making lists and why it’s important to do so. I still think so. Make a list, if you need to, of authors and editors who’ve disappointed or angered you. But also make a list of authors you want to support and support so hard those editors–regardless of their shortcomings–cannot ignore.

So that’s my perspective. I won’t say do not boycott Tor because the reasons for doing so are valid. The reasons for not doing so are valid, too. I am going to continue to support the Tor authors I feel are worth supporting, I’m going to continue in my friendships with Tor editors I think are awesome. All while recognizing that there is a lot some people need to answer for. But that’s everywhere. At least in this instance I feel there is enough good to counterbalance and eventually erase the bad.