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Nothing New Under The Sun - 3rd People of Colour SF Carnival
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3rd People of Colour SF Carnival
For this edition of the Carnival, I tried to assemble a collection of links that would include slices of different fandoms, and which would have some of both fans and creators, both minority and majority, talking about fannish issues both general and diversity-related, to convey a sense of the dynamics and tensions out here, and to juxtapose when possible. I've also included informative links that might inspire writers and illustrators in a variety of ways.

To start with, I recently discovered Andre Norton's 1971 Android At Arms, which is a diverting-if-very-uneven futuristic take on both The Man in the Iron Mask and The Prisoner of Zenda. What makes it really unique, not just for its era, but for the genre period, is that its premise is that the royal protagonist has been kidnapped from a spacegoing empire comprised of some of the earliest of Terran colonists...who all hailed from Africa, and whose culture, legends, and names reflect this. ("The Sword of Balkis-Candace", frex, is part of the imperial regalia.) Prince Andas is repeatedly described as black, in the book. But you'd never guess that from any of the covers for it - not even the 2002 reprint combining it with a story about a black female archeologist...

Similarly, I discovered via link-dowsing that another white, female genre author from the Old Days whose gender was likewise ambiguous to the reading public, Leigh Brackett, also had a pulp series hero who was sometimes illustrated as blond on the book covers, and never, apparently, as both dark-skinned and dark-haired the way he was written.

On the Girl Wonder boards, a recent discussion of accusations of "reverse discrimination" in response to demands for more diversity in the media brings up examples of grim RL discrimination, too. Given the ongoing saga of the Jena 6 trials and protests IRL (reminiscent to me of the Sacco & Vanzetti trial in a lot of ways) the sort of routine acceptance and silent endorsement of state-sponsored injustice by the car rental agencies is extremely relevant.

On the Television Without Pity boards, a debate over whether or not writing a WASP future America and alternate dimension in the new "Flash Gordon" is demonstrative of privileged blindness and racism, or just "good business in Hollywood," the predictable vicarious denial of responsibility for those in power to shape our daily imagery.

via Angry Black Woman, concrete proof of the still-stratified-by-race casting in the oh-so-modern media world, in their own words.

--Until the Hathor Legacy posters did a sort of mea culpa a while back about being too oblivious to race issues when discussing feminist failings of media, I had assumed they were a site run by FoCs given the invocation of Egypt (& being kind of naive re cultural appropriation) and so I'm posting these links to several similar posts there with a certain ambivalence, because they seem to typify to me the problems of privileged outsiders with no vested interest in the outcome (e.g. guys saying something is not sexist, straights saying something isn't heteronormative, bourgeoisie talking condescendingly about us poorer people.) But - in the same light - I can't say No, that's not better than no CoCs at all. But I'd like to raise the issue for discussion from people who can speak more pertinently of it:
Is it better to have bad/stereotypical depictions than none at all?
Troubling Aspects of Law & Order
That Home Depot Commercial
Domestic Problems as Foreign Issues
Great Female Characters in Hollywood's Current Animated Blockbusters for Kids - Where Are They?

Video evidence of the existence of FoCs and their purchasing power: "Amazons Attack - The Return" YouTube video post (via Occasional Superheroine) Here is his post about the Return on the DC boards.

Fanboi Brian Andersen's Prism Comics review of Young Avengers picks up on a persistent negative ethnic stereotype in an otherwise okay comic.

Didn't the Zero shoot this stupidity down? Or, Bad Old Attitudes Not Changing (From outside fandom, but via a fannish blog when I was linkdowsing, but I don't remember which - maybe BoingBoing.)

The Great Ten --DC, why? (This deserves a whole post of its own, for which I have been collecting amassing links in the dozens, but briefly I have to say that this is exactly how not to try to "do Diversity™", if you're a bunch of clueless white American dudes. Orientalizers Anonymous meeting down the hall...)

When even AICN calls you on your use of "What the world needs is a honkey" you really have a problem - Emmerich's latest mess is messier than usual, it looks like. (Also, trained mammoths???)

SG-1 actor Christopher Judge (Teal'c) briefly discusses his experience on the show & his upcoming project.

Latoya Peterson writes in Cerise on being invalidated as a minority gamer as well as a female gamer by white guys in the field.

From the new Comic Gays linkblog, a white fan comments on the absence of CoCs in Yaoi

BitTorrent interviewer speaking with Fantastic Four writer Dwayne McDuffie expresses amazement that this is 2007 and diversity is still an issue in comics

via gamers_of_color (via yeloson) An historically-themed game, "Steal Away Jordan: Stories From America's Peculiar Institution and some white gamers being made uncomfortable by it.

