#AllWhiteTV

Daenerys Targaryen is back to “save the coloureds” Tour de #GameofThrones 2014

CONTENT NOTE: Some of the embedded links in this piece are NSFW.

 by Shane Thomas 

While not placing it in the pantheon of truly great television, I’ve been a fan of Game of Thrones since the show debuted in 2011. I normally like my drama pessimistic, with a hard edge, and even downright cruel on occasion. I like even more that a show in the fantasy realm cares as much about its tonal execution, as it does costumes and wacky names.

And yet, I’ve never been able to relax in the presence of the programme, never allowed myself to be fully swept up in the world of Westeros. The reason why? This is best encapsulated by the conclusion of Season 3 – which Sky were so helpful to remind us of during their promotion for the upcoming Season 4.

Final Scene in Season 3 of Game of Thrones

Final Scene in Season 3 of Game of Thrones

The character of Daenerys Targaryen is emblematic of Game of Thrones continuous problem with race[1]. Beyond the emetic “white saviour scene to close Season 3, we are first introduced to her during a forced marriage to Khal Drogo of the Dothraki people (who are non-white). At the wedding, the Dothraki are painted as little more than savages, with the men literally killing each other to force themselves on the women; hypersexual and hyperviolent, two big racist boxes are ticked[2].

This state of affairs remains the norm if you are both a regular television viewer, and a person of colour (PoC). The dynamic is especially acute in the world of genre fiction. Because we all look at the television screen, and what stares back at us is a lens; a white lens. It’s why weak racial depictions remain a habitual problem.

Culture is the progeny of the world we live in, and for far too many writers, the world they live in is so saturated by the social construct of “whiteness”  that they fail to see anything beyond that. Which – intentionally or otherwise – serves to position whiteness as the only point of view worth depicting[3].

 

Amandla Stenberg as Rue

Amandla Stenberg as Rue

This issue also proliferates in cinema, with actors such as Quvenzhane Wallis, Amandla Stenberg and Michael B. Jordan having to deal with racist microaggressions as a sole result of being employed.

With whiteness still ossified as a quotidian aspect of society, it manifests itself on screen not only through white casting, but white authorship.

Doctor Who is a show that has been deconstructed on this site before, both by myself and Shuheda Ahmed. One lesser quoted statistic, is that while the show has had only one woman pen an episode since its return in 2005 – which is embarrassing in itself – not a single PoC (man or woman) has had the chance to send The Doctor on an adventure.

And while being ignored is maddening, being reduced to racist stereotypes is equally so. To refer back to Deanerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, she seems to be on a “save the coloureds” tour of Westeros, with the character appearing to function as a civilising agent, taking the crude and uncouth, and bringing them under her refining, white aegis.

Much like a loft conversion on a suburban home, PoC are used as little more than accessories to be brought out to impress guests, or as an afterthought to deflect from criticism. My problem is less to do with equality, and more to do with equity. I’m not calling for white people to become the minority on television, but for PoC to have the latitude to be portrayed with the same richness and nuance as their white counterparts.

And the paradigm of “one is enough” has to stop. Giving Idris Elba a rounded character in Luther isn’t a panacea on its own. Not when we’re still waiting for PoC to get the opportunity to do what the likes of Miranda Hart, Abi Morgan and Jack Whitehall get to do.

Idris Elba as Luther

Idris Elba as Luther

In fact, singular casting doesn’t only evoke tokenism, but touches on something bell hooks wrote in her essay, Eating the Other:

“…ethnicity becomes spice, seasoning that can liven up the dull dish that is mainstream white culture.”

Consuming popular culture can often become an exercise in sullied enjoyment. Gay US comedian, Guy Branum did an excellent job of elucidating on this, explaining why he refused to watch the cinema adaptation of Ender’s Game, using the metaphor of buying a delicious sandwich, “but on your order, the cook adds just a tiny little dollop of shit.

And being served shit sandwiches is getting increasingly tiring. I’m sick of watching oppressed people be ignored, be marginalised, be exotified, and be othered in our culture. I don’t expect this to change immediately, and I don’t want special consideration. All I want is consideration.

[1] – Which is especially frustrating, as without the racism, Daenerys would be a genuinely marvellous character, and Emilia Clarke’s fine performance deserves better than being despoiled in this way.

[2] – The scene couldn’t have been more insulting if it was written by Rod Liddle.

[3] – Pia Glenn brilliantly lampoons this dynamic on her segment, “In an actress so talented and beautiful, she’d be A-list, if only she were white news…” on her showBlack Weekend Update.

 A mixed-race film graduate, Shane Thomas comes from Jamaican and Mauritian parentage. He has been blogging about sport since 2010 at the website for The Greatest Events in Sporting History. He is also a contributor to Simply Read’, the blogging offshoot of the podcasting network, Simply Syndicated. A lover of sport, genre-fiction, and privilege checking, Shane can be found on Twitter, both at @TGEISH and @tokenbg (and yes, the handle does mean what you think it means).

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51 replies »

  1. So coming back to this separately about “whiteness” versus “people of color” in media.

    I really hate the concept and I hate talking about it because I don’t see things the same way when others are talking about racial consciousness. It goes beyond my being a white male in the United States.

