08 Oct The Brown People You Don’t See…Again
So I complained about this on Facebook and I’m going to complain more loudly here. Yesterday I read a story about the possible casting of English actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Maid Marian in a new Robin Hood adaptation. The story, titled “Has Hollywood Been Whitewashing Robin Hood?” said:
If Mbatha-Raw is cast, she’ll be the first black woman to portray the character, and only the second person of color ever to join Robin Hood’s onscreen crew… unless you include the Sherwood Forest Rap brigade from Mel Brooks’ “Men in Tights” spoof, but we’re not sure they count.
Okay, so the article gets it wrong. There have been, by my count, five (no, six) so-called people of colour in Robin Hood adaptations.
- Danny John-Jules in Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, a British TV series
- Morgan Freeman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
- Dave Chappelle in the parody Robin Hood: Men in Tights
- Anjali Jay of the TV series Robin Hood
- David Harewood also in the TV series Robin Hood as Tuck
- Oscar Isaac in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood
John-Jules, Freeman, Harewood and Chappelle are black. Jayin is Indian. Isaac is Guatemalan. The idea of a POC in the Robin Hood universe probably originated with the 1980s ITV adaptation of Robin Hood, which featured a Saracen called Nasir who is part of Hood’s ‘Merry Men.’
Okay, so what is the problem here? There have not been an overwhelming number of people of colour in Robin Hood movies or TV shows, but there have been a few. This article erases them all in one wild swoop and includes a picture of Chappelle for the lols and Costner at the top. They could have put a picture of Freeman on the top, you know. Instead of not mentioning him by name even once. And this happens all. the. time. It happens with books. People go like POCS NEVER WROTE SPEC FIC BEFORE EXCEPT FOR OCTAVIA BUTLER and it is like okay, yeah, not a *lot* of POC writers were around and highly-visible (key word) before the 2000s but that means poor Charles Saunders just got removed from reality. As did a bunch of others. Thanks but no thanks?
In trying to “prop us up” well-meaning people often erase us. This happens because we sometimes don’t ‘look’ the part (Isaac presumably looks white). People do not do any research and don’t look back. Other times it is because they don’t look at the spaces where POCs are active. These might be independent spaces: Advantageous is an indie sci fi film about a mother and daughter, and they are Asian and it is very good. Or POCs might just be in different spaces. Want to see a lot of period pieces not set in Europe? Watch some of the numerous Asian dramas available on Netflix. Yes, Marco Polo did feature an almost all-Asian cast, but Netflix currently tells me there’s also Empresses in the Palace. Bollywood has been producing films without bothering to ask Hollywood what it is up to for years and years. Japanese anime comes in all shapes and sizes, from space adventures to period pieces. With Netflix and other modern media it is easier than ever to find these products.
So here’s the deal: stop ‘helpfully’ erasing us.