--Conversely, a lot of white gamers not only weren't made uncomfortable by the depiction of Stalwart White American Hero slaughtering African-ostensibly-zombies who mostly looked like starving peasants, but were outraged that anyone might be upset by this at all, to the point of saying so in extremely racist language, earlier this year. Robert Jones surveys the responses with his own commentary here in "Resident Evil 5: Romero Reversed".

Historical novelist David Anthony Durham's newest book Acacia, a story of political intrigue and war in an imaginary kingdom, has been getting a lot of very good reviews online, comparing it favorably with ASOIF for you GRRM fans reading this.

Tobias Buckell is giving away the first third of his second Caribbean-inspired SF novel, Ragamuffin. (Another Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch obviously trying to Destroy Sci-Fi, Literature, and/or Civilization there!)

And also via Buckell, a poll for Caribbean readers about your bookbuying habits posted by Jamaican author Geoffrey Philp.

Being as I am an amateur artist with a very longstanding interest in fantasy & SF illustration, I have long been aware of Issues that a lot of my fellow white artists have with drawing and, especially, painting, anyone who isn't Caucasian [sic]. There is definitely a "reverse exoticism" that goes a long way imo to explaining why CoCs in comics are often drawn as white with a dark tan - but then sometimes you hit plain old exoticism of the most cringeworthy kind. I'm all in favor of giving us 3d illustrators greater diversity of human models to work with (maybe we'll finally get some accurate illustrations for the Earthsea books that way) but seriously, DAZ, "She is an exotic beauty with pure animal magnetism written all over her" - WTF? (Better yet, she's called "Kenya"--but I can't think of a single white character morph named "Switzerland" or "Byelorus"--) I wish this was the only time I've run across this objectifying tone, but it's not, nor limited to this 3d outlet either.

A few years ago I came across an entire oversize book at the local college library's reference department of Ethiopian illuminated manuscripts, including a very vivid series of plates showing the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, a popular subject for European artists wanting to indulge their exoticism, but very differently portrayed in the African illustrations, where she is the hometown heroine and legendary foremother instead... Unfortunately I have not found a copy of it that I could take home and keep; I don't know why Coptic MS are not as well-known and admired by art fans as Celtic and Byzantine illuminations. (Note the common visual elements frex in this spread of Eusebian Table and the revelation to Zacharias.)

There's a lot out there nowdays about the famous Benin bronzes looted by colonial invaders in the 1800s, as well as the frenzy of denial that they could have been made by Africans, and the subsequent rebellious emulation of them by artistic radicals in Paris, but in case anyone isn't familiar with them, here are some pictures of famous artifacts and minor works as well.

Timbuktu Chronicles is a linkblog I dowsed up looking for desert species of mushrooms (don't ask - they do exist, sort of) which lists African businesses of all kinds from different countries, and which might prove a useful resource for authors who want to write about contemporary Africa without making the stock and stupid mistakes of regarding it as both undifferentiated and utterly primitive, like a Victorian-era travelogue (or modern amusement park ride) of "The Dark Continent." (Such as this, which is a pre-Victorian travelogue of East Africa, for a retro bit of white privilege and historical curiosity, useful for writing authentic archeological stories and getting the John Bull tone of smugness just right. Casually skimming, I quickly found an instance of "They all look the same" without even trying, frex.)

Finally, regular commenter fledgist alerted us here to a little-publicized fact of renaissance European history which undercuts the "it's just historical!" excuse for a blancmange depiction of the past - Alessandro de Medici, Duke of Florence, was black, as shown by his portraits in addition to contemporary records, despite subsequent writerly whitewashing. Historical novelists, take note! Nobody afaik has yet "done" the story of Simonetta da Collavechio, in all the fictional explorations of historical and semi-legendary female characters' lives in recent decades.


The 4th Carnival will be hosted by sparkymonster at the end of October. Please see the People of Colour SF Carnival main site for details on how to submit your links and articles next time.

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Comments
fjm From: fjm Date: September 29th, 2007 06:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Another title for you.

Arthur C. Clarke's 1963 juvenile, Dolphin Island, the protagonist;s best friend is Black and isn't relegated to sidekick status. Most of the Islanders are Black and are described as people. The only downside of the book are the illustrations: although Mike is described as bigger and older and stronger than the white Johnny, in the illustrations he is depicted as about four years younger and much smaller.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 04:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Another title for you.

