Martin Struggles to Explain GoT’s Race Problem

It’s been obvious for sometime now that Game of Thrones has a race problem. HBO, embarrassed by the audience numbers that reflect the lack of persons of color on the show, has made feeble efforts towards trying to close the gap. But they have been about as effective as they are authentic.

Every time this subject comes up, I say the same thing: the problem is baked into the text. Not that the producers have done much to solve the problem in their casting choices. But when you start off televising a story where the continent where the main part of the story is set has no indigenous black populations, you’re already working from a deficit.

game-of-thrones-mhysa-dany

This is why it was so interesting to have someone go straight to the source of the problem to have it addressed.

For those that may not be aware, Martin is still a LiveJournal user, having not made the transition away with the large majority of the American Internet population in the latter half of the last decade. On one of his many update posts, a commenter–identifying herself as a black woman–pointed out how hard it is to have one of her favorite  fantasy stories with no one like her to identify with.

This is, of course, a problem across all factions of entertainment, not limited to GoT. For instance, Marvel just had a movie featuring a Talking Tree and a Raccoon. Yet there is no Falcon movie on the horizon, let alone one that stars a woman of color. (Unless of course, that color is green or blue.) But it’s rare that someone can walk up to the source of the problem and say “Hey, this hurts.” It’s even more rare for there to be a response.

Westeros around 300 AC is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America, of course… but with that being said, I do have some ‘characters of color’ who will have somewhat larger roles in WINDS OF WINTER. Admittedly, these are secondary and tertiary characters, though not without importance.

Of course, I am talking about the books here, and you are talking about the show, which is a thing apart. I do think HBO and [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] are doing what they can to promote diversity as well, as witness the casting of Areo Hotah, which you mention. Of course, Hotah IS a guard… but he is also a viewpoint character in the novels, a brave and loyal warrior.

This pairs with another response to someone asking about the amazing lack of an Asian like populations on Westeros.

Well, Westeros is the fantasy analogue of the British Isles in its world, so it is a long long way from the Asia analogue. There weren’t a lot of Asians in Yorkish England either.

That is not to suggest that such places don’t exist, however. You will want to get THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE when it comes out in October. In the “Other Places” section you will find a lot of material about Yi Ti, the island of Leng, and the plains of the Jogos Nhai, which you may find of interest.

These is a little painful, and probably a good indication why most people would not be responding at all. Because the answers–especially the second one–should set off all bullshit meters. There were no Asian people is Yorkish England. Yes, well, there were no Dragons either. The choice to keep everyone white (or moorish Hispanic white in the case of the Dornishmen) is because that’s what Martin is comfortable with. Clearly he’s not comfortable writing minority characters, as the ones that do appear in the books wear feathers, or are incapable of forming full sentences.

Of course he’s going to stick up for Benioff and Weiss, as he has done in all cases, including when they accidentally turned a sex scene into rape. But the fact is, they’ve stuck faithfully to his text in most places, cutting what does is not integral to the plot. What does it say that that happened to include all the black characters? Not to mention Arienne, the closest thing to a woman of color that had POV chapters? Secondary and tertiary characters, indeed.

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8 thoughts

  1. Dany’s arc is really, really annoying. I hate it. Pretty girl gets what she wants, including Dragons! Everyone else has problems, tons of ’em, — and, more importantly, people to talk to.

    Invoking the white savior trope (and I do NOT care if he’s lampshading it) just makes it worse.

    That said, I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of characters from Essos can speak in full sentences, and do in the books.

    (Can he really get away with saying “not many asians” when his “african” continent has Igbo on it?)

    … People get so upset about this particular show because it mostly doesn’t suck, and it’s fantasy. You see anyone crying tears for Toshiko’s characterization in Torchwood?

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  2. When writers are challenged about this i wish they would just say “Black and brown people just weren’t on my mind and that is my deficiency as a writer” then get better about it. That feels like the truth more than some excuses and telling people wait until this other book comes out. The excuses just keep you from improving, but there’s a good chance some writers don’t want to improve.

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    1. Here’s a link about black people in Martin’s world:
      http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/08/a-read-of-ice-and-fire-a-feast-for-crows-part-25
      They do speak.

      yes, it would be nice if writers were able to admit they were people too. Martin’s got a bit too much hubris about him to do that, which is his flaw and not mine.

      I know an author who flat-out refused to put women in his first few published stories — he didn’t think he had the life-experience to pull women off (in all fairness, he was under the age of majority). Needless to say, he got better (even if he still feels his love scenes are horrid).

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  3. Race problem? Since when has it been a writer’s duty to include all the races of the world in their stories? Your criticism presupposes that one actually believe in the term ‘race’ which probably is a given in a blindly monocultural, very likely a North American context, but many cultures and peoples in the world have no idea about cathegorizing people into races and the entire thing seems absurd to them. To me Westeros was always an analogy of the British Isles, having visited the Isles and having had a look at the people who live there I can safely say that they look the part in the TV series.

    I for one don’t believe in such a thing as ‘race’ and I refuse to cram people in these tiny pigeonholes by the way they look. One single gorilla population has a wider genetical variance than the entire human race which in my eyes renders any and all little skin tone tints and whatnot quite inconsequential.

    As for the black woman’s inability to identify with any character who isn’t a black woman either shows a crippling lack of empathy or a very narrow worldview that expects all the world, fantasy worlds alike, to think in terms of ‘race’. I should know, I have never in my life been able to identify with any character in any story ever.

    What comes to mr. Martin’s supposed need to ‘admit his shortcomings as a writer’ I think he’s doing the right thing no matter if he heeds the allegations of having a ‘race problem’ or not, because it’s his work and his fantasy and if this is his vision then nobody else should have a say in it. The only shortcomings we have as writers are the ones that prevent us from realizing our visions into words, listening to possible problems other people bring about our work is optional.

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    1. Oh be quiet…

      Everything on Tv, in movies, in books in magazines is ostly that -white.

      I wonder if your thoughts would be the same if 90 percent of the books you read, the movies you watched and whatnot had black, asian or even indian characters int hem – would you take your own advice?

      There’s nothing bad in wanting to see some of your own people included, doesn´t make you pathetic.

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      1. Thanks man. It’s cool to see someone stand for diversity. However, as a black person, I do think there’s a time and place. If the writer put lands where people of color are prevalent, fine. They can experiment with the locale and the story. For example, the Witcher series are based on Slavic myths, but that didn’t stop the writer from making a place called Zerrikinia, with a culture that seems to based on Indian/African mythology. In the third game, they could add more characters of color because of this.

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      2. Thanks man. It’s cool to see someone stand for diversity. However, as a black person, I do think there’s a time and place. If the writer put lands where people of color are prevalent, fine. They can experiment with the locale and the story. For example, the Witcher series are based on Slavic myths, but that didn’t stop the writer from making a place called Zerrikinia, with a culture that seems to based on Indian/African mythology. In the third game, they could add more characters of color because of this.

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  4. “As for the black woman’s inability to identify with any character who isn’t a black woman either shows a crippling lack of empathy …”
    Lol, oh the irony. How about you empathise with a black woman who has had to grow up surrounded by media that does not represent her at all. Yeh, I’m sure it’s her crippling lack of empathy that she couldn’t relate to a barbie doll either.

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