Friday, November 11, 2011

Geography, Learn it, Use it, Understand it.

Having just got done reading Dodai Stewart's otherwise well thought out article on Jezabel about why modern reinterpretations of fairy tales have such an aversion to casting non white cast members.. This quote really annoyed me, I mean beyond the obvious notion of why would a dark skinned lady be called "Snow White"...

"Last year around this time, an actress went to a casting call and was told she was too brown to be a Hobbit. It's infuriating to think that a world that includes orcs, elves and dragons cannot include brown-skinned people."

First of all, just to get this out there. Middle-earth has "Brown-skinned people". However, here is the rub. Racial groups do not just randomly spring up in various proportions on the globe without human agency being involved. Even if you have only seen the Peter Jackson films, you know Middle Earth has a variety of skin tones amongst its human population. The problem is that they are geographically isolated from 'The west' by Mordor and a couple of big darn deserts. You don't just get Hobbits with a bunch of different 'races'.. because Hobbits are a 'Race' unto themselves. Its highly unlikely there are a bunch of white people roaming around in Rhun or Far Harad either, and if they are they are almost certainly evil men who sided with Mordor and have simply been living their ever since the fall of Numenor.

If you look at Howard's Hyboria, there is far greater transit between the various ethnic groups present. You might find a Kushite in Shem, and you might find a Cimmerian in Shem, But you wouldn't find a Black Cimmerian anymore than you would find a White Kushite. Unless there is some human agency at work to shift people from one place to another, or an enterprising person decides to up and move themselves, manages to fit in and become part of a pre-existing community.. I suppose it could happen.. its just not very likely.

When this is done, like it was in Willow, Though this isn't to say that some where there isn't an entire group of black Nelwyns or a close relative of them. Or the BBC's recent Robin Hood series, it tends to look extremely forced and done simply to avoid the PC police's notice. They make fun of it on South Park by actually naming the one black kid at the school 'Token'. Let us be honest with ourselves here. If it weren't for the transatlantic slave trade it's very likely the very idea of having a massive multi-cultural milieu would be considered the norm. Japan, China, and the various eastern countries where there was no African slave trade are for the most part homogenous, or at least homogenous to western eyes. And were it not for human agency (empire, immigration, commonwealth) England,would just as Homogenous as Japan is. So why would you expect their to be a variety of colours of hobbits when their is no evidence of their ever being hobbits in a climate where having dark skin would make evolutionary sense?

Is it seriously coming down to this, that despite all we know of evolution and anthropology we are simply supposed to believe that dark skinned people would just naturally appear in Norway? Why would evolution do that? What possible reason would it have?

Yes, its annoying and frustrating and I'm sure infuriating that Hollywood doesn't produce more fantasy fair with non white casts. Even when they adapt a property such as Earthsea or the last Airbender they tend to white-wash the cast, this is unacceptable and I think morally repugnant. I'd just about kill to see Imaro on the big screen. But the answer for this injustice is not forcing middle earth to have a random "brown" hobbit. Fantasy as a genre is more than capable of having heroes, heroines, villains, villagers, or city dwellers of any culture or colour imaginable. But if the Geography as laid out in the story precludes it, then accept it and move on.


Martin said...

That woman is just another armchair critic who's misread LOTR.

Lagomorph Rex said...

That is true, but doesn't explain why people seem so infuriatingly reluctant to understand that the multicultural milieu in which we in The West live today is a very recent development. Sure they can point to the occasional African in the Roman legions serving in Scotland.. but thats hardly comparable to the immigration numbers today.

It seems to be a reluctance, cheifly to accept, that human agency is responsible for these people being where they are.. and presenting a world in which they aren't makes some people feel uncomfortable, since they have constructed a delusion to allow them to feel no responsibility.

Living in the south in the US, I feel this keenly whenever anyone complains about "The Blacks".. and I think to myself.. if your ancestors hadn't have been inhuman and greedy they wouldn't be here.. so do try and make the best of the situation.

I suppose ultimately what I'm trying to convey is, Unlike Dwarves, dark skinned peoples don't just spring out of holes in the ground.. despite what people would like to think.