Saturday, November 30, 2013


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.


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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