Diversity Fantasy?

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.

Unimpressed with fake Santa

Unimpressed with “fake” Santa

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?

2 thoughts on “Diversity Fantasy?

  1. Thanks for introducing this important topic. I think the main reason why the stereotypes still exist is because most of us have grown up on a staple of fairy tales written by earlier European storytellers who practiced the tenet of ‘write what you know.’

    Because those stories are so close to people’s hearts, I imagine, most writers tend to write imitations of those characters. After all, it requires extra skill to be able to create something entirely new.

    I do believe that we’re going to see more diversity in future. I would say it takes a writer with skill and confidence to create hitherto unwritten about character types and still endear them to masses.

    George R.R. Martin has managed to make us love Tyrion Lannister and Brienne of Tarth, despite their unusual appearances. I hope to see the same with different ethnicities as well.

    And if no one gives us those characters, we’ll create them, what say?

    • That sounds like a challenge and I would be happy to take up the gauntlets. I do agree that diversity is on the horizon. Children’s programming, for example, has become chock full of diverse characters with accents, handicaps, etc. For some reason it hasn’t trickled up to adult fantasy, perhaps because of the writers or perhaps because of who they think is watching/reading. It’s up to new writers to write themselves into the new fabric of fantasy, I suppose.

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