For those who have not seen the memo, and Shawna’s goodbye, and Doug’s goodbye. Almost 2 years ago now I wrote a blog post about how the death of RoF made me feel, and I actually still stand by the sentiment today. Yes, since then there have been some fishboobs and some whitewashing and even some random trolling from people only tangentially involved. Still and all, I did love it once, and I cherish those memories.
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.
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?
An io9 commenter on why she won’t renew her subscription to Realms of Fantasy:
I really don’t like the ethnocentric view a lot of the short stories have. I don’t really care about reading their multitudes of hispanic fantasy, or their african american fantasy. It’s just not culture I’m interested in, so I end up flipping past half the magazine because they, without fail, -always- focus on some ethnicity I don’t care to read about.
I can’t even begin to unpack the racefail here because I’m too busy going: wait, is that true? I don’t even read the magazine (despite having multiple free issues pushed on me) but I don’t remember anyone saying to me recently “Have you seen all the wonderful ethnocentricity going on in Realms, lately?”
Regular readers, care to enlighten?
Via Nick Mamatas. In the comments someone points out that it may just be a case of them seeing one non-white protag and going OMG the mud people took ovah!
I actually thought I was done posting about this. Hm.
Okay, so a couple of days ago someone told Harlan Ellison about the Realms art/cover/boob discussion thing going on but, apparently, did not actually send him links or anything, just told him “Hey, some woman somewhere is calling Realms’ publisher a sexist!” or somesuch. Internet telephone being what it is (and considering the probable source and considering the phobia Ellison has of the actual Internet), I’m not surprised that this is the version of the conversation that’s reached him. And if you do not know, right now, the gist of what Harlan’s commentary is, then you don’t know squat about Harlan. You’re lucky.
Now, when I first heard this I had a notion of actually writing to him or posting on his weird message board thing that, actually, no one was accusing any person of being a horrible sexist, and giving him the actual background on what we’re talking about. But then I thought: Why in Zuul’s name should I care about the opinions of a guy who grabs women’s breasts in public and thinks it’s cool? He’s really not the audience for such a discussion. Nor is he someone I care to convince.
During my Clarion West, we had this fun running gag where we’d ask our instructors for Harlan Ellison stories. I think this got started because someone in our first week told a particularly funny one. The other stories ranged from funny to “OMG he DID that?!” And while it’s all ice cream and cakes to focus on the funny aspects, those other ones left me with the impression that Ellison, great writer though he may be, is not someone I would like to run across in a dark alley or even a well-lit convention floor. Or, apparently, on stage in front of hundreds of people.
So, I went about my business. But someone out there faxed Harlan more details and now he knows my name.
He seems to think my first name is Kay.
Well. At least he won’t find my house.
He also wants to “bee-atch-slap” me because I’m a woman of color. Specifically because he helped Octavia Butler launch her career so, as a woman of color, I owe him fealty or something. I dunno. He also seems to think I called HIM a sexist and that I want to “get into it” with him.
One thing I am annoyed about is that someone told him I called him a sexist. In this discussion, I mentioned Harlan only in the context of him having a story in Realms. I have not said one word about him being sexist or anything else. If I were to care, I would set the record straight with him on that. But I don’t.
I’d also like to point out some other fun aspects of his post. #1 – he seems to think that by naming me as the culprit he’s put my Public Name in a Public Place and that’ll show me! Um. #2 – he hurls several insults at me, but some of my favorites are: I’m in the NWA, a Women of Cuhluh, and a swineherd. Thumbs up! You keep it classy, Ellison!
Now, the bottom line here is that Harlan is convinced that I am specifically after hm. He really, really is. Unlike most egomaniacal wankers on the Internet, I don’t think he has this impression just on GP (that’s general principles for you non-urban folk out there). I think that whoever has been telling him about this discussion has made Harlan think that I and a bunch of other people are specifically mad about him. Him in general, him in Realms, whatever. But the truth is, Harlan is not only not the issue here, he’s barely a footnote.
The cover mockup I posted the other day (provided by Charlotte, for those of you who didn’t know) takes a dig at him, but from what I understand, that was aimed at Realms‘ publisher, not Harlan himself. However, it was a dig and if I’d seen my name over top the words “Senile Meanderings” I’d be pissed, too. So, for calling attention to an image that included a personal attack on someone not even involved in this discussion, I’ll take the blame for that one. If Mr. Ellison wants me to remove that from the post, he’s free to ask.
As to the rest: I have no intention of getting into it with Harlan. I don’t care about him enough. I wouldn’t mind letting him know what was actually said by me as concerns him. Otherwise, I just can’t get excited about it. The orc horde has more important stuff to deal with just now.
