LeGuin, Race, and Hollywood

Writing in Slate, Ursula LeGuin reports on a significant aspect of her novels that didn’t make it to the small screen: race.

Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They’re mixed; they’re rainbow. In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is “based on,” everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville’s Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

LeGuin reveals that her editors at Parnassus and Atheneum never gave her any problems for this, but filmmakers who brought Earthsea to the small screen simply excised race from the story, and cast white actors.

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