    I don’t like lumping all of humanity into white and coloured because of these two examples. One is saying all whites are equivalent is saying that the English and the Irish more or less have the same experiences because they are both groups of white people. Another is comparing ?uestlove, DJ Jazzy Jeff and DJ Kilmore from Incubus. Yes, they are all black musicians who grew up in Pennsylvania in the US, but they have three very different backgrounds. So if three black musicians who grew up in Pennsylvania are so different, then how can you equate everybody a person considers as non-white as equivalent?

    You also get into a problem where a country has a majority race that the majority of the people in the media should statistically be that majority race. (I don’t see people saying Nigerians need more Germans, then again I don’t follow Nigerian TV.)

    Then you get into the problem with any sort of fantasy as to what does it mean to have a Person of Colour in the show. I made the joke before about Michael Early in Almost Human being a robot of colour, but I was only being slightly humorous. Should it count for representation purposes that a character is played by a person of colour if the character isn’t relative to the tribe/class they come from? Sure Missandei is played by a woman of color, but what is Narth to us?

    And if we want to judge whether art is good for PoC or not, then we need agreeable metrics. I think we shouldn’t be able to argue “she’s a person of colour, no, she’s not” based on individuals in a community because it doesn’t help the artist to determine what is just.

    • Probably best I respond by addressing each of your paragraphs:

      Paragraph 1: Whiteness vs people of colour is a bit of non-sequitur, as whiteness is a social construct, while people of colour are actual human beings. I don’t think whiteness vs PoC is really a thing, as PoC can perpetrate whiteness as well. It’s no more a thing than homophobia vs straight people.

      Paragraph 2: Just because you don’t see something the same way doesn’t negate its existence. As i type, I can’t actually see Gaza being beset by bombs. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Whether you hate talking about it or not, racism isn’t going anywhere. Combating spheres of oppression are more important that you (or anyone) not enjoying the discourse.

      Paragraph 3: Yes, indeed. Kilmore and Jazzy Jeff aren’t the same just because they’re black. Black people – like all people – are multifarious and nuanced. But whiteness dictates that’s not the case, and it has such reach & power that many people don’t question it. If only I had an actual example…. how about…. I don’t know, the Dothraki in Game of Thrones?

      Whiteness allows white people to be viewed (rightly) as complex individuals – at least as far as race is concerned. Btw, the term is “of colour”, not “coloured”. Never coloured. Think that was an honest mistake on your part, but allow Loretta Ross to explain that important distinction – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82vl34mi4Iw

      Paragraph 4: The problem with your Nigeria/Germany analogy is that is presumes the two nations are on an even playing field. They’re not, for various reasons (race being chief among them). Germany is seen as being a “developed, civilised” country, while Nigeria – like most African nations – gets derided with terms such as “third world”.

      Paragraph 5: I’d say it definitely counts. Michael Ealy was a significant piece of casting (although am I right in thinking that ‘Almost Human’ has been cancelled?). It’s not specifically about black characters, but black actors & auteurs to have a space to create their stories, just like white people.

      Paragraph 6: The only metric I care about is good art. One of the considerations whether art is good or not is its depiction of each cross-section of society. To use an example that’s not based on race, I think ‘Dallas Buyers Club’ was a decent film, but was sullied by Jared Leto (a cisgender man) playing trans. That made the film less good than it could have been.

  2. I am a Daenerys fan, as well as a Targaryean fan. I am a huge fan of the show and the books. I can’t speak to the portrayal of PoC on Game of Thrones. I will write in defense of my Khaleesi though.

    The only reason why she is considered a white savior is she is white. There is no explicit show basis for saying she’s stopping slavery in Slaver’s Bay for any reason other than she was a slave and slavery is evil. (Which I believe not because the Atlantic Slave Trade was evil, which it was, but that all slavery, including the 30 million living today in bondage, is evil. The theft of a person’s labor is always wrong.)

    With a reading of the books, mixed with watching the show, you see that

    1. She was first living in Braavos, a city founded by former slaves. The Braavosi hate slavery because they were slaves, not because of cultural superiority.

    2. She was moving around with her brother in the Free Cities, which practice slavery from one extent to another, ending up in Pentos where Illyrio Mopatis owned slaves.

    3. Viserys is ok with slavery having bought Doreah, the Lysene, white, slave woman, for Daenerys, and saying to Jorah that selling poachers to Tyroshi slavers would not be punished under his reign.

    4. Valyria had slaves. The runaway slaves that founded Braavos came from Valyria.

    5. Between arranged marriages, Ironborn thralls and salt wives, how Gendry was sold to the Night’s Watch and how Ros died, there are some similarities between a slave’s lack of self-determination and how Westerosi small folk and high born women are treated. (I specifically left out Gendry and Hot Pie being sold by the Brotherhood without Banners as Thoros of Myr is a Red Priest, and the Temples of R’hollar buy slaves in Essos. So for that group, it might be more of an Essosi value than a Westerosi one.)

    6. Daenerys has never been to Westeros and the only influence that isn’t her brother are other people from Essos until she meets Jorah.

    9 Lastly, her Khal was a slaver. I believe Drogo gave Daenerys Irri and Jhiqui as slaves. (Changed my mind about PoC. Jhiqui seemed a woman of color. She appeared in one episode and she’s never been seen again. And otherwise, I can think of only six PoC characters seen in the show that I can name that have appeared in more than one episode. )

    Her culture, either Essosi or Valyrian, accepts slavery. She does not. Because her self-determination was being overridden in order to buy an army and slavery is evil, always.

