Monday, April 02, 2012

Eradicating racial bias at the source

Today at lunch I read a New Yorker piece from their Book Bench blog that talked about a guy who started a Tumblr site collecting all the tweets from people who were from dismayed to outright aghast at how in the movie adaptation of The Hunger Games the characters from District 11 were played by black actors. Even though in the book they are described as dark-skinned, that didn't stop a lot of fans of the book from envisioning sweet little Rue as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. And then some of those people were willing to share those disappointments on the internet.

The thrust of the piece was about how characters in books tend to be envisioned as white unless explicitly identified by the author as otherwise (and the hurdle that minorities face in society in general out of that connotation of white with innocence). Certainly it's a fine idea to work toward a world where Caucasians aren't the default race in the collective mind, but rather than merely identify the issue, how can we achieve that?

It seems to me there's only one way: We need to ban film adaptations of books that are fictional. Non-fiction books may be allowed to transfer to the other medium but must be required to identify all persons by their race or ethnicity. However, works that involve made-up characters clearly leave far too much leeway to allow readers to impose their own racial biases upon the characters. Only stories that emerge as visual media such as movies and television shows will be allowed to portray fictional stories on the screen, with actors of easily identifiable race/ethnicity setting the way that role must be imagined by everyone.

This, of course, may not stop racism or bigotry, but it will establish clear distinctions from the start, so there's none of this shock afterward that reveals these biases. This public shaming only drives these people back underground, without changing their outlook on the world, but if they don't get their hopes up that some character is white and then see that character have some other skin color; the character will only ever be what the actor looks like, and they can simply accept that or dismiss it from the get-go, and slowly that will get people out of the habit of being shocked when their biased expectations aren't met because they won't have established expectations in the first place.

Making people genuinely open-minded? Should we expect art actually to do that?

Besides, if we were ever to achieve wiping out those biases altogether what would people have to complain about on or off the internet?

1 comment:

  1. I think film adaptations of books should be banned on principle, just because they are almost never faithful to the book. "The Princess Bride" is a rare exception. But if they banned adaptations, that would eliminate a third of Hollywood scripts right there. Probably a good thing.


So, what do you think?