The premiere of the fantasy series The Lord of The Rings: The Rings of Power, has brought out the same haters that usually show up when a series, movie, or television show that is based on famous novels makes their premier.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series is set in what he calls Middle Earth, is inhabited by dwarves, wizards, talking trees, goblins, trolls, orcs, dragons, hobbits, ghosts, giant wolves, eight-story tall elephants, giant spiders and jackrabbits, and bowling balls used as communication devices.
But a Black Elf or Dwarf is unbelievable to some white fans of the series.
The haters showed up when the Wheel of Time fantasy series, written by Robert Jordan, premiered earlier this year on Amazon Prime and has women who wield and channel the One Power which allow them to move things, control people, project images, and use as weapons. The series has haunted cities, people who can communicate with wolves, a world power controlled by women, reincarnation, women who run spy networks and the military, and a dark lord influencing events, possessing followers, and manipulating world events to set up his reincarnation.
But a few Black magical women is far too much for some white fans of the series.
Frank Herbert’s Dune series of books were made into a movie that captures the trials and tribulations of a messiah who was brought about by witches who manipulated breeding for hundreds of years and many generations to inherit the role. The movie features space travel, force fields, mind-control, floatation devices, sand worms larger than aircraft carriers, genetic manipulation, and interplanetary war.
But a Black sister is too far-fetched for some white viewers.
Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series finally made its long-awaited debut on Apple TV, in what many regard as the literal foundation of science fiction. The series features a ten-thousand-year-old galactic empire, a space elevator that takes fourteen hours to ascend and descend, the ability to fold space for galaxy-wide travel, “psychohistory” that can predict the future, interplanetary war, and four-hundred-year empiric dynasty that is in the control of the clones of the emperor who first united the empire.
But multiple Black women characters central to the story, along with other WOC with significant story arcs, is too unbelievable for some white viewers.
And, finally, Disney/Marvel’s television series She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, and Hawkeye/Kate Bishop debuted recently to the usual hatred from the same tired complainers. She-Hulk is an attorney who is also a giant green woman who is one of the strongest heroes on the planet. The series shows her pulling up and throwing trees and giant boulders, jumping hundreds of feet into the air, crashing through cement walls, and changing into the Hulk at will – something her cousin The Hulk cannot do. She works for a law firm that specializes in defending heroes and villains.
Ms. Marvel is a teenager who lives in New Jersey, is Pakistani Muslim, and who can manipulate matter to form force fields, project and manipulate energy, and who fights beings, the Jinn, who are from another dimension.
And Kate Bishop is another teen who takes up the bow and arrow of her hero, Hawkeye. The series shows the teenager wielding the bow and arrow with expert precision, taking on organized crime, ziplining between buildings, and using her detective skills and specialized arrows.
Because these three heroes are a woman, two teenagers, one Muslim teen, the fan boys hate each of the series.
The breadth and depth of the fantasy and science-fiction world-building is impressive, scary, immersive, scary, hopeful, frightening, and often spectacular in its scope and scale.
With every release of a new science-fiction or fantasy series, whether original or newly created material, there’s one thing that will always happen: Racists and misogynists show up to tell you how awful the series/movie is, how terrible it is that Black folk are present in *any role, how derivative the women and girls are, and how the showrunners ruined their childhood or manhood by changing “their” beloved series.
The rest of us who embrace representation work to drown out their hatred by promoting the positive attributes of the movie/series and pointing out that, actually, the character is part of canon, and/or just better in the new interpretation.
The joy thieves are loud and get national coverage for their nonstop whining and complaining.
Somehow through all of the above detailed fantastical settings and magic, imaginative creatures and magic, and marvelously interpreted superheroes and abilities, the line in the sand that far too many white people can’t accept Black people in any role in any science-fiction and fantasy series.
Just because their favorite writer decided that only or mostly white people would occupy their story doesn’t mean their story cannot be improved, expanded, and made better by including Black folk and people of color in key roles with complete story arcs.