    • I was going to edit that PoC count I had because I originally counted none of the Dothraki. But then I was fact checking and remembered why I avoid the PoC debate. Are hispanics PoC? If yes, then Talisia and Oberyn count and I originally counted Oberyn but not Talisia. Is Kraznys supposed to be a PoC? If yes, then that’s white washing. I didn’t count Hizdaq zo Loraq because he was basically an extra his only other episode.

      • Hi Jason. Welcome to the party. Been a while since I’ve had to respond to anything on this piece.

        You may not have had a chance to read the slew of other comments, but I’ve said to a few people that my appraisal is not based on anything in Martin’s original novels, as I haven’t read them.

        Yes, Dany is a “white saviour” because she is white, which feeds into a white saviour complex that exists in the real world. Some people seem to think that TV doesn’t matter, and is separate from the rest of the world we live in. It’s not. To use a positive example, the fact that Peter Dinklage is the first name in the opening credits is very significant. How many popular TV shows have ever had a dwarf be the lead in the credits before?

        And while I use Daenerys as the chief pivot of my piece, my critique was on the prism of “whiteness” in Western television & cinema. It’s telling that so few people have engaged me in a discussion on that issue (whether they agree with me or not), but have pulled out any reason to try and get GoT off the hook.

        That doesn’t mean I dislike the show. As I said in the piece, I’m a fan. But that doesn’t give it a free pass. Back in April, Daniel Jose Older wrote this magnificent piece saying:

        “We can love a thing and still critique it. In fact, that’s the only way to really love a thing.” – http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieljoseolder/diversity-is-not-enough

      • Forgot to add, personally I regard Oberyn as a PoC character (and a fine one, IMO). But bear in mind this piece was published before Season 4 began.

        Whether Latino people “count” as PoC, It’s not really for you or me to say. I think that’s an individual choice for each person of that community to decide.

  3. IMHO, I think you have much more important matters to worry about in the REAL world, than your (IMHO incorrect) perceptions of Westeros – 8 of the “9 old men/women” today just upheld states’ rights to abolish affirmative action. THAT is something to be SERIOUSLY concerned with.

    • I can only speak for myself, but I’m able to hold multiple thoughts & notions in my head simultaneously. For example, as I write this, I’m watching Chelsea play Atletico Madrid, while also working on a blog post about David Moyes being fired as manager of Manchester United.

      And I can take issue with sections of ‘Game of Thrones’, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, amongst many other things.

      By your rationale, if you’re concerned with the possibility of affirmative action being abolished (something worth being concerned about), then you couldn’t possibly have any interest in people who live in the Dominican Republic, with Haitian ancestry, having their citizenship revoked? Or women who live under the threat of FGM? Or is possible to be aware of multiple problems in this world, all at once?

      ‘Game of Thrones’ isn’t the only thing worth putting under the microscope, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. And the “fantasy” excuse doesn’t hold much water, because when insulting treatment of PoC occurs in a popular show, without any pushback, it makes it acceptable for other programmes to do the same, limiting the variety & quality of roles for actors of colour. Now that’s real.

        • No assumptions, here. You said I should focus on real problems, unlike GoT. I said it’s possible to do both, even though the problems I have with GoT affect the “real world”. I then gave examples of numerous problems in the world. What bit’s confusing you?

  4. What’s more racist, a fictional person of one colour being the saviour of a fictional people of a different colour or; a person taking racism from the real world and trying to pin it on fiction set in a different time and place purely on the basis of skin tone?

    • Firstly, racism (or any axis of oppression) doesn’t work on sliding scales. It’s not a game of Top Trumps where one manifestation outranks another.

      Secondly, aspects of the show (while fictional) replicate forms of racism in the real world. That’s why this matters. And yes, “basis of skin tone”, as you put it is kinda important. If you don’t see that, then I’m not sure how I – or anyone – can help you.

  5. I also asked the same questions when I first started watching the show and revisited these ideas multiple times. I came to the conclusion that the scene of Dany “saving the coloureds” is no what it seems and is not racist.

    Essos:
    1. To start in the episode prior the audience is reminded of Dany’s origins when she brings up her mother tongue Valyrian. Dany’s family originally comes from the continent Essos where they ruled in the Valyrian empire. So she isn’t necessarily a foreigner in the entire continent, more like a foreigner in some of the cities she visits.

    2. The “Free Cities” of Dany’s freedom tour isn’t based on colored countries. From the wiki “As Martin has stated that the Valyrian Empire is essentially his fantasy world’s equivalent of the Roman Empire, the Free Cities are essentially his equivalent of the medieval Italian city-states (the coastal ones that have a mediterranean climate; Norvos and Qohor might be more like other romance regions in medieval France/Germany, etc.)” Also the “doom” that hit Essos back in the day is based on Pompeii. The use of darker colored actors (granted though Italians can be very dark) is probably a logistics and location decision.

    3. Don’t assume Dany is all good. For starters she believes that just because her parents and ancestors have ruled the east and the west, the she has the right to rule over people. She isn’t very different than the others playing the game of thrones. I haven’t read the books but can say the show is supposed to make the viewers think and they have left a couple hints pointing at a darker side to Dany. The scene of slaves calling her mother is so surreal it is as if the showrunners are trying to tell you this is not going to last. They have already told us that no empire or kingdom can rule without wrongdoings so don’t assume Dany is the “all good, white savior.” She may very well be a conqueror that ends up using all these people she is freeing- which doesn’t make white people look good imo & would be a great allegory to how much of the third world is treated by the west. It’s too premature to tell.

