Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Post of Linkage: Book Covers and Race in Fiction

~raises an eyebrow~ Oh sure, that doesn't sound daunting at all.

But this is a serious issue, and it seems that the reasoning by the production side of things revolves around excuses like "it won't sell" or "people don't want that."

Justine Larbalestier, author of the Magic or Madness trilogy and most recently, Liar, has written a couple of posts lately about the issue of race. One is about the liveaction movie of Avatar, directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The newest post is about the cover for "Liar."


In regards to Liar, the U.S. cover consists of a face, clearly female, clearly white, with straight hair covering her mouth. Theoretically, this is the main character, who is actually dark-skinned with short curly hair. Out of context, it's a nice cover, interesting, makes me curious about the story within. Taking in the context of the protagonist's ethnicity and appearance, the cover speaks to an old trend of "white washing." Larbalestier speaks eloquently about the issue, mentioning her own disgruntlement after various reviewers asked about the discontinuity.

Judging from the comments, it seems many "white" readers aren't hindered in their enjoyment of a book if the protagonist is a PoC. But there are some cases (I pause here to emphasize this is based on the comments I read and a general impression I've garnered over various blogs about race in literature--in no way do I believe my statements are gospel or founded in concrete numbers), where a PoC may not pick up a book with a character of color in it because there's a white person on the cover.

One of the points, as agent Kate Shafer Testerman expounds on, is that authors have little to no say about the covers of their books, i.e. whether there's a person on it or not, and if that person matches the description in the book. I, personally, enjoy seeing characters on the cover,but I'd like to assume those are accurate, that the artist is given at least a brief description. Jim Hines is lucky in that respect with the DAW covers for his fairy tale princess books, The Stepsister Scheme and Mermaid's Madness. But I think this is an especially important issue when the characters are PoC. It isn't something that should be frowned upon by publishers or prospective agents. If white readers aren't deterred by ethnic characters on the cover, but readers of color are deterred when the covers only project white characters, it seems all the more important to have characters of color portrayed.
AVATAR: The Last Airbender

Shifting to the Avatar film: I loved the television show. It was on Nickelodeon, and sometimes I had to hunt for it because they changed the days and/or times, but it was worth it. Lovely animation and an interesting story, centering around four kingdoms, each bearing strong Asian influences. The creators had consultants so those influences (especially in the fighting styles, but also, I imagine, on the clothing and archtecture) so it would be true to the various Asian cultures they're based on.

So why, oh why, is the liveaction film dunked in white characters? Where the only non-white actors are those playing villains? Here, Larbalestier quotes someone about why this may be, but the gist of the statement is that, for people who haven't been exposed to Asian culture, even the setting is a fantasy, not just the characters' magical control over the elements.

I find it incredibly unlikely that viewers will have had no experience whatsoever to Asian. Not a single Jackie Chan movie? Not a glimpse of anime on the Scifi channel (suffy channel now--yes, that's how I pronouce Syfy, but that's another rant), or a walk through the manga section of a bookstore?

I wonder if that is an assumption on my part, living in Hawaii, where these things are commonplace, but I'd like to think even the smallest small town in the most isolated area without a single Asian person living there, would have some sort of interaction with the culture. And I hope that the Asian influence on architecture, fighting styles, food and clothing are all still there, so why would the shape of a face or a tint of one's skin somehow throw a viewer out of the story or turn them off from watching the film?

~deep breath~

Ultimately, it seems like the issue is not with the people consuming the product, but with the people in control of how the product is viewed. Those people seem to be getting it wrong, adhering to older assumptions about consumers' reactions to people of color. I was wonderfully excited to hear about an Avatar movie. Now, even if the trailer looks intriguing, I don't know if I'm going to go. I don't want to encourage filmmakers to continue this. And I don't want to encourage booksellers, either.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A month later...

Well, I finished the hard copy edits, and have reached the point where those changes are being made on the Word doc file.

Still slow-going and occasionally frustrating--because of the hard copy I used, which does not exactly match the computer copy, and because sometimes I still didn't -what- change to make--but I am make headway. I hope to finish before August, or by the start of August.

That means, of course, that I can't do what I did yesterday very often. Which was, of course, to avoid my computer completely and read all day. ~grins~ But I did enjoy the book. I read volume I of the Chrestomanci omnibi on Monday, editing in between the two books therein. Yesterday, I decided to read both books (a longer volume II compared to the first) and not work on the novel. I enjoyed it (especially since I doubt I'd have gotten much done in this heat).

I'm eager to keep reading. I have this long list, somewhat of a wishlist, of books I want to get through this summer. I don't think I can manage all of them, but I've already made some headway (compared to those months when I can't seem to read anything, even for fun). Besides the other two Chrestomanci I need to look for now, I was given a C.S. Friedman trilogy for graduation, starting with Black Sun Rising. I'm working my way through the Oz books (currently on #9 of 14), plus would like to finish the Crown of Stars series, which I got stuck on in the very middle of it.

Which brings to mind this post by Kate Elliott, "The Unreadability Logjam." I am not the only one who gets stuck with this unreadability feeling. Elliott solved it with with reading a nonfiction book about a "fascinating" character in history. I may try that next time, with the researchy books. Luckily, I'm not going through that right now. ~grins again~ But unluckily, it means calling upon that greater reserve of self-discipline. I know it's here somewhere. Maybe it fell under the bed.