Saturday, November 30, 2013

Brave

There has been a discussion online about the lack of people of color in the Pixar movie Brave. The movie is set in an imaginary version of medieval Scotland, so I didn't notice the lack. But it would have been easy to fix. Have one of the suitors be mixed race, with a one line explanation. "His mum washed up on shore after a shipwreck." This actually happened in Scotland. A Portuguese ship broke up off shore, and a black woman was rescued. She was taken to the king, who made her a lady of the court and held a tournament in her honor. The story is from Basil Davidson, and it's later than the period of the movie. Still, a ship with PoC could have broken up off Scotland in the middle ages. The suitors are all sort of idiots, but in a broad comedy most of characters are going to be idiots in one way or another.

One problem is Hollywood's need to take up only one issue at a time. The heroine of Brave is a tomboy and a genuine hero, who acts. The movie is focused on a mother-daughter relationship, which I can really relate to. My mother often reminded me of a bear. And the movie passes the Bechdel test: two women talk about something other than a man. It would be asking a lot of Hollywood to add in race. I'm not saying we shouldn't ask, but Hollywood really does have a hard time dealing with more than one issue at a time.

Back in the late 1960s, I wrote a 65 page poem set in the world of Spenser's Faerie Queene, and I set myself a rule. The characters had to be equally female and male. Each time I introduced new character, I checked the list of characters. If I was short females, the new character was female. If I was short males, the new character was male. I also tried to make the good and bad characters equally female and male. I did this to break the habit of making characters male. It had to be this mechanical, because -- having grown up on SF and comics and TV -- men were the default sex. After that, it became easier and more natural to introduce women. Instead, I worked on introducing people of color, with mixed success. Readers have told me that they imagine the human protagonist of A Woman of the Iron People as white. Her name is Li Li-xia, which I would think is a clue.

I guess I'm arguing that one should make an effort to create diverse characters, and in a novel or short story, one may need to hammer in the fact that characters are not white.

2 Comments:

Blogger John Till said...

Is your Spenser poem available anywhere?

It is so nice to see some who remembers Basil Davidson. His TV series on Africa was the best.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Laura Morrigan said...

I love how Holly Black and Cassandra Clare's stories have people of different races and sexualities, I especially like that she has Asian characters, which I feel are still pretty rare in those kind of stories.

I find introducing characters of other races a bit difficult (although it's worth it, of course), as you have to sort of find a way to describe them as looking different, or reference their race, otherwise everyone assumes they are white. I would love to know if you have any suggestions on that.

12:44 AM  

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