    Dothrakis
    4. Her brother selling her for an army makes him look just as bad then any of the bad dothrakis shown on the show. He also says he would let 1000s of army rape her if need be.

    5. There are good dothrakis. The ones that stayed loyal to Dany and did not care that she was a women are examples of good colored characters.

    6. Most armies on the show have been shown, or it has been discussed, how they raped and pillaged places they have conquered (it is not just the Dothrakis). It is often talked about how the sacking of king’s landing by Tywin Lannister’s army was the worst massacre to ever happen and it happened at the hands of a rich white man. These disgusting acts are shown to be a norm in that time and during times of war, not necessarily shown to be norms of colored people.

    Westoros
    7. Mostly every white person here looks bad. In a previous post you negated this point because there were also ones to root for but I would say there were also Dothrakis to root for (like Dany’s maidens, the younger brothers).

    8. Here we see incest, rape, traitors, brothels galore, beheadings, greed, etc. All by the hands rich white people.

    Lastly you cannot separate the book from the show and say that only the show is wrong. The history of the characters and continents from the books are talked about in the show and the allegories by Martin are still present because of that. Additionally, the show isn’t meant to be glossed over like typical network shows (ie NCIS, House, etc). The writers and showrunners want to challenge viewers by making them think of the situations they are portraying. Also cinema/TV is an art so every shot, lighting and character choice serves as a means of context to the viewer (the scene of dany being called mother is too surreal for such a dark show, so I believe it is actually a warning sign of things to come, a taste of power).

    “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

    • Shoosh,
      You did an EXCELLENT job of detailing the reality of Westeros and beyond in GoT (A Song of Ice and Fire)!

    • I don’t think this has a happy ending at all. That’s what most appeals to me about the show. (seriously, did no-one even bother to read what I wrote?)

      I didn’t say the show was “wrong”. I said it has problems to do with race (as well as other aspects, tbh).

      I know there are bad white characters. And good ones. And ones in between. Maybe I should have elucidated on that dynamic. I could have written something like, “I’m not calling for white people to become the minority on television, but for PoC to have the latitude to be portrayed with the same richness and nuance as their white counterparts.”

      Except I did write that. Paragraph 10. Lines 3 to 5.

      I understand that the Dany storyline has more legs to it, and I’ll happily praise it if it goes in a better direction. But people seem to be misunderstanding the point of this piece. What I’m doing is using GoT (so far) to illustrate how whiteness saturates television drama. The problem isn’t the show. It’s a symptom of the problem. That’s also why talk on the novels is absent, because the subject here is television.

      Or as I put it in another comment on this thread:

      “…while I focus on GoT, the piece is about the white lens of television and film. That’s why I also mention ‘Doctor Who’, and Quvenzhane Wallis, Amandla Stenberg & Michael B. Jordan being on the receiving end of racism just for getting work. I’m yet to hear any comments about that though, it’s mainly rushes of GoT defenders, because I dared to call out a show that *they* love (and that I quite like, btw. I did also mention that in the piece).”

      • I did read your piece, don’t think I didn’t! Since you used GoT as the central argument that ties in the other shows you mentioned & the title of your article I had to highlight it. GoT is too complicated to use as a central argument if it isn’t talked about in detail. If you are going to critique something at least find out what/who the people on the show are intended to represent and compare it to what it seems to represent at first glance. For all the reasons I mentioned I don’t think it’s racist and I feel like the title misleads people so I wanted to put in my 2 cents. I agree the minorities of the show aren’t as nuanced as say Jaime lannister but I did feel true empathy for Dany’s maidens (even the one that betrayed her) and the younger dothraki brothers were painted in a bright light. But then again besides the Dothrakis, if the free cities represent Italy, are they truly PoC?

        I didn’t think you meant to make whites minorities at all, I understood your point but just think the GoT argument was flawed. Also considering how it’s based on European wars, it has to be a largely white cast- I do like that we see the negative outcomes and selfishness of such conquerors that can be comparable to even modern day 1st world governments. The Martells this season are POC (I don’t know who they represent in real life yet). Interested to see how they are portrayed this season.

        I think your other points are valid so I didn’t talk about them. I think more problematic shows are those that only use poc as head honchos that are barely seen and only come in to give bad news or pressurize characters. It almost becomes second natural for the viewers to assume negativity/bad news when they see a colored character on their favorite shows. I can only imagine how that can translate into real life thinking. An example is every single doctor show where every doctor is white & the head doctors are Indian or black. We never see their home life and they are usually screaming at the protagonist to get things done. When in most real life hospitals, a lot of the doctors are minorities. Kind of like Morgan freeman in every film he plays as god or the president- it’s always a one-note character that comes in and out of the picture to move the plot. Or how most teen shows have 0-1 POC (the oc, gossip girl, 90210, Dawson’s creek, etc).

        I think those are better examples but I don’t disagree with you’re general argument.

        • - The thing is. it doesn’t matter what the showrunners intended. No honest artist is ever trying to get things wrong. But you don’t get a pass for having problematic elements in your work, just because you meant well.