Thanks, we didn't have that at our local library, so I never came across it.

I also recently found another old Andre Norton that I'd missed, Ordeal on Otherwhere, which is a bit anvilicious in its presentation of Sexism-Bad! (Heroine escapes a backwards theocratic colony self-destructing in its rejection of all things modern, from female equality to modern medicine, gets taken to a planet where the matriarchal native society considers their males to be subsentient because they lack telepathic ability, and has to help convince them this is self-destructive and wrong, too.) The hero/romantic lead is a dark-skinned, dark-haired Space Patrol officer, and while he's dashing and clever and helps her Save The Day, she has to save him a couple times, save herself, and do a good deal of the Day-Saving, and there's a nice adventure-fic tension between her growing attraction for him, and the need to leave him and carry on the mission against the East India Corporation pseudo-piratical commercial exploiters trying to get a foothold there.

Norton sort of put the publishers in a bind there, they could either show the main characters as they were written, whitewash the hero, star an unsexy (described as brown-haired, ordinary-looking) girl on the cover, sex her up, or have an abstract landscapy-rockety illustration. Or do all of the above one way or another). (The edition I read ended up putting a fairly-accurate picture of the heroine, in a scene not anywhere in the book but sort of generally reflecting "stranded on a watery world".)
blueinkedpalm From: blueinkedpalm Date: September 29th, 2007 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for putting together such a great Carnival! I've seen your username before via ginmar, and you always make very great posts. I've friended you, if you don't object.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

no problem, feel free to lurk or comment as you like

this is a very laid-back com, we don't have any such thing as "on topic" here, so if you ever want to bring something to our attention just post it in the latest thread, too.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 29th, 2007 12:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Teal'c's broken!

My xml-fu sucks, but clicking the link produces an error message, does it need a special program to view it or what exactly?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

No, they changed the link so we can't link directly, sigh

It was working earlier in the week, but they seem to have messed around with their site again. (I HATE it when big websites do that!) Thanks for catching that, I don't *expect* link rot within a few days. This page now seems to be stable (fingers crossed) - let me know if it doesn't work for you.
voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: September 29th, 2007 02:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
I don't know that I'd worry too much about the new Flash Gordon. The writing, plotting and acting have now gone beyond mock-worthy (which is how we survived the Hawkmen episode 2 weeks ago), and is going to be dropped off my TiVo when I get downstairs. Hopefully it will not get renewed for next season - but it is SciFi channel, after all, so you can't ever really tell.

I've seen better acting at my daughter's Middle School musical.

(And having GROWN UP in the Washington DC suburbs - OK, on the VA side rather than the MD side, it just annoys me at how the forests are All Wrong, and that there aren't any rednecks running around the back roads of MD and where the hell is everyone's southern accents? And where are all the non-white people that live around there?)
the-willow.insanejournal.com From: the-willow.insanejournal.com Date: September 29th, 2007 04:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
I commented on my I-jay about 'The One Black Friend' and also how weird it is to see so much Vancouver (Yo over here. We're the place where SciFi Shows Film On The Cheap! Yoohoo!) in Maryland when I currently live in Maryland.

The forests are all wrong, the soil's the wrong colour, and where are not just the southern accents but the regional Maryland accents, not to mention the dearth of PoC. The first half of the pilot was all I needed to see.

And I'm glad to see one other person agrees with me about the stilted acting. There are times when the plot and character introductions are just plain bad - but a good actor can sell it. I was not sold.

Wow, they messed up the Hawkmen? How do you mess up kickass viking warriors, in Space Opera with wings!
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC) (Link)

apparently they just flapped blankets as they ran

like kids playing superheroes - I didn't see it, but I read a thread full of outraged hilarity over the way the Hawkmen were done saying that it was both ludicrous and embarrassing to watch.

also how weird it is to see so much Vancouver (Yo over here. We're the place where SciFi Shows Film On The Cheap! Yoohoo!) in Maryland when I currently live in Maryland.

LOL, reminds me of when places would look wrong b/c they were supposed to be somewhere on the east coast and it was clearly LA in the background, I wonder what will happen now that the Canadian dollar is achieving parity with the US dollar? Oh noes, we must film the USA in the USA! But it will look *wrong* to everyone now that we're all used to Vancouver!
voxwoman From: voxwoman Date: September 29th, 2007 08:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
by turning them into a biker gang w/o the cool bikes or tattoos. By replacing the wings with ratty leather capes (and claiming that they "glide" with the capes).

