I remember being 4 or 5 and going to get my picture taken with Santa. My uncle took me and I didn’t want to stand in the Macy’s line, so we went elsewhere. I don’t think I was concerned with telling Santa what was on my list or even meeting the man, himself. All I knew was that I had on a cute outfit and would get my picture taken. After waiting in a line shorter than the one at Macy’s, I finally had my chance to indulge my vanity. But there was a problem. I had been lied to by my family.
We came home, my uncle and I, with a photo. In it, I was stiff and frowning. When my mother asked why I didn’t smile, I promptly replied “Santa Claus no es negro. Santa Claus es blanco.” My mother and other relatives who heard the story and saw the picture laughed to hear my explanation of how I didn’t smile because the real Santa Claus is white. Inadvertently, I had stumbled upon an idea that led me to this post.
Later, when I was a little older, I played pretend with a friend. Snow White had just been re-released. It was as good a pretend game as any. It took a turn, however, when I said I wanted to play Snow White. My friend turned to me and without malice said “You can’t play Snow White. You’re not white.” I didn’t know what to say to that, but we moved on to some other game.
Put together, it just sounds like some funny anecdotes from my childhood, but I’m betting I wasn’t the only one to have this experience. Despite myriad options to watch and read in fantasy, it has remained a rather uni-ethnic genre. Like Friends, uni-ethnic! I don’t want to soapbox, but what’s up with that?
Why in fantasy–where the limit is the entire spectrum of imagination–does the world look basically white?
There are exceptions–like BBC imports that practice colorblind casting—but very little to reflect all of us. Is it out of the realm of possibility for fantasy movies and TV to imagine a protagonist that isn’t northern European? I know our collective consciousness is based on fairy tales and fables from Germany and England, but they were meant to reflect the public at large. Now that we embrace revisionist mythology, fractured fairy tales if you will, shouldn’t we revamp the picture?
Rapunzel can be an African-American girl with super strong weave.
Jack the Giant Killer could be strong, brave, and gay.
Cinderella could be looking for the perfect pair of glass shoes to fit her size thirteen feet, supporting her plus-size frame.
Maybe Snow White could be Hispanic.
In that reality, maybe a girl would smile if she sat on Black Santa’s lap.
I would love to hear from other readers and writers about diversity in fantasy. Have you seen a book, TV show or movie that reflects our new world geared towards teens or adults?