It is also not our fault that your beloved writers could not imagine a story no matter how far flung in the future, in space on another planet, in a middle earth, or in a galaxy far, far away, continue to have such a limited imagination that they can only imagine that a white man will always be in charge.
Because we know that no matter the dystopian world, be it zombies, vampires, augmented humans, robots, or talking apes, and no matter how that dystopian world came about, either purposely or by accident, there will always be a white man in charge of the survivors because the writers cannot imagine any other possibility.
Correction, they will write a white savior boy and occasionally a white savior girl -both who need the help of a white man, wizard, sage, warrior, or mentor to convince her to “Use her powers” that she very often does not want to use because she “Just wants to be normal.”
The limited imaginations of many white fantasy and science-fiction writers has created an audience of white male readers, gameplayers, and viewers, who are first shocked to see Black people in their favorite television or movie adaptation, but then their shock turns into anger which shows itself by “Review bombing” series with Black or people of color actors.
And the vitriol is heightened if the Black or person of color actor is in a lead or lead-adjacent role.
They attack the actors which has caused actors to quit series, stop promoting the series, and vow to never work in said series again.
John Boyega who played AWOL stormtrooper Finn in the most recent Star Wars series has spoken loudly about the racism directed at him over the years he was affiliated with the space series. He vowed never to return to Star Wars, saying he didn’t need the series, its fanboy racists, or the poorly written ever changing miswritten character.
Likewise, Kelly Marie Tran’s Star Wars character, Rose Tico, was beloved by Asian people and other people of color who loved the bold and brave Rose the world over but loathed by white fans who could not imagine an Asian woman as a hero, as a love interest, and as a character with a story arc that didn’t involve being a sexy assassin.
Like with Boyega, the directors destroyed her character and gave in to the anti-Asian hate by ending her character development and making her a background character by the time the final movie of the series was released.
The fans hated Bree Larson as Captain Marvel and hated how she was properly written to be the most powerful superhero. They hated Gal Gadot Wonder Woman because of her body shape, among other misogynistic excuses.
Fan boys will hate everything, as you can see, but most of all they will hate blackness in any form.
Even if that form is Death itself.
Neil Gaiman’s wonderful and highly regarded comic-book series, The Sandman, was made into a highly acclaimed Netflix series that was the global number one series when it was released last month.
The series is serious, lush, well written and acted, and remains true to the comic books on which it is based. It has multiple Black women in important roles and independent storylines, and who talk to each other without any white characters around.
And it has almost an entire episode that is groundbreaking in its portrayal of death, grief, and the afterlife. The episode is done with deft direction and award-winning acting by Kirby Howell-Baptiste who delivers the performance that will win awards. Howell-Baptiste as Death brings viewers along as she visits death upon people in different situations that include accidents, old age, young age, and others who face death head on.
It is the best portrayal of the character of Death and of dying this writer has ever seen.
So even when a writer expands his universe as Gaiman did in his comics, and which he approved with the television series, the white fanboys lose their shit because, again, they had to look at a Black person acting in a fictional world they want to be all white.
Wishing for white utopia and white saviors in popular culture movies and television shows is the same tired old ignorance and lies that fuel white supremacy.
The fan boy’s hatred is neither original or unique, and their whining like spoiled children, review bombing movies and series led by Black folk, and people of color actors is a desperate and failing attempt to re-center themselves when the rest of us have decided that we enjoy finally being centered.
It is a silly crusade against the tides moving the global economy and global audiences. Movie studios cannot survive by catering to only one demographic any longer. Shareholders don’t care that the hero is exclusively white, cis, male, Christian, and American.
All that matters is the money, the returns on investments, and distributing their movies around the world to an audience that is made up of people of all colors, genders, and ages.
And it goes further to include all spectrums of sexuality, all religions, differently abled people, and people from all walks of life, as it should because that is the way to ensure the largest viewing audience, gameplayers, and book purchasers.
It is precisely because movie studios have begun making movies with people who represent the rest of the nation and world, that the rest of us want and expect more movies and books with characters who look like us. It not only in the right thing to do, but it is also the most profitable to do.
