According to Racebending.com, who coined the term when they were founded during the hot, racist mess that was the production of The Last Airbender, racebending means “…situations where a media content creator (movie studio, publisher, etc.) has changed the race or ethnicity of a character. This is a longstanding Hollywood practice that has been historically used to discriminate against people of color.” With the impending release of The Lone Ranger, which features Johnny Depp in red face, Racebending.com’s goals of fighting back against the discriminatory use of this practice, more commonly referred to as “whitewashing”, remains important. (Pro-tip: Do not go see The Lone Ranger. I will be very disappointed in you.)
But racebending, in fandom, has started to take on another definition—or, rather, the same definition, but instead of being used to discriminate, it’s being used to imagine a different kind of pop culture by providing alternate casting for film and television. What if Game of Thrones was influenced by medieval China, not medieval England? Would Gong Li be the right choice for Cersei? In fandom, a common narrative is that if your media isn’t serving you, you can make it serve you by your own hand, by creating countertexts. As Idris Elba has said, we have to change the assumption that white is the default: reimagining pop cultural touchstones is a good way to start.
Three tumblrs (this kind of thing is sort of hand-tailored for tumblr) have taken this on: fyeahracebending, racebentdisney, and raceboot. The last hasn’t been updated in a year, but their about box specifically says “The Big Two aren’t making any leaps and bounds in terms of diversity, so let’s do it ourselves”, and that’s just dreamy. Plus, the best are both striking and thoughtful—Nicki Minaj as Harley Quinn, someone who can hit just the right level of boundless enthusiasm and girlishness, while still being able to instill fear in the hearts of others through those two things? Genius!
I heartily recommend taking the time to flip through those three tumblrs and imagine a world where our pop cultural touchstones don’t default to white.
This week’s links:
- Speaking of racebending, this list of all-white children’s movies proves the importance of giving kids diverse role models.
- The Alternate Limb Project creates prosthetics that double as fashion statements.
- First Pick Planning demonstrates a very glamorous way to do a Doctor Who-inspired wedding. I find a lot of fandom weddings underwhelming from an aesthetic standpoint, so this is really heartening.
- Max Gladstone’s “Broader Fantasy Foundations” series has two new-to-me entries: Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Mahabharata.
- With the death of Margaret Thatcher this week, I thought a primer to her life and influence would be incredibly useful. The Jacobin provides.
- Mary Robinette Kowal has hidden the Doctor inconspicuously in her historical fantasy novels, because she’s awesome like that.
- Malinda Lo talks about labeling books, labeling people, and how labeling can be useful.
- Suzy Lee Weiss’ article about how she didn’t get into her first choice college is… well, Kendra James at Racialicious smacks it down thoughtfully.
- And then Joseph dissects “Accidental Racist”, also at Racialicious. The Atlantic‘s take is similarly worthwhile.
- Emily Asher-Perrin at Tor.com discusses the difficulty of Star Wars fandom, because there is no one fixed text.
Got any favorite racebent castings?