For a body of media that seems fixated on different avenues of
oppression, the Harry Potter series is seriously lacking when it comes
to actual diversity and oppression that doesn’t revolve around magical
beings. Seriously, just about everything’s a metaphor for some form of
oppression or some facet of a marginalized identity.
If you’re looking for allegories about human rights and racism shown
through a lens of magical humans and magical species, cool. That’s what
If you’re actually looking for nuanced interpretations of how race,
power, and privilege intersect and affect each other in a world of
magic, maybe look somewhere else.
Sadly, this is still super relevant considering that JKR puts more thought into fleshing out fictional creatures in her works than she does into the mere notion that N. America (especially the United States) isn’t the UK 2.0 –
Or you know… the idea that using actual religious and cultural symbols from Native American cultures is disrespectful.
I’m not going to call myself a James Bond expert or anything so very trite, but I did spend most of last year (and a huge chunk of this year) both having intense opinions on the James Bond film franchise to anyone that would listen and writing an in-depth article series for The Mary Sue about the movies. It’s pretty fair to say that I get the film franchise better than the average non-Bond blogger.
That’s why I’m pretty uninterested in the idea of casting yet another vaguely attractive white guy in the role.
when people say that your films are white, the proper response is not to say “well, the context doesn’t demand racial diversity” like that’s the most absurd concept i’ve ever heard!! it’s a complete falsehood
there are poc in your nowhere ass small towns, there were poc in 1950s hollywood, there are poc in london and paris, there are poc in the military, there are poc in space programs
if your movie is set in medieval times, i better see some poc. if your movie is set in a fictional solar system, i better see some poc. if your movie is set in post-apocalyptic siberia, i better see some poc
Explicit Jewish representation in secondary-world fantasy
It’s not only possible but I’ve done it, in four books and several short stories. Perach, the made-up setting of A Harvest of Ripe Figs and my other books, is an imaginary Jewish Florida originally created out of my realization that if I wanted a queer Jewish Disney Princess, I was gonna have to invent her myself. (“Perach”, meaning flower, is my attempt at translating the word ‘Florida’ into Hebrew.)
The Jewishness of the characters is evident in their casual observance of Shabbat (there are usually pretty detailed Shabbat scenes in each book, since it happens every week), on-screen celebration of Pesach (Passover), Sukkot (in the next book, coming July 2016), and other holidays, and in the Yiddish spoken by the two transplant characters, warrior woman Rivka and wizard Isaac, who come from a vaguely Polish-German unnamed northern area far away.
The wine blessing on Shabbat, with the addition of a little wizard mischief
Here are some relevant quotes from my books. Take note of how I wove in cultural details that are normal experiences for me or my loved ones in the real world, translated into a sort of “Disney princess inspired” fantasy setting. Many of these techniques can be used if your fantasy setting’s Jewish characters are just walk-ons instead of leads; you can have a random man wearing a kippah or a woman who isn’t participating in the local religious tradition because she has her own.
The introduction of a challah that [Queen] Shulamit could actually eat caused quite the stir at the dinner table. Rivka’s mother Mitzi, who like many people had never entirely believed the queen’s claims of food-related sensitivities, asked the same questions over and over until everyone was relieved when Isaac just held up his hand and said, “Magic. It’s magic.”
“Oh, all right,” she said vaguely. “It’s not going to hurt me, is it?”
Another reference to the queen’s wheat problem, this time at the royal seder two months after she gave birth to the princess (Climbing the Date Palm):
“On all other nights, we eat all kinds of bread–” Here [Isaac] met the eyes of the queen, and chuckled sheepishly. “We would eat all kinds of bread, if we could,” he ad-libbed. From behind the look of harried happiness that enveloped her constantly in these early days of motherhood, she gave him a crooked grin. “And tonight, we eat only this stuff.” He held up a matzo cracker, and Naomi’s tiny hand waved in its direction.
“See that, little one?” Farzin murmured through a jolly smirk. “Someday, you, too, will be able to eat cardboard.”
Rivka in a foreign port town, about to enter a tournament to rescue a damsel in distress (who turns out to be a fellow Jew once they finally meet) (“Rivka in Port Saltspray” from Tales from Outer Lands):
There was a blast of trumpets, and then someone shouted, “Silence for the invocation!”
Rivka felt vaguely out of place as everyone else around her lowered their eyes respectfully and listened as a brass band began to play a local hymn. She knew this part of the world worshipped a pantheon of fascinatingly dysfunctional gods, at least, if the stories she’d picked up were any indication. Rivka usually didn’t care, but right now, when everyone else around her was engaged in group prayer, she felt her difference rather pointedly.
Her eyes happened to flicker over to the captive woman on the dais and noticed that she wasn’t praying, either.