By only showing men (how do they make little Hawkmen, one wonders), shuffling around a fire pit to someone beating a drum and holding the beater immediately under the beater part (we laughed ourselves silly over that, since we actually PLAY percussion instruments), and the drum rhythm we see being played has no relation whatsoever to what's on the soundtrack.

It really made me miss Brian Blessed and the cheezy sleazy effects from the 80's movie (which I totally dug because of the beadwork on Ming's costume, the Art Deco decor and Queen - all of which is missing from this series)
the-willow.insanejournal.com From: the-willow.insanejournal.com Date: September 30th, 2007 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Granted I was little, but I never saw a difference between the daily comic strip I read of Flash Gordon, and the 80's movie. When I got older there were some parts of the movie I disliked just for their sheer corniness. But I loved how they seemed to capture the concept of an alien world/universe with unique rules and unique peoples.

So on this badword, badword, insane badword wording badword show, there is no Prince Vultan, no Sky City, no civilization of warriors chafing at the bit to do something about the Emperor but having lost hope - which Flash's arrival brings them?

W. T. F.

Then what's the point of Flash in the first place?

Leather blankets flapping in the breeze? W. T. F? It's the HAWKMEN those idiots. Even if they didn't have the budget for cgi wings come on be creative. Make Vultan on Flash's side because Ming the Merciless cut off his wings, so you only need to show some ugly stumps. Or make the wings have to emerge from the body ...

Jacklene Crapped. That's just so awful.
antonia_tiger From: antonia_tiger Date: September 30th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC) (Link)
They did a better hawkman in that old Buck Rogers TV series.

It was Buck Rogers, wasn't it?

From: deiseach Date: September 30th, 2007 01:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, that's correct

Hawk, from "Time of the Hawk":

"http://home.planet.nl/~m.theune/tc-hawk/about_hawk.htm

Hawk's ancestors originally came from Earth, where they used to live on what is now Easter Island. (Easter Island does indeed have a bird-man cult, and numerous rock carvings of bird people have been found there.) In terms of evolution, the bird people were thousands of years ahead of the human race. However, when humans finally started to spread across the earth, Hawk's ancestors were quickly wiped out, apart from a few who fled to the stars. These survivors were so afraid of "being different" that they never flew again and as a consequence lost their wings."

Even if they can't stretch to wing special effects, or want to make this more 'realistic' (ahem), surely they could come up with a better explanation than this?

"They're called Hawkmen because they fly. Actually, they don't fly, they glide. Actually, they don't so much glide as flap their leather capes as they run..."

Revamped "Battlestar Galactica" or no, you can't do "Flash Gordon" as a gritty, realistic, space series. It's space opera, darlings - it's meant to be over the top! This new series makes the old 'you can see the strings holding up the model rocketships, end every episode on a cliffhanger' from years ago sound much the better one.

Non-flying Hawkmen, for crying out loud!
the-willow.insanejournal.com From: the-willow.insanejournal.com Date: September 30th, 2007 06:55 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes, that's correct

Dude, I used to get the original BSG and Buck Rogers mixed up as the same show - all the time. Let me tell you that made for an interesting 'continuity' :)

But I do remember Hawk now I've clicked the link. And just looking at his costume makes me think of a whole other bunch of things that could have been done.

Hawkmen as an elite group of fighter pilots once loyal only to Ming but not anymore. There's y'gritty.

Hawkmen as the last remnants of a once mighty race who lost their wings due to an epidemic.

Hawkmen as a cult / practice / system for men who have lost their wives against Ming, and take up the markings of the legendary Hawk god or even just the darn bird since Hawks mate for life (or there's strong evidence to that point and who knows about Hawks in another dimension anyway)

The last one offers the opportunity also to meet Hawkwomen!

And this is off the top of my head!

Those writers have no soul.

-goes now to write space opera since she obviously has more thought in her head than people getting paid to do it-
From: deiseach Date: September 30th, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

nodnodnod

Oh, yes, there were several ways it could have been done.

But since they seem to be changing everything about Flash Gordon (except the names Flash, Dale, and Ming) I really have no idea why they bothered.

The Hawkmen are apparently no longer the Hawkmen, but the Dactyls. Now, while I appreciate that they are familiar with their Greek mythology, what was the point of that? They "follow the ways of the hawk" but in no adequately explained manner.