          – I didn’t actually choose the title of the piece. Although, I don’t have any issue with it.

          – Martin may have been inspired by European history, but once again, that’s no excuse. I’m hearing a lot of talk about having to stick to the history of the real events that inspired some of the original text. Tell me, what part of history included dragons & White Walkers?

          – Obviously if you don’t find sections of the show racist, that’s your opinion. But the reason I say some of it is, is because racism isn’t just ethnic slurs, or bans on PoC from interacting in society. As Mychal Denzel Smith put it, “Ultimately, racism is a system of oppression that has disproportionately benefited those classified as “white” and regards others as second-class citizens. For a policy/thought/action/statement to be racist, it has to reinforce that second-class status.” That’s why I called out GoT. That’s why I called out television. That’s why I call out anything I deem racist.

          – You other comments touch on tokenism. I’m pretty much in agreement with you there. That’s one element of how racism can manifest itself on screen. But not the only one. I believe it was Meek Mill who said “there’s levels to this shit.”

      • But they haven’t got anything wrong (expect the one khal drogo change which was doen to jamie too). Like I said before the Free Cities are based on Italy, last time I checked Italians are considered white despite their olive skin tone. As for Dany being a white savior, I don’t think it will play out well considering it is based off history. Dragons & White walkers argument isn’t really valid since the show is part fantasy and almost all medieval tales & fables consist of having dragons & witchcraft. It’s part of the genre. There are now 2 additional black characters on the show (head of the unsullied & Dany’s main hand) which are noble characters- based on the last epi it looks like they will get a main storyline.

        • The thing is, we’re coming at this from two completely different places. I wouldn’t question that the showrunners have looked at the books, and then worked on what they think is the best way to adapt that for television.

          But I’m not really interested in “is this bit like in the books?” My concern is the depiction of people of colour in the show, which so far is pretty terrible. If one wants to use the original text as an excuse, then I would question the content of that original text..

          And I don’t see how my Dragons & White Walkers point isn’t valid when tons of people (not saying you’re one of them) hide behind the “it’s just fantasy” excuse, whenever the issue of race is raised.

          And while you mention Grey Worm & Missandei in the last episode, I wasn’t especially happy with their (one) scene, as it consisted of one teaching the other English – it’s essentially a “let’s educate you, and make you more intelligent” scene. Because speaking English is always the true sign of intelligence, right?

          There’s no doubt that a lot of the accouterments of the show are what we expect from the fantasy genre. But what was to stop the show using PoC for more than the Dothraki, all the downtrodden people to Dany to “save”, and the people of Dorn (who are the only PoC characters written with any depth). For example, I can’t think of any good reason why PoC could not have been part of other families in the show.

  6. I agree that the ‘one person of color fills the quota’ idea needs to stop – but about Doctor Who, what about Martha? I’m kind of confused when you say not one person of color has sent the doctor off on adventures…or did you mean someone other than a companion?

    • I meant that no PoC has written an episode. I’m worried that I didn’t word this clearly enough, because you’re the second person to think that I was referring to the casting.

      • Yeah, I guess now that you say that, I can see it.

        When reading the line “has had the chance to send The Doctor on an adventure,” I guess for some of us that sounds more like the companions than the writers. But I understand now.

    • Thank you. People were quick to accost me because I admitted that I didn’t read *EVERY* word of the OP’s comments – but I did read most of it, and knew the shortcomings of the post – lack of knowledge of the whole story line and it’s historical roots – even in fantasy.

      • - I’ll restate for hopefully the final time, as a few people are under the misapprehension that my piece is calling out George R R Martin’s novels. My critique is of the television show. I mentioned this in my initial reply to you. It’s tough to have anything resembling a dialogue if you don’t bother to properly read responses.

        – I’m also aware of the historical events that have helped inspire the story. But that never, ever excuses ossifying axis of oppression, and presenting it as benign – or even positive. As I’ve stated, if the storyline develops in a way that offsets some of what’s come before, I’ll happily revise my opinion.

        – And if you want to talk about real-life history, you say The War of the Roses was a part of British history. Britain (as we know it) didn’t even exist when the war happened. The ultimate
        spoils were England and Wales.

      • I understood what your critique was based on – that you didn’t look at the broader context of the story as completed to date in print was the impetus for my posting comments in the first place.

        We’ll agree to disagree re: validity of historical event treatment – I don’t see the negativity that you do – I see a more realistic picture of peoples’ inhumanity – and much of it to their own race, not of outside races oppressing.

        As to the semantics of British history vs.”Britain didn’t technically exist then” – some might consider that more than a tad nit-picky. The United States technically didn’t exist until July 4, 1776, but few people would argue that the Pilgrims’ landing in 1620, or the Jamestown Settlement of 1607 weren’t part of our History. That which leads to something can and is rightfully part of that history. That argument can go as far as to tie the Magna Carta back to our “American” history, since it shaped the Monarchy that controlled us.

        My who respone of April 8 4:01PM was a simple thanks to a supportive post.

        I can be as exacting as the next person in minutiae – that wasn’t my point, and that’s not why I elected to read your comments and post in the first place – it was to try and point you to the larger picture as currently exists in the world of “A Song of Ice and Fire” that you might be better informed.

        You are correct, it is hard to carry on a conversation when one doesn’t read the responses.
        You put words into my post that simply are not there.