But hey, look at that, some famous person knows my name! And posted it on his website. My Google Juice is going to skyrocket now!
Speaking of Realms of Fantasy, I was just paging through the new issue when I came across a letter from the editor, Shawna McCarthy, in the back. Here’s an interesting quote:
Without the magazines providing both a training ground and a platform for young writers, the genre publishing industry will be severely hampered–writers without track records have a much harder time finding agents, and should they have sufficient talent to find an agent without a short fiction history, the agent will have a much harder time selling their books to a publisher. All that will be left in the SF and Fantasy section are Old Reliable Writers, which, don’t get me wrong, have survived as long as they have because they are talented and capable, but as with all other things, they will one day pass on and who will be there to keep the industry alive?
I’m sure there are a few people who will debate her point about writers needing a short fiction track record, etc., but I’m more interested in this because of something Realms publisher Warren Lapine said at ReaderCon.
Now, I was not there for this, but my sources are multiple and reliable. Apparently on Thursday evening during a party, someone asked Warren about e-submissions and Realms. The discussion that ensued was described to me as a ‘fight’, with Warren very much against e-subs. When someone said to him that he was basically cutting out a whole generation of younger writers by being against e-subs, Warren reportedly said something like: Why do I need those writers, I’ve got Harlan Ellison in my magazine!
(Apparently there’s a Harlan story in an upcoming issue.)
This attitude is very much at odds, it seems, with the Fiction Editor’s. I don’t know how McCarthy feels about e-subs, specifically, but she doesn’t seem to feel that the presence of an Old Reliable Writer like Ellison is of so much more value than newer writers.
Later in the weekend I myself asked Warren if Realms would be accepting e-subs, and he told me something different. He said something about how if a writer rises up to a certain level, they can send submissions any way they please. I believe the words “Neil Gaiman can submit to me in crayon, if he wants” were uttered. But as concerns lower-level writers, he can’t have them sending in e-subs, that would be a disaster. But if you rise up — say have a book on the NYTimes bestseller list or something — you certainly can.
Again: Old Reliable Writers can do what they want because we want them! Young/New writers? Pfft!
(by the way, this is my last RoF post for the day, possibly forever. I’d meant to post these last week but stuff got int he way.)
A couple of weekends ago at ReaderCon I got the chance to see the newest issue of Realms of Fantasy, the magazine that, earlier this year, was canceled by the company that owned it. Publisher Warren Lapine bought the magazine because he saw that there was a groundswell of online activism around saving it. RoF is now reborn.
Here’s the cover, in case you haven’t seen it:
Someone also sent me a link to an image that’s going to appear in a forthcoming issue as art for a specific story.
For many years now — certainly since I started reading Realms, something I talk about here — the magazine has had a tendency to put some rather strange things on their covers. A lot of chicks in chainmail-type images when its not movie or television promo shots. I hear tell that these increase newsstand sales and I don’t doubt it. It can be really tiresome to look at year after year. But hey, people gotta eat.
So when I saw the new cover I wasn’t exactly surprised. I hear the nipples had to be taken out in order to make it newsstand-worthy; also not surprising. Realms has always had this tendency to put women in provocative clothing/poses/etc. on the front even though that kind of thing appeals more to men. I just don’t get it.
Warren Lapine was at ReaderCon handing out free copies of the magazine. We were both at the same party on Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to ask him a question that had been burning in my mind. What follows is an actual conversation I had with Lapine, transcribed from my memory, so there’s lots of paraphrasing and such.
Me: So, Warren, I was wondering: now that Realms is under new management and all, when are we going to see some male asses on the cover?
Warren: (raucous laughter)
Me: Because it seems like you’ve got the whole naked women thing down and the boob thing down, so how about some equal time?
Warren: That’s a good question. We should ask our new Art Director. Doug, c’mere for a second!
Doug [Cohen]: Yeah?
Me: (giving my full attention to Doug) I was just wondering when we’d see some male asses on the cover of Realms. Or even some penises?
Warren: (still highly amused) We’re not allowed to put penises on the cover, though.
Me: Makes sense. But inside, then. Because you’ve got plenty of boobs. Fish-girl boobs and nipple-less boobs and snake-woman boobs and boobs and more boobs.
Doug: (looking like he wants to shove a knife in my eye)
Me: I think it would do the magazine good to have some nice male asses around, don’t you? Or even: a shot from behind of a well-toned guy with him looking over his shoulder and a Fabio face or something.
Warren: (more laughter) I was just about to say! (turning to Doug) Our readership is, what, 4-1 female…
Me: Right! (to Doug) Don’t you think this is a good idea?