I thought Baylin was going to be the updated Prince Barin (outcast female Verdan working for Ming instead of royal male Verdan secretly resisting Ming) but now I see that they've kept Prince Barin. Frankly, I can't understand what the hell they're doing. They've reduced Mongo to a monochrome, oppressed serfs living in polluted wastelands, Ming as Dictator (in a really bad uniform - what's the point of being Ultimate Big Cheese if you don't fancy up your uniform with medals, sashes, epaulets, braid, gilt, and more osprey feathers than are good for you?) But they've kept the 'tarting Dale up as Ming's concubine for the harem' bit, so huh? Make up your minds, gentlemen!

It looks like a mess, going by the Sci-Fi Channel site. This is one series I'd gladly see sink beneath the waves of indifference.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes, that's correct

Even if they can't stretch to wing special effects ...

Oh, come on. They did wing special effects in the Flash Gordon movie from a quarter-century ago. They can't do it now, in the age of cheap CGI.
antonia_tiger From: antonia_tiger Date: October 1st, 2007 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)

The times they are a changin'

So on this badword, badword, insane badword wording badword show, there is no Prince Vultan, no Sky City, no civilization of warriors chafing at the bit to do something about the Emperor but having lost hope - which Flash's arrival brings them?

W. T. F.

Then what's the point of Flash in the first place?

Flash Gordon first appeared in January 1934.

The TV series was in the 1950s. The famous movie with the Queen soundtrack was in 1980.

It's tempting to suggest that Ming was a distorting mirror held up to Stalin, and his rule of Mongo matches the Soviet Union. But I can't rule out yellow peril racism as well.

And Flash is an individual hero, rather than a government agent: that fits with the isolationist streak in 1930s America.

And now? Just who is the Evil Empire of 2007? The bogeymen of the US worldview have changed in a deeply fundamental way. And the flaws which many see in the USA are incompatible with the ideals Flash Gordon promoted.

In 1934, in 1954, and in 1980, Flash Gordon had a solid connection with the real world: it was escapist through exaggeration.

Exaggerate today, and Flash Gordon would be a loyal officer of a fascist state.

The authentic Flash Gordon would be classed as a terrorist.

jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The times they are a changin'

It's tempting to suggest that Ming was a distorting mirror held up to Stalin, and his rule of Mongo matches the Soviet Union. But I can't rule out yellow peril racism as well.

The original Flash Gordon serials were made just before, during and after World War II. The obvious analogy was between Ming and Hitler, though he was also a stereotypical "oriental despot" (accented by being named after a Chinese dynasty).

The authentic Flash Gordon would be classed as a terrorist.

I don't remember Flash deliberately murdering civilians with marketplace bombs, beheading his prisoners, or trying to impose a theocratic rule under which women would be treated as animate property ... not in any version of Flash Gordon, so no, I don't see him as analogous to the modern terrorists.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2007 05:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't expect FG will last long either.

In fact, at my friends' last night, we saw them trying to use the new Battlestar Galactica mini-eps as bribes to get people to watch new FG episodes, by running them first *during* breaks in them, according to the ads. This indicates that they *know* it's in trouble, even if they don't understand how or why it stinks.

I just found it troubling how predictably knee-jerk and prevalent the TWOPers 'defenses of the vanilla casting were. (I've also had another evil thought of how it could have been revised, which we will *never* see any more than we'll see my idea of having Ming be a Malibu blond and Barin be Asian: if you want to "update" in "PC" ways, *really*, then you make Ming female and turn Aura into Auran, her son - but maintain the old romantic dynamic in which the imperial heir is first rivals with Dale for infatuation with Flash, and then their ally out of a more genuine love and respect for them...and have Flash be as honestly tempted and/or willing to lead the Prince on to further their escapes, as everyone in the Old Days believed with no problems of Princess Aura!)
randwolf From: randwolf Date: September 29th, 2007 04:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

The original paperback cover of *Mind of My Mind*

...showed a green person with African features. The artist's agent told the story this way: the AD sent the cover painting back several times. Each time there was a change asked, and a complaint about the character's skin color. So the artist's agent finally, in frustration, told the artist, "Make her green!" And the artist did, and that was the cover that sold.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2007 05:09 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The original paperback cover of *Mind of My Mind*

I remember hearing that story, but not which title it happened with. Interestingly it wasn't so much of an issue with childrens' and YA books, which have had a lot of award winners which dealt with racism and ethnic Othering, and usually depicted characters and scenes on book covers rather than abstractions. I wonder what the in-house dynamics were that differed, through the 70s, 80s, 90s and Today!, as they say on our local radio station.
randwolf From: randwolf Date: October 1st, 2007 02:13 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The original paperback cover of *Mind of My Mind*

