Colour in Earthsea

Via Raph Koster’s blog, I came across an essay about minority racial representation in science fiction and fantasy, specifically regarding The Legend of Earthsea series for the SciFi channel and how Hollywood had changed the race of the cast of characters. In the show, they are white. Koster notes that Goro Miyazaki’s film, Tales From Earthsea, also features an all-white cast. In the books by Ursula K. Le Guin, the heroes are black, and the baddies are white.

Pam Noles writes about her passion for science fiction and fantasy and her experience of being a minority in the fandom:

Why do you love a thing that won’t even let you exist within their made up worlds?

How many other FoPs (Fans of Pigment) were driven to tears by this question they could not answer, despite painful struggles to do so? Am I the only FoP forced to develop a veneer of denial in order to function at the gaming tournaments, at the conventions other than the comic book fest in San Diego, or while watching “Buffy” and wondering if The Hollywood People who had ever actually been to Sunnyvale? Because, you know, if they had, there’d be five Asian/Pacific Islanders and at least three Latinos in the background. Am I the only FoP who was reduced to searching the people in the background because the people in the foreground were always a given? Am I the only one to wonder why the Los Angeles of “Angel” looked a lot like the New York City of Woody Allen’s films?

I can’t call myself a “Fan of Pigment” with a straight face. WTF. However, she makes a lot of good points. She writes as if this “veneer of denial” is a conscious act. It’s not. You don’t (at least I didn’t) consciously think about the fact that there are no Asians, or rather they aren’t present in large numbers, in Buffy’s Sunnydale, despite the fact that California has one of the higest populations of Asians, in the United States. I have grown so used to consuming media containing racially homogenous casts, that that this fact hardly registers. When I was an avid viewer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, I never questioned the lack of Asians or other minorities. I guess I’ve become so used to being excluded (at least in terms of race) in the media that it doesn’t bother me. It’s interesting that, on a personal level, I am more sensitive to sexism and homophobia, but less sensitive to racism.

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  5 comments for “Colour in Earthsea

  1. 12 April 2006 at 12:41

    One of my favorite observations from Noles re: the veneer of denial is about Firefly. It’s a whole sci-fi series where Mandarin is used as a vernacular language by Black and White characters, with hanzi plastered all over.

    So where are all the Asians? A show with that much Chinese “influence” and not even a token Asian in the main cast? Damn.

  2. 12 April 2006 at 12:50

    I’m borrowing Firefly, and I wondered the same thing. I’m like WTF. Where are all the Chinese? If they use Mandarin so much, I am assuming it’s because it’s a trade language (because my theory is that China in the Firefly world had become a super-superpower), then where are the Asians? If Mandarin has risen to such prominence amongst non-Asians in the universe of Firefly, then where are all the prominent Asian/Chinese traders? Why aren’t Mal and company dealing with powerful Asian trading organisations?

    Are Americans the only ones that made it out into the frontiers of space in large numbers? Where are the remnants of other cultures? Where did they colonise?

    Also, am still trying to get over the whole “Western in space” thing.

  3. 12 April 2006 at 13:26

    One could, frankly, argue that omitting Asian characters from the western-in-space motif is a pretty big omission in and of itself. Labor by immigrants from Japan and China built large portions of the West and North-west, railroads particularly, if memory serves.

  4. 13 April 2006 at 07:37

    I actually thought Le Guin stated in a fairly terse response to the Earthsea series that many of the characters were mulatto or more “complicated” pigments.

    Same outcome, however. I don’t find myself usually too awful worked up about this, unless the character in question really calls for race (like say, Othello). Curiously, though, I swapped out the race of a character in The Case Of Randolph Carter because I didn’t want to be cliche.

  5. 6 July 2006 at 18:21

    Well, Ged the main character was actually supposed to be more of a Native American in terms of looks, and that really did bum me out seeing a scrawny run of the mill white kid when after reading the books I had a majorly ingrained image of Ged being Native American.

    Besides the fact that race wasn’t taken seriously, neither was the original plot! They butchered it….

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