Like most people when I heard about the new project from the showrunners of Game of Thrones, my reaction was WTF. My reaction is based on the objectification that occurs from the first episode of GoT, not so much from the project itself. Then as a fellow member of an online group pointed out, we don’t really know. Perhaps the show will be nuanced and sensitive. That is true. It wouldn’t be the first such project to be based on alternate Civil War ending, that has been done before.
But considering GoT and its gender and race problems, I’m not holding my breath.
The other thing that bothers me is bigger. Why this series? Underground, a series set pre-Civil War, and boasting a predominately black cast was recently cancelled by WGN America. If HBO wanted to tackle the question of slavery and race, why not pick up this excellent, well-acted, and well written series? (Honestly, the “Minty” episode needs to win awards and awards and be taught in schools). While Underground focuses on escaped slaves, it also has slave catchers (if that is really important to HBO) as well as abolitionists. Honesty, you will never look at Chris Meloni the same way, and one of the best arcs during the first season was that of the slave-catcher’s son.
But, you say, HBO wants fantasy to replace GoT. Okay, okay. The thing is that there is plenty of fantasy out there. Hell, there is plenty of fiction. How about Segu by Maryse Conde? Not fantasy, but the book and its sequel chronicle an African family as Europeans and Muslims start to influence/take over their lands. It has everything in it. Sex, violence, debates about religion. Why not Segu?
Or why not some of the work of Tananarive Due, such as her African Immortals series? Fantasy, vampires, and far better than Trueblood. I dare you not to cry after reading the first book.
Or how about anything by Octavia Butler? Hell, her works could keep HBO going for years.
Are those works (and works by Okorafor, Hopkinson, Jemisin, Banks, James, Mosely among others) too black? Is that it?
Okay then, how about the Free Man of Color series by Barbara Hambly. She’s white, her main character is black, and it takes place in New Orleans right after the Louisiana Purchase. Benjamin January, the title character, solves mysteries, and one his sidekicks is a white guy.
Does that work for you?
Or how about this – adapt some Forgotten Realms stuff. You got your fantasy, you got your dragons, you can have white people in it but you can also have Drizzit who is a black elf. You can make the characters purple for all you want. There you go. Why not that?
Or if you want alternate history, look at works such as Tremontaine or the Elephant and Maccaw Banner. You could also do the Forgotten Realms Empire trilogy. How about the Monoglaid? The works of Cherie Priest or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro?
OR how about the works of Max Gladstone – he has everything, including gods in his Craft series.
In some ways, HBO’s greenlighting of the project is a showcase of why representation matters. IF the answer to a lack of people of color in GoT is the construction of a series based on an idea that is some people’s wet dream (honesty, read Confederates in the Attic), you are missing the point. Hell, I’m probably missing the point with some of my suggestions.
We need representation. Gene Rodenberry knew this. He knew this, though he might not have called it that. It’s great that the rough cut of the Black Panther movie is four hours, but it shouldn’t have taken it so long to have been made. Just like Wonder Woman.
Look, I know we had Electra, Catwoman, Steel, but look at the production of those movies compared to the white male hero movies. It’s not the same. And that is part of the problem. Compare the advertising for Batman movies vs the advertising for Wonder Woman. Look at the reaction to WW, and that shows you why we need it. I hope the lines for Black Panther are just as long.
Representation matters but so does what you chose to represent. To take a fantasy/sci-fi genre and use it just for slavery, again, is at best a lack of literacy and sensitivity. Why must all heroes be white and mostly (all) male?