There's a small version of that cover at librarything (you have to click on it, LT has a pain of security on the images). YA and children's books were largely sold to librarians, rather than racked in public places, mainly supermarkets. As the marketing experts are wont to remind us, there's only a few seconds to get the buyer's attention with stuff displayed in a supermarket rack, where most mass-market paperbacks were sold, (and the books were picked by the truckers who delivered them), so picking a cover that the truckers would accept and that the most people would look at was a big deal.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

thing is, SF primarily in supermarkets hasn't been the case

for at least 25 years, in my clear memory - aside from the occasional sfnal romance starting in the '90s, only the latest movie tie-ins got grocery store/drugstore rack space next to all the macho "thrillers" and Harlequins or Silhouettes, because I used to hunt for anything worth reading while stuck waiting around for family shopping trips to end - so any argument based on that these past two decades is so far out of date that it might as well be manufacturers talking about how their computer desk accessories are limited by the trim size of punch cards...
randwolf From: randwolf Date: October 2nd, 2007 06:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, I did say "was"...

At this point, I don't know where most paperback books are sold; I do remember Dave Hartwell, back in the 1980s, mentioning that it used to be railroad stations and now it was supermarkets. I suspect the current sales is a split between the book megastores and, still, supermarkets; my local Fred Meyer in Portland had a decent selection (for a supermarket) of current SF books. I wonder about Wal-Mart. On the other hand, I rather suspect that, after hip-hop, after all the major black entertainment and sports figures, even a high-profile black senator, black faces on a cover aren't a marketing problem any more.

It's interesting, both Octavia Butler (there are a couple of NPR interviews with Butler; they are worth seeking out) and Samuel R. Delany have written about the problems of being black SF writers; Butler once commented that her family and friends had told her that SF was for white folks and, so far as I know, the SF readership is more white than the overall public. So black sf writers of that generation were (perhaps still are) writing books that were going to be mostly read by whites. How do you market such amphibians? This whole business of "totemism" (after the Blish essay, "A New Totemism")--what the characters look like--is a big and not much discussed issue in SF. In words, the appearance of a character--even major physical attributes like sex--can be concealed. Not so in a cover painting; the painting has to show something, and that something has visual characteristics.
antonia_tiger From: antonia_tiger Date: September 29th, 2007 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not good at matching a Poser model's face to the carefully un-named real person it's based on, but it wouldn't surprise me if the original was a real person. That Kenya figure is one of the 3D Celebrity range, and I've actually managed to identify one of them.

Trouble is, the base figure is produced by a bunch of geeks in Utah.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC) (Link)

It's all of the model sites - I had some more bookmarked, but it crashed

and I lost them, but it's everywhere, (and the modelers themselves, even at DAZ, are from all over) and not just blameable on Utah nerdboys. (Remember that French-language character modeling site, where all the female figures were shown in passive/sexy poses, too.) It's just a very usefully-searchable database of blithely-oblivious ethnocentrism and exoticism (on top of the inherent sexism), on a very populist level...
fledgist From: fledgist Date: September 30th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow! I want to thank you for doing this, Bellatrys.

(As a person of colour myself, though, I wonder at the automatic assignment of the racial category 'Black' to persons of mixed ancestry. That, it seems to me, cheats those persons of the right to claim all of their ancestry. Or, put in more personal terms, would make me more closely related to my father than to my mother.)
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

I understand

I was attempting to employ the old diktat here that any African ancestry made people black to whack at the impression that most Americans have - even educated ones - is that European countries either are, or were until very recently, entirely distinct and thus monocultural (only Englishmen in England, only Frenchmen in France, only Russians in Russia, only Italians in Italy, etc) and that Europe as a whole was monochromatic until, again, the late 20th century.

That "African-Italian" is as valid a subcategory as "Italian-American" - and has been for not just centuries, but millennia, is something I've tried to get across to people IRL, sometimes by waving ten-pound art tomes at them and making them look at the Severan Family Tondo (there's a bit of typical racist denial going on about old Septimus at Wikipedia right now, in fact</a> - I somehow don't think the person captioning the first photo was thinking of North Africa making up a good chunk of the Mediterranean coast when they wrote "his clear Mediterranean features" there...you get this sort of thing w/r/t Philip the Arab all the time, too, and similar conservative contortionism re St. Augustine, as well. "Wah! They're taking our Dead White Guys away from us now!")
fledgist From: fledgist Date: October 3rd, 2007 12:07 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I understand

Well, Augustine was a Berber, and they're white. The fact that North Africans have communicated with sub-Saharan Africa for millenia, is something that has not penetrated the consciousness of North Americans.