        • I go through this one at a time, as to avoid ambiguity:

          “I understood what your critique was based on – that you didn’t look at the broader context of the story as completed to date in print was the impetus for my posting comments in the first place.”

          – Because I haven’t read the books. I’m not appraising the books. I’m appraising the TV series. If you want a discussion with the novels, sadly, that discussion can’t be with me, as I don’t have the necessary knowledge to have such a conversation.

          “We’ll agree to disagree re: validity of historical event treatment – I don’t see the negativity that you do – I see a more realistic picture of peoples’ inhumanity – and much of it to their own race, not of outside races oppressing.”

          – It’s your prerogative if you don’t find sections of the show objectionable, but if you don’t see how the (current) depictions of PoC in the show reinforce real-world racism (and misogyny), then I’d suggest you look closer.

          “I can be as exacting as the next person in minutiae – that wasn’t my point, and that’s not why I elected to read your comments and post in the first place – it was to try and point you to the larger picture as currently exists in the world of “A Song of Ice and Fire” that you might be better informed.”

          – I’ve watched the first 3 seasons of the show. Since that was all that I was critiquing, I don’t need to be better informed than that. If I was doing a book review, then I’d be completely lost. But I’m not. “The larger picture” doesn’t ameliorate racially problematic elements on-screen.

  7. you probably need to read all the books before making any rash conclusions.

    As a black person thats very critical of how blacks are portrayed in the media, I can understand your line of thinking. But, the dynamics of real life race arent really translated that well into a story thats based in a fantasy world on another planet that doesnt really have the same racial politics that we have in our world.

    There are actually three continents in Martin’s fantasy world, and there are nations with ‘civilized’ black people in them.

    To me the thing that should be more questioned is that the families in House Martell are described as ‘dark skinned’ in the novels, not middle-eastern/hispanic looking but actually African looking.

    • For clarity’s sake, my critique is based on the television series. I can’t really speak in depth on the books, as I’m yet to read them.

      And while the show is set in a fantasy world, the audience that watches the show isn’t fantasy. It’s not okay to produce work that ossifies axes of oppression, frame it as acceptable – or even positive – and then hide behind an excuse of, “Oh, but it’s not the real world, so it’s alright.” Just because ‘Transformers 2′ isn’t “real”, that doesn’t make the film’s racism & misogyny okay.

      A clear example of this is Joss Whedon’s recent movie adaptation of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. In Shakespeare’s original text, Benedick utters an anti-semitic piece of dialogue. Whedon knew that there was no excuse to replicate this, so he didn’t. The line was cut.

      In terms of the framing of elements of the original story, and scenes such as – but not exclusive to – ones involving Dany, the visuals could – and should – been executed differently.

      As I’ve said in an earlier comment, I’ll happily revise my opinion if the show improves in this aspect. Let’s be clear, I’m hoping I can revise my opinion. I don’t want to write diatribes about GoT, or the white lens of TV. I just want good, inclusive television drama.

  8. That’s a great statement. While the show is fantasy, as I wrote, “Culture is the progeny of the world we live in”. Someone else in the comments section, who’s read the books, said that the storyline develops to show the problematic nature of Daenerys’ approach. I hope that comes to fruition.

  9. You reference Dr Who as having no PoC since 2005 – did you miss the amazing Freema Agyeman? – the Dr’s most intelligent and capable assistant ever.
    Also as to GoT – brutality and savagery is spread across the colour spectrum – I don’t see the Dothraki as worse than most of the others.

    • I didn’t say Dr Who had no PoC. I said they had no PoC writers. There’s a piece which I embedded above from Shuheda Ahmed (http://mediadiversified.org/2013/11/25/doctor-who-the-day-of-the-white-doctor/), which talks more on the issue of the show’s casting.

      The overall point being that it’s often (but not always) a factor in the poor way that PoC are written, because they’re almost always penned by white people. I confess that Martha was not a favourite of mine, and that had a lot to do with the way she was written.

      And yes, plenty of white characters are vicious in GoT. But they’re also plenty of other things. PoC? Not so much. To hark back to what I wrote:

      “I’m not calling for white people to become the minority on television, but for PoC to have the latitude to be portrayed with the same richness and nuance as their white counterparts.”

      That doesn’t really happen. And that’s a problem.

  10. I have not read every word you have written – but I read quite a bit – more than enough to hear your concerns. I have some questions for you –
    1. Have you read the series? The television show is based on a series of novels that started being published more than 15 years ago.
    2. Do you realize that this fantasy series is loosely based on Eurasia/North Africa of circa the 15th century, with the Dothraki being an allusion to the Mongols of Genghis Kahn of the 12th Century, I believe?
    3. The Dothraki, to my comprehension, are the Mongols – riding the Dothraki Sea, or the grasslands of the Gobi Desert. They might be considered the Moors, I suppose, since they are across the poison waters, not separated by a mountain range, but I think the Mongols are a better historic model. What were the hords of Genghis Kahn like?
    4. Dorn, of which we have only begun to see – if we have yet, is the people of Southern Spain by geographical reference and climate.
    5. Then we get to the Summer Islanders and the Merchants – who come to me as Moorish Merchants, and Sub Saharan/Nubian peoples of Africa bringing the spices and silks and what have you of the North African and much further afield ranges.

    It is not a fair attack to decry the *racist attitudes* of the story – they are based on the cultural types of peoples of an era and area.