At the very beginning of their friendship, a newly orphaned Baby Queen is confiding in her new bodyguard (from The Second Mango, and this scene is based on my own grieving for my father, who passed away in 2010):
Shulamit nodded, shifting positions within Rivka’s embrace so she could wipe her face clean. “Everyone around me, when they were mourning him, it was so wonderful to be surrounded by people who were sad about the same thing I was because I wasn’t alone, but it was also jarring because they were all talking about him as king, not as a father. When we put his kippah into the museum, everyone was talking about how much money it was worth and the embroidery by some famous artist and how it was a national relic, and all this – but I was just thinking of Shabbat, and seders, and – and it didn’t mean any of those things to me. It meant lighting candles. It meant he’d hid the afikomen in the palace for me and joking with his advisors as he waited around for me to find it so he could give me a new book. National treasure? I–” She blinked away new tears, but this time the look on her face was one of indignation.
Shabbat out in the wilderness, using “the sunset” as candles
You’d be right to be a little skeptical of a secondary world fantasy including real-world Judaism, because where did we escape from in the Passover story if there’s no Egypt? Who wrecked our stuff in the Chanukah story if there’s no Greece? To this I’d say: don’t squint at it too hard. For me, the ability to give myself and my readers a Jewish queen, Jewish warrior woman, Jewish wizard, fairy tales that normalize our lives and to show queer and blended families worshipping as we do in real life but with magic and palaces and swordfighting, too – that’s just way more important to me than making sure my worldbuilding is completely logical.
My main advice about this for someone not-Jewish is to repeat my preference for explicit Jewishness (rather than vague symbolic coding with room for plausible deniability or relies on one possibly insulting facet of our existence or reputation to stand for all of us) carries into secondary-world fantasy. If your MC’s aren’t Jewish it’s okay to say “and there are Jewish merchants over there” or “she lived in a little house across the street from where the Jewish neighborhood started”, or if you don’t want to use the words, having people be at rest from sundown to sundown one day a week or avoiding mixing meat and dairy might be a recognizable shortcut that’s a lot more literal and specific than phenotypes (which can be shared by many other cultures and often have Unfortunate Implications in fantasy lit) or reductive stuff about wandering far away from one’s homeland (which, again, is not specific to us.)
Remember, if a queen sitting down to a royal seder presided over by a wizard, or talking about how annoyed she is that she can’t eat sufganiyot (jelly donuts) at Chanukah any more because of her wheat problems, sounds too specific to you – that’s what existing fantasy lit has taught you, not the way reality works. Reality is that we all deserve our fairy tales, and fantasy as a genre is big enough and wonderful enough to have room for me and my folks, too. Harry Potter celebrates Christmas, after all.
If you’re Jewish and want to write stuff like mine, then you already know what to do. If you feel like you can’t, that’s the voice of marginalization lying to you. Create what’s in your heart and if you can think of a way to explain the worldbuilding better than I did, I wish you luck 🙂
Isaac’s rainbow-pride magic and rephrasing of Haggadah text replaces the typical lamb’s blood (or in my case, red yarn) put on doorways during Passover as protection
Artwork credit on this post: @theloserfish, @kayaczek-draws (Kiddush)
I wish we could do away with this whole idea that POC (and/or any marginalized people) should only be represented if “the specific story needs them.” Not only does that ignore the multiple times stories that could portray our presence in historical events or movements have been minimized, erased, or white-washed, but it continues to perpetuate the idea of “white people as the default.”
White people are allowed to be anywhere and everywhere for no reason at anytime, but an Asian man or Afro-Latinx woman better be able to explain why they’re here. We shouldn’t always have to justify our existence.
Yes, some of our experiences are specific to our races, cultures, ethnicities, classes, etc. But every story with a person of color does not always have to be about race or culture. Our lives aren’t always about “The Struggle.” We fall in and out love, fight, cry, navigate awkward friendships, tell stupid jokes, eat cereal, talk back to the TV, lose our keys, and get into wacky mischief to combat boredom, just like everyone else. I don’t “need” to be black to do any of that stuff, I simply am a black girl.
We can be the faces of universal stories, too.
Like I said on twitter yesterday, the idea of “organic” diversity and representation is bullshit. Marginalized people aren’t produce like…
When creators go “I don’t want to just shove diversity in my work, it has to be *organic* and fit the story,” what they’re saying is that they created a world where marginalized people aren’t people to them and they don’t want to confess that.
Organic and trickle down diversity are two sides of a coin devoted to keeping marginalized people out of stories until the last possible and acceptable moment.
Three of the four women who show up in Agent Carter season two/episode two and have dialogue. I’m finally starting to grasp the idea that the writers and showrunners on Agent Carter view intersectional feminism as a great myth. I’m also clear on the fact that fandom feels the same way. Last year, when Agent Carter came out in January, it was heralded as this fantastic show for women, womenhood,…