And remember, we are not talking about the majority of movies but a subset that is treated as if it is “most movies.”
But it is said when you are used to being centered one hundred percent of the time, being centered ninety nine percent of the time falsely feels like oppression.
People so enamored with hating fantasy and science-fiction movies that are finally somewhat inclusive, they look right past the fact that the vast majority of characters in fantasy and science-fiction movies and television shows are still white, and mostly white men.
White men still have the most roles, most speaking parts, and are the majority of directors, producers, showrunners, casting agents, photography, lighting, special effects, voiceovers for animation, location scouts, wardrobe, design, soundtrack, and award winners.
And of course, in almost all the fantasy and science-fiction movies and television shows, white men are the heroes, saviors, problem solvers, best with swords, magic, lightsabers, hammers, shields, sorcery, and technology, and have the most speaking parts and are the key protagonists most of the time.
The drive to exclude everyone else is probably so strong because most only learned about ancient mythology from Greece and Rome, were only required to read white authors in school, only had white teachers and professors, only living among white people, only watched fantasy and science fiction movies and television that centered whiteness. With that background, being asked to face the rest of the nation and world which is majority people of color, might seem scary at first.
Trust me though, it isn’t scary at all. In fact, it can be fun, rewarding, aspirational, exciting, and heartwarming.
I grew up watching the old black and white Superman television show. I enjoyed Wonder Woman, Shazam, and Isis television shows, too.
I watched Christopher Reeves and did in fact “Believe a man could fly” as the advertisement said I would.
I waited over four hours in line to watch the original Star Wars and devoured every Star Trek rerun until the subsequent Star Trek series – every iteration- were launched decades later.
I stole the Lord of the Rings books from my local bookstore when I was twelve because I had read my older brother’s school issued copy of The Hobbit.
And, like millions of others, I read Dune, Foundation, 2001, Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, and many other now classic works of fantasy and science-fiction. And, like you, I read all the comics I could get my hands on while I waited to hope one day my favorite heroes would get the big screen treatment.
And you know what? Never once did I get mad watching the shows and reading the books that often exclusively showcased white men, and to a much lesser degree white women.
Folk like me didn’t review bomb, or attack shows and actors.
We bought the books, watched the television series, and went to the movies – just like you did.
But now that we have representation – and let’s be honest, it’s not that much – we aren’t going backwards. Those days are over.
And that is a good thing. Embrace it.
You will love Wakanda Forever, which has Black, Indigenous, and Mexican actors. You’ll can love The Rock as Black Adam.
You can love the new Lord of the Rings and its diverse cast of outstanding actors, as well as you love the Game of Throne prequels that tepidly begin addressing the racial exclusion issues from the original series that were awful – you will recall the original series only Black characters were neutered slaves bought by a white lady who then sent them to die on the front lines of a war having nothing to do with them or their land.
See? Many of us weren’t happy with that depiction, just like many women were upset with the excessive number of inappropriate /abusive sex scenes.
Listen, no one is saying all fantasy or science-fiction television series or movies are above criticism because they aren’t. What we are saying is if your criticism is exclusively about a Black character not being “cannon” or a woman of any color learning too fast, or that you can accept green monsters, faster than light speed, or a magical hammer made by a Norse god, but you cannot accept a green She-Hulk or Muslim girl who can control light-energy, then you don’t have a problem with cannon, you’re just racist and misogynist and need to get over yourself.
Stories don’t have to be catered exclusively to you. Characters can change, plot points can be updated, and new characters can be introduced.
Failing those things and if you just cannot find it in your character to enjoy fantasy and science fiction that isn’t centered on your specific sensibilities, you always have the option of not watching.
© 2022 by Myron J. Clifton and Dear Dean Publishing. All Rights Reserved.
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Myron J. Clifton is slightly older than fifty, lives in Sacramento, California, and is an avid Bay Area sports fan. He likes comic books, telling stories about his late mom to his beloved daughter Leah, and talking to his friends.
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