Friday, January 13, 2006

Pam Noles has written an amazing essay

about race and science fiction/fantasy, prompted in particular by the heavy dependence on white actors in television adaptation of Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books (whose characters are mostly brown). Here's the link for the essay, "Shame", and I've pasted in the first few paragraphs to give you a taste:

Back then there was UHF and VHF, and you had to manipulate two different dials on the tv to make the channels come in. That's where they put 'Star Trek' and 'Space: 1999,' and on weekend afternoons ran movies like 'Colossus: The Forbin Project.' On Saturday nights The Ghoul would take over, a spazz in a lab coat and shock of frizzy blond wig, showing 'Voyage the to Bottom of the Sea' but with added sound effects of flushing toilets. In between, he'd take his puppet friend Froggy and stuff him into a huge vat of SPAM, maybe, then blow the whole thing up. Over on one of the regular channels, late Friday night belonged to Houlihan and Big Chuck, who mostly showed horror movies. In between scenes they ran skits about 'Soulman', the black superhero, or about 'a certain ethnic' who loved polka, or a woman named Bertha Butt, whose butt was so big it could catch the rain. After Houlihan found God and went to Florida, Big Chuck was joined by Little John. A new skit was added: 'Fallacy Island,' with Little John as Cuckoo and Big John as Mr. Roarke. Little John also made a great caveman, and with a blonde wig he was the cutest little girl with a beard you've ever seen.

Usually it would be just me in the basement sprawled on the floor surrounded by snacks, Legos and books to read during the commercials. If he was off shift, sometimes Dad would come down and join me in his leather recliner by the stairs. Every once in a while Mom called down from the kitchen Are you letting her watch those weird things? And we'd lie in unison, No.

If she came down to check for herself, Dad would get in trouble.

Dad had his own names for the movies.

What's this? 'Escape to a White Planet?

It's called 'When Worlds Collide.' I'm sure I sounded indignant.

'Mars Kills the White People.' I love this one.

Daaaaad. It says it right there. 'War of the Worlds'. I know I sighed heavily, but was careful to turn back to the tv before rolling my eyes.

Once he asked me which was more real, the movie or the skits between. I didn't get it, and told him that they were both stories, so they were both fake. He didn't bring it up again until a skit came on. I can't remember if it was a 'Soulman' skit or one of the caveman gags (the cavemen were multicultural — basic white, Polish, Italian, and black). But I remember Dad saying, how come you never see anybody like that in the stories you like? And I remember answering, maybe they didn't have black people back then. He said there's always been black people. I said but black people can't be wizards and space people and they can't fight evil, so they can't be in the story. When he didn't say anything back I turned around. He was in full recline mode in his chair and he was very still, looking at me. He didn't say anything else.

And here's a good post by Nalo Hopkinson on the Earthsea matter and related topics.

(Thanks to Neil Gaiman for the link.)

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