I don't write frequently about race and gender on this blog, though I do think of it. Other people are far more eloquent at this conversation than I am and here are a few good articles I wanted to share.
The importance of casting in breaking sterotypes. Some of the things that have been swirling around in my head about race portrayed in the media, but I haven't been able to articulate. I hope you read it, and think of these same things when you're writing, because fiction is another source from which we learn which dreams are acceptable:
The problem is that actors carry our dreams onto screens with us, and those dreams have power.
If you would just dream a little bigger, we would follow you. While everyone likes looking at gorgeous people, there are a lot of definitions of gorgeous. The way we are represented on screen hold meaning and power and consequences for us. The way we are represented on screen hold meaning and power and consequences for us. You can take risks and still be commercial. If Machete can pass the Bechdel Test, so can you.
And then there's this: On writing female characters, or characters.
The crux of the problem: a female character is seen as female first, a person second. Whereas a male character is seen as person first, male second....Think of action movies: you have the lead guy, the geek guy, maybe the big tough guy, the uber hot guy, the guy of some racial minority and the woman. "Guy" is considered the default gender so it gets subdivided into types. But not "gal". "Gal" IS a type (just as racial minority is a type, but that's a blog post for another time)....
My point: we as authors have been writing about people we aren't for forever. We find a way to empathize, we find a way in. Female characters are no different. All they are are characters. They are people too.
Is "Game of Thrones" too white? Read through to the end. It discusses the impact of Tolkien on Fantasy.
Ultimately, A Song of Ice and Fire, like the Lord of the Rings, is the work of a brilliant and conscientious writer who is nonetheless writing in his own time and place. The United States in 2012 is, far too often, and even with a black president, still a culture rich in racist stereotypes and xenophobic fear-mongering. Expecting a writer to remain entirely unstained by this is expecting a person to live underwater without getting wet. If we still find troubling racial assumptions and caricatures in fantasy – whether on the page, or on the big or small screen — this probably tells us more about our culture-wide problems than it does about a single writer’s, or a single show’s issues. A Song of Ice and Fire is indeed our American Lord of the Rings, and if Westeros has its race problems, they are simply a powerful reflection of America’s.
And lastly, there is no such thing as a good stereotype. On strong female characters as a stereotype, model minorities, and a lot of other good stuff.
“good” stereotypes are dangerous. Not only because so many of them end up encouraging bigotry, but also because they make us complacent. We let the ugly stereotypes slide because we’ve bought into the “good” ones. And if one kind of “brain macro” is OK, why not another?
Stereotypes kill. Even the “good” ones. Stereotypes end careers, or prevent them from ever getting started. Stereotypes hide real discrimination, and excuse real violence. Stereotypes change the fate of nations, usually for the worse.
Its OK to struggle with portraying race or gender in your writing (I do), but it is not acceptable to ignore the issues. I hope you take these posts, read and chew thoroughly. You may not agree with every point, and that's OK. I think its good to be reminded that we need to examine the messages we're sending to the world and to make sure that what we choose to say is intentional.
Writer's always talk about subverting cliche, and like cliche, stereotypes are boring, and lazy. However, stereotypes can also be damaging. Maybe not one story is not enough to do harm, but the messages we hear get layered and reinforced by one another over time. Stories become part of us. They have always been used to explain our world, and our place in it.
Everyone should be allowed to dream, and we writers are architects of dreams.