On the other hand, Americans (and most Europeans) know nothing about such people as Juan Latino, Ignatius Sancho, Johannes Jacobus Capitein, or Francis Barber. When I was part of an organisation called the Biracial Families network, back when I lived in New York, I surprised (and pleased) one member who was looking for famous biracial people who she could point out to her son when I mentioned that Alexandre Dumas was of mixed descent, the grandson of a Haitian (well, Saint-Dominguean) slave.

My concern is with the standard American hypodescent rule, that basically forces biracial people to deny half of who they are.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I understand

... but North Africans weren't "African" in the sense you mean. They were mostly of Berber or Semitic, not Negroid, descent. They would have been darker skinned and with occasional Negroid features owing to trade and slavery across the Sahara, but they would not have looked like modern, say, Nigerians or even Sudanese.

All human races are essentially equal: there's no need to try to tinker with the evidence in order to hammer home the point. Doing so only invites a backlash in which even valid evidence of this equality will eventually be disbelieved.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: September 30th, 2007 12:56 am (UTC) (Link)

On black characters in the Italian Renaissance

I have to mention Lois McMaster Bujold's The Spirit Ring with its black female protagonist.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

LMB's Spirit Ring

Oh yes, that one was great (and had a TERRIBLE cover) - it has a special place among Renaissance fantasy/adventure stories for me, because there's a sequence inspired by a famous bit of real art history in there, too.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: October 3rd, 2007 12:01 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: LMB's Spirit Ring

You mean the salt-cellar?

It was a well-told tale, with a well-drawn viepoint character, that's for sure.
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 3rd, 2007 12:26 am (UTC) (Link)

The Casting of the Perseus

The part about there not being enough metal for the alloy to fuse properly with the risk of the entire piece being ruined, and stripping the house of all the pewter cutlery and plates to toss in to make it go critical comes straight from Cellini's autobiography - it was one of our readings that semester in Italian Renaissance Art History.
fledgist From: fledgist Date: October 3rd, 2007 12:29 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Casting of the Perseus

I know she took it from Cellini, and it's a fascinating tale of the artist needing to get the job right.
antonia_tiger From: antonia_tiger Date: September 30th, 2007 11:22 am (UTC) (Link)
What irks about all this is that it doesn't really cost anything more to cast a black actor, or use dark brown paint instead of pink.

The publishers and other media companies are doing this because they think it's what the audience prefers: it will make them money.

On the whole, I would hope they are wrong: if they're right about this, it means something far worse than just a few racist bastards in the media industry.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 30th, 2007 10:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

I'd bet on the racist industry, not the fans

Because the arguement for it is usually more "Oh dear, we don't want to alienate the fans (who are all white, cuz black folk can't read/aren't interested in escapist fantasies/insert rationalisation here)" with no real way they could know whether the fans would be/are put off by representation of non-white characters on the cover, in no small part because they never dare try to put them there so...

The rationalisations wouldn't be quite so bad if there'd been some uber-famous example of a book that bombed for the express reason that the black character from the inside of the book was represented as black on the cover - but there isn't, so how the hell could they even know that what they're saying is true?

And why would all these people who hate non-white characters in their fiction buy books from series in which the main characters were non-white, if they objected so strongly to non-white people in their fiction?

If the rationales for this practice were true, then either 1) there'd be no non-whites in fiction in general (which I know isn't true, and hasn't been true since the 50's and 60's - at least, and I'm talking about Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein, not a handful of fringe writers) or 2) there'd be some data that indicated that putting brown faces on your books would lead to lower sales. If you have neither then blaming the fans for it doesn't fit.
chomiji From: chomiji Date: October 17th, 2007 03:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Actually, I work t'other way 'round - I'm far more likely to go for a cover featuring someone who looks different or unusual, instead of the same old boring sorts of people.

This reminds me of the dumbing-down of children's book titles, in which Rumer Godden's intriguingly named The Diddakoi became Gypsy Girl (which isn't even accurate: part of the protagonist's problems occur because she is a diddakoi - half Rom, half Irish), and Maguerite Henry's Gaudenzia: Pride of the Palio became The Most Exciting Horse Race in the World ... .

It seems that book marketing people are either very stupid or agents of evil.

betacandy From: betacandy Date: September 30th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the links to The Hathor Legacy.

problems of privileged outsiders with no vested interest in the outcome

We certainly are (mostly) a group of privileged outsiders (we've since managed to recruit one lady of color who has written on the Books blog, and we hope to recruit others). There's no getting around that. We try to be good allies because even though it doesn't directly impact it, we do genuinely (for reasons of our own, not out of liberal guilt) care about seeing PoC in better roles.