    George R R Martin challenges all of us in our comfortable chairs in our comfortable homes.

    The whole story is loosely based on the War of Roses – an “oh so noble” period of Great Britain’s history. The Red Wedding is based on actual events.

    Perhaps, instead of being so quick to play the race card where none exists except in your mind, you should take some time to research the author and the background that provided him the canvas.

    Racism isn’t a good thing – but the differences in culture, and the violence and mores of those eras are well enough documented, and they provide a brutal wake up to the rest of us.

    • You may not have taken the time to read every word of my piece, but I took the time to read every word of your comment. It helps one formulate an appropriate response. As far as your questions go:

      1) No, I have not read the series. I state this in a comment below. But I’m well aware that the TV show didn’t spring from the minds of David Benioff & DB Weiss. My criticisms were based on the television series. At no point did I directly mention the book. I don’t see how the series being published more 15 years ago is relevant?

      2) Of course the show (like most spec-fiction) will be partly inspired by real-life events. That doesn’t excuse the portrayal of the PoC characters.

      3) There’s nothing wrong with basing elements of the Dothraki on the Moors or the Mongols. But when a large % of the PoC section of your cast is depicted in the way I mentioned in the piece, it’s alarming if one doesn’t find that disconcerting.

      – You’ll have to elucidate on points 4 & 5. You seem to be mentioning things about history, but I’ve no idea how you’re connecting that to the show.

      – You state, (“It is not a fair attack to decry the *racist attitudes* of the story – they are based on the cultural types of peoples of an era and area.”) And those cultural types are what, exactly? Predilection to rape, quick to violence, uncivilised, while not being especially smart?

      – I can’t really speak to Martin challenging us, as I haven’t read the books. And I don’t see how that’s relevant to the piece.

      – I’m aware of the influence of The War of The Roses (while not reading the books, I do know a little about the show. I’ve watched every episode so far). The difference is not every white character is painted the same. In the piece I wrote, “I’m not calling for white people to become the minority on television, but for PoC to have the latitude to be portrayed with the same richness and nuance as their white counterparts.” Maybe you didn’t read that part?

      – I love that phrase, “playing the race card” Another phrase for it is, “Pointing out when something is racist”. Some of the comments & likes this piece has got seems to indicate that it’s not just “in my mind”.

      – The thing is, according to much of genre-fiction (not just GoT), only white cultures get depth & nuance. PoC can only ever be one thing. Has the show really “woken you up” as you put it? Your comment sadly suggests otherwise.

      • tinyorc,
        It was not a *proudly announcing* – it was a frank admission. And the small bits that I didn’t read of the PO’s post didn’t change the validity or value of my comments.

        Whether you view it that way or not is up to you – that is what makes horse races afterall.

    • Massive lol at anyone who wades into a comment section proudly announcing that that they didn’t even bother to read the entire post but still absolutely certain that they have something worthwhile to contribute.

      • The thing is, it’s not a minority approach. Neither are his/her sentiments. While it can be nice to have complementary posts in the comments section (for which I am grateful), it’s important to engage with dissenting views – within reason. As sadly, those dissenting views are the norm.

  11. Outside of the Dothraki, which I agree were problematic, there are two issues here. As far as that particularly troubling crowd scene: the intention was always to have a diverse crowd of slaves to reflect how the ancient slave trade operated, but it was logistically impossible to hire outside of the Moroccan locale.

    Primarily, though, you’re making assumptions about how Dany’s liberation is going to play out. Mild spoilers, but all doesn’t go to plan, and she increasingly struggles under the weight of bad decisions. That doesn’t excuse the lack of fleshed out characters of colour, but what you see as a ‘mighty whitey’ trope soon becomes a lesson in why that approach doesn’t work.

    • I wouldn’t contest that it was logistically difficult, but logistically impossible? Especially with the budget the show has?

      I don’t for a second think that the showrunners crafted the scene with the intention of showing what an amazing “white mysha” Deanerys is, or to show how these poor coloureds need rescuing. Most oppressive behaviour isn’t knowingly intentional. But elements of the show do reify spheres of oppression. And it’s not as if Morocco’s the only country they film in.

      To not recognise the optics of how the story is being rendered – or to recognise it and not care – isn’t only insulting, but it’s poor storytelling.

      Having not read the books, I can only judge what I’ve seen so far. And I’m happy to revise my opinion if aspects of the show change. What you infer will happen with Daenerys’ story is a positive sign, because as I stated in the piece, there’s a lot I like about the show.

      • Do you know much about film production? For all intents and purposes, diversifying the crowd of extras playing slaves would have been logistically impossible, or at least logistically out of reach. I’m not sure what you mean when you say “it’s not as if Morocco’s the only country they film in,” because it’s the only country they filmed that scene in. Ireland, Iceland, and Croatia, their other primary filming locations, neither have particularly diverse locals for them to pull extras from either, nor do the locales suit the setting of the scene.

        Game of Thrones has a $6 million/episode budget (in comparison, that’s the sum of what the Friends were paid per episode, and GoT’s biggest episode, “Blackwater,” cost 8 million). 800 extras costs $20,000 a day if you’re paying them diddly-squat ($25/day). But not only that, you have to costume, style, create props for, feed, shelter from the sun, corral, shepherd, and film all of those 800 extras. That’s a ton of labor and resource costs. I can see that scene easily costing at least $500,000, before they even spent the money to CGI in the dragons or pay the lead actors.

