A few days ago a Facebook friend posted a link to a blog where the blogger took Disney to task for the lack of people of color in ‘Brave.’ They presented the argument that there were people of color in Scotland during this period and they should have been recognized in the film. The blog made me think back on other posts where the writers listed numerous examples of people of color throughout Europe during the medieval period and other points in European history. All these claims were posted to justify the inclusion of people of color in historical fiction and fantasy, effectively challenging those who believe that such representation is not historically accurate.
But then I leaned back in my chair and asked myself the question, ‘What’s really going on here?’ Why do people like me, people of African descent, fight so hard to show our footprint in Europe and around the world when we have an entire continent where our presence goes without saying? There is a clear, legitimate argument as to why, but there’s also a shallow, superficial answer to the question as well; because it’s so cool.
Most of us learned history through fiction first. We watched cartoons and movies of Robin Hood, King Arthur, of noble knights and beautiful ladies, of glamorous castles surrounded by green fields and happy peasants. We wanted to ride to battle in shining armor, rescue damsels in distress or be rescued by handsome knights. When fantasy and sword and sorcery came into vogue we were swept away by the myriad of artistic images, especially those by Frank Frazzetta and Boris Vallejo. This was cool! We wanted to be these folks.
When I look back to African based images that stuck in my mind growing up two images come to mind; Shaka Zulu and Kunta Kinte. The Zulus come the closest in my mind of African coolness. These were the people who defeated the British at Isandlwana. Hundreds of books have been written about them. The Zulus were considered so cool that when Oprah was on Dr. Gates show that traced genetic roots she said she thought she might be descended from the Zulu (sorry Oprah!).
And then there was Kunta Kinte. The story of Roots is a powerful narrative, a story that reflects the struggle of African Americans in this country. It was moving and thought provoking but not cool. I did not want to be Kunta Kinte.
In the early ’70s we were introduced to Japanese cool. We were inundated with anime, overwhelmed with images from the culture and we fell hard. We wanted to be samuri and ninjas because it was cool to cut someone in half with a katana, to uphold the bushido code or to climb vertical walls and disappear at will into a cloud of chalk dust.
So this superficial blog is about close. When I sit down to write Sword and Soul, I write the stories I love to read. I try to write the best story I can. I try to develop interesting characters then put them in challenging and exciting situations. But I know that if I expect people to embrace Sword and Soul, I have to make it cool. How will I know I’ve succeeded? When I go to a fantasy convention and see a cosplayer dressed like that man above.
Back to work.