Doug: It sounds like a Tempest idea.
Me: Right, because it’s awesome! Another thing, maybe you don’t need so many boobs out there. Women in nice outfits works. You do know that women wear clothing most of the time, don’t you, Doug?
Doug: I know it now.
[I will pause here to note that I was unsure whether Cohen was trying to imply that I’d enlightened him on this fact because he’s been living in some dark cave most of his life or that he so very often sees women undressed that this was news to him. I’ll leave it to you to decide.]
Warren: Well, I was in a hair band in the 80s, and back then it sure didn’t seem like they did.
(so much laughter! OH HOHO! Also, I am given credit for ‘having a sense of humor’ because I laughed. …)
The conversation went on in this vein for a little longer, all the while certain parties not appreciating my suggestions. I think I especially riled someone when I asked if Realms had a monthly boob quota sheet in the office somewhere. But honestly, I wonder.
I overheard Warren and Doug talking about the issue together a little while later and got the impression that Warren felt I had a valid point and Doug felt that I initiated the conversation just to annoy him. Nevermind that I didn’t initiate the conversation with him; I went to the person with the power to decide stuff.
Anyway, time will tell if we get to see some male cheesecake on the cover. If we want it more inside the magazine obviously someone is going to have to step up and write some stories that call for it. Thus is my challenge to you, fantasy writers. Go to it!
I haven’t commented on the news that Realms of Fantasy is closing yet, and I feel as though I should for several reasons. So, I will.
Way back when I was a wee!Tempest I was very much unaware of fandom and the wider SF world. I liked Star Trek. I liked Narnia and other SF/F YA and children’s books I’d read, I liked The Martian Chronicles. I didn’t know that this could all coalesce into an identity.
I don’t know how exactly this happened, but at some point I came across the magazine Science Fiction Age and just fell in love. I still feel like SF Age was one of the best genre magazines ever. I was attracted to it due to the big, glossy covers with awesome images but what held me was the stories inside – I read the thing from cover to cover.
During this time – late high school – it was pretty hard to find SF Age. This was before the explosion of B&Ns everywhere and such. I had to beg and cajole and blackmail my poor mother to drive me to the only newsstand in town where I knew I could reliably find it. And one day I happened to notice another mag sitting on the same shelf. Instead of a cool spaceship on the cover, there was probably some woman in chainmail or whatever, but I remember immediately recognizing that this magazine was related to SF Age. It had a similar cover sensibility – a design that said “This is the fantasy version of that magazine you already like.” So I picked that up, too.
I was not disappointed.
Through reading SF Age and Realms of Fantasy I decided to join the SF Book Club which led to me reading every Dozios year’s best (along with some other stuff, but mostly just that) which led me to read beyond the Star Trek novels I’d been devouring for years which, by many turns, led me to writing science fiction and fantasy.
The first time I ever saw Scott Edelman at a con I stood paralyzed 10 feet away from him for 20 minutes until I worked up the nerve to go and say, “HiMrEdelmanmynameisKimandIamabigfanofyours SFAgewassoawesomeanditchangedmylife andIhavealwayswantedtomeetyouandsaythatbecausereallyitchangedeverything Iwouldn’tbeawriterifnotforyouIthink.” Or something like that. I’m sure Scott was completely scared of me, but he did smile when I mentioned SF Age (which Sovereign totally killed before its time and I will never forgive them for that, omg).
Since SF Age died before I got my writing chops, I always had a notion in the back of my mind that I might be published in Realms someday. For a long time it was my whole short fiction world, except for year’s bests. And I loved every story I read.
Yes, this changed over the years. I stopped sending to Realms long, long ago because, really, I’m not all that in to sending stories off to a black hole from which they’d never return (the price I paid for being passed up to Shawna so many times). I stopped reading it after the story that ended with two people having sex on top of a dead unicorn (and no, I am never going to get over that. I like Carrie Vaughn a lot as a person, but ye gods, dead unicorn sex? Booo!). But I will always, always be grateful that it existed, and that it introduced me to so much wonderful fiction and so many amazing authors.
I read Theodora Goss and Hilary Moon Murphy for the first time in Realms and now I’m happy to call them friends. I saw many friends I knew to be amazing authors get published there for the first time – Tim Pratt, Sarah Prineas, Samantha Henderson, Eugie Foster (these are the names coming to me right this second, there were many more).
I still treasure my old copies from high school and the stories I loved therein. I still treasure my memories. And I hope that there will still be great magazines that high school girls who love Star Trek and Martian Chronicles and Narnia can stumble upon that will change everything for them and open up a new world of awesomeness.