        That’s, what, six minutes of a sixty minute episode? How much more should the production spend to diversify the crowd? Do you pay to fly in hundreds of extras from other countries, when the ticket would cost several dozens of times more than what you’re paying them? How do you do that, logistically, when you have a very tight filming schedule and limited permits to film? What part of the episode budget do you short to accomplish that?

        The optics are important, and the way that scene came out is problematic. But I think it’s disingenuous to say that they don’t recognize or don’t care about the optics, because there are real and concrete limitations in film production. The discussion around the imagery produced by the show is worth having, but to accuse this particular production of lazy storytelling is misinformed. Not only do you not know where the story is going, (which you could easily find out, since you find it so problematic) but you don’t have a clear idea of what resources are needed to produce it.

        • I don’t dispute the constraints of finance in TV/film production. But saying that it would have been difficult is to miss the point. Because your argument states that it’s ok to be racially problematic if the money & scheduling isn’t 100% ideal.

          It doesn’t matter if the budget is $10 or $10 billion. It’s not – nor will it ever be – ok to deliver some of the scenes in those first 3 seasons (just to be clear, race isn’t the only problem GoT has).

          I never called the storytelling lazy. I said parts of it were poor. There’s a difference. If you’re lazy, you wouldn’t be able to make a web-series, let alone a high-budget HBO TV serial. It’s not the work ethic of the showrunners that I’m questioning.

          And while I focus on GoT, the piece is about the white lens of television and film. That’s why I also mention ‘Doctor Who’ and Quvenzhane Wallis, Amandla Stenberg & Michael B. Jordan being on the receiving end of racism just for getting work. I’m yet to hear any comments about that though, it’s mainly rushes of GoT defenders, because I dared to call out a show that *they* love (and that I quite like, btw. I did also mention that in the piece).

  12. I do enjoy GOT but we will constantly be complaining about a lack of good representation or any representation at all until we start developing our own television channels that show the full black experience. We must be the only race that does not effectively use our time, money and resources to build any institutions or organisations that grow, develop and support our community. We cannot always be begging to be included in what others are doing as the end result will never be who we really are.

    • I agree about creating our own art. But the problem with your statement is that it infers that PoC haven’t already been trying to do that for generations. Without access to resources, how can one start a television channel? Or many other creative pursuits, for that matter?

      It’s not a matter of begging for inclusion. It’s something that we should have by right, as we live here too.

      Robert Reece recently stated that it’s not so much about seeking white approval, but not being silent when the proverbial foot of whiteness is on your throat. And for PoC fans of GoT, scenes like the end of Season 3 is whiteness trying to choke us into silence.

  13. This article isn’t wrong per se, but it’s based heavily on images out of context.

    I don’t think it’s fair to expect the mechanics of a historically-rooted medieval fantasy drama to shirk the “white savior” model. I also think it’s a bit unfair to suggest that the labor of people who fight slavery from positions of power (Dany, Abe Lincoln, whoever) is somehow invalidated by their station or color. I do agree that we need to see more scenarios where the oppressed rise from within, but not at the expense of seeing oppression fought from without.

    • Game of Thrones is not a “historically-rooted medieval fantasy”. It is a high fantasy world with dragons and zombies and magic that draws on the trappings of medieval times as we know them through the lens of white Euro-centric historical narratives. It is perfectly possible to write compelling epic high fantasy without blindly adhering to problematic (not to mention DONE TO DEATH) narratives about race, as Ursula Le Guin has proven several times over. The white saviour narrative is not intrinsic to the genre, it is a choice that the creators made and it’s perfectly fair to hold them accountable for that.

    • tinyorc’s comments pretty much sums up my thoughts. In the piece I wrote, “Because we all look at the television screen, and what stares back at us is a lens; a white lens.” And that is a problem when that’s the only cultural perspective we get, especially when it steps on the backs of PoC, or make them little more than subordinates/sidekicks.

      And as a digression, while I wouldn’t dispute Lincoln’s contribution to ending (elements) of the slave trade, I’ll just leave this comment from him on black people right here:

      “I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. That I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races. I, as much as any man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” – Lincoln’s second debate with Stephen Douglas on August 27, 1858.

      • This! Also, Dany’s narrative is even more problematic because she’s not “saving” brown slaves from white people, she’s saving brown people from other brown people and their whole barbaric system of living. Sady of Tiger Beatdown puts it very well:

        “Daenerys, you see, has discovered that the mystical, barbaric cities of the Orient have one particularly barbaric custom of which she disapproves heartily. That custom? Is slavery. And so, Daenerys must save these other cultures from themselves, by going city to city and systematically destroying them, imposing her own standards upon them all. Here’s a problem, though: We, the European and/or American readers, also know slavery to be a bad thing. And here is how we know this: White people enslaved people of color. For generations. We brutalized people of color, we institutionalized the rape of people of color, we committed genocide against people of color, we devastated the cultures of people of color. And here is how we white people rationalized that: We told ourselves that these people of color were barbaric, that they were savages, that European standards should be universal, and that we were saving these people from themselves. So, for those keeping track: The rationale behind Daenerys’s campaign to abolish slavery? IS THE RATIONALE THAT CREATED SLAVERY.”