But yeah, we make mistakes. And the blindness that allowed me to separate problems of race (and other isms) from problems of feminism without quite processing that women of color aren't in a position to separate them was a biggie. :)
ladyjax From: ladyjax Date: October 1st, 2007 09:34 am (UTC) (Link)

re: Leigh Brackett

Hi there, surfed in via deadbrowalking. I don't have any copies of Leigh Brackett's earlier novels about Eric John Stark but I recently purchased a copy of The Book of Skaith (book club omnibus edition containing The Ginger Star, The Hounds of Skaith, and The Reavers of Skaith). I had read this as a teen and wanted to read it again and was happy to find a copy that looks like the one I had back then.

Here's a picture of it:


Cover of The Book of Skaith


I know of two paperback editions of the Skaith books that were put out by Del Rey in paperback, once during the 70s and then another set in the 80s. On those covers, Stark isn't blonde. He's a little scruffy looking and rugged.



bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 2nd, 2007 04:37 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, they got *half* right!

I guess we should be grateful that they managed the dark *hair* part on at least one occasion...sigh!

Dammit, I gotta do some "fake" covers for Earthsea now. Which, actually, could be fun - it's just intimidating to tackle something that historic.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
To start with, I recently discovered Andre Norton's 1971 Android At Arms, which is a diverting-if-very-uneven futuristic take on both The Man in the Iron Mask and The Prisoner of Zenda. What makes it really unique, not just for its era, but for the genre period, is that its premise is that the royal protagonist has been kidnapped from a spacegoing empire comprised of some of the earliest of Terran colonists...who all hailed from Africa, and whose culture, legends, and names reflect this. ("The Sword of Balkis-Candace", frex, is part of the imperial regalia.) Prince Andas is repeatedly described as black, in the book. But you'd never guess that from any of the covers for it - not even the 2002 reprint combining it with a story about a black female archeologist...

What struck me about this book was not so much that the hero was of black African descent, but rather that Andre Norton's final conclusions was that human was as human did, whether one was embodied in machine or man. That addresses what to me is going to be the big civil-rights issue once we get over this nonsense about skin color -- namely, rights for all sapients, not just human ones. If we don't do this, then we will go right back into the era of slavery -- only this time, it will be human sapients oppressing artificial sapients.

But yeah, being descended from black Africans and not making a big deal about it was an advanced attitude for 1971. Back then, this was definitely something the larger society was not willing to do.

Similarly, I discovered via link-dowsing that another white, female genre author from the Old Days whose gender was likewise ambiguous to the reading public, Leigh Brackett, also had a pulp series hero who was sometimes illustrated as blond on the book covers, and never, apparently, as both dark-skinned and dark-haired the way he was written.

Indeed -- Eric John Stark is always described as black, and it is relevant to his background, since he was raised under low-tech conditions on a habitable Mercury and would have died of UV poisoning were he fair-skinned.

jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC) (Link)
On Law and Order's "World's Fair" episode:

Most crimes against members of a minority group, particularly an unassimilated minority group, are in fact committed by members of the same group. This should be unsurprising; most crimes are committed by people who were at least acquaintances of the victim, or at least live in the same neighborhood as the victim, for the obvious reason that criminals have both more motive and greater opportunities to select such victims.

Honor killings are very real and quite common (though more so in Europe than in America) and represent one of the ways in which women from Islamic minority groups are oppressed by the men from such groups. Why is it wrong to speak of this? We're certainly not doing the women any favors by keeping silent on this issue. I do not hold that the women "belong" to the group in the sense that the group has the right to override her right to life, regardless of what opinions conservative elders of the group might hold.

Yes, it makes Muslims look bad. Maybe Muslim leaders should speak out more energetically against honor killings, since they certainly damage their group's collective image. Not to mention damaging the women being murdered.
jordan179 From: jordan179 Date: October 19th, 2007 03:53 am (UTC) (Link)
How about the Kingdom of Manticore, from David F. Weber's Honor Harrington series. The Kingdom exists many centuries in the future, is modeled after the 17th-19th century British parliamentary monarchy -- and its royal dynasty is very black-African in color and features. And nobody cares ... racial prejudice has been left so far in the past that the fact that the royal family members are darker-skinned than most of the Manticoreans (who are, in general, brown-skinned) is simply seen as a distinctive family trait.
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