Wheel of Time casting, questions of ethnicity, and so on

Thanks to my dude Beer Rot for linking this to me. I’m sure Aaron already saw it too, he’s been all over this channel and the Wheel of Time TV remake.

Interesting watch. I could already have guessed the sorts of comments the casting of this show would get. Hell, I remember all too well a debate over whether Mat could have been played by Will Smith (back in the days of yore when Will Smith could have played a young-ish adult). I was staunchly on the side of “No”, mainly because of the way the skin tones of various characters and races were described in the books. It seems like it would have been something Jordan – known bad describer of things – would have mentioned.

On the other hand, he did also lay between-the-lines groundwork for the Two Rivers being something of a melting pot, and for skin colour to not be as important as other things (for some places). Which is really cool. I’m happy to change my vote on this one, although Will Smith is definitely too old now. And of course I am therefore heavily invested in the “not everyone objecting to a casting choice is automatically racist” argument, because I want to avoid that. Although I was only objecting to a casting suggestion, I don’t know how I would have reacted to actual casting back in the ’90s and early ’00s.

Still. Here we are. Actual casting is happening.

I had to chuckle at the “Moiraine will turn up and see the one white guy” joke-attempt. I mean, in the books it was worse, she turned up and saw the one thirteen-foot-tall ginger. Even in Caemlyn people were going “Light, look at that Aielman!” But okay, whatever. Amusing, but not in any way a point against the cast.

And there it is, 15:08 onwards, the Woke Plot. Of course, we knew this was coming.

As a style note, I love Matt Hatch’s shirt. That’s amazing.

About Hatboy

I’m not often driven to introspection or reflection, but the question does come up sometimes. The big question. So big, there’s just no containing it within the puny boundaries of a single set of punctuationary bookends. Who are these mysterious and unsung heroes of obscurity and shadow? What is their origin story? Do they have a prequel trilogy? What are their secret identities? What are their public identities, for that matter? What are their powers? Their abilities? Their haunted pasts and troubled futures? Their modus operandi? Where do they live anyway, and when? What do they do for a living? Do they really have these fantastical adventures, or is it a dazzlingly intellectual and overwrought metaphor? Or is it perhaps a smug and post-modern sort of metaphor? Is it a plain stupid metaphor, hedged around with thick wads of plausible deniability, a soap bubble of illusory plot dependent upon readers who don’t dare question it for fear of looking foolish? A flight of fancy, having dozed off in front of the television during an episode of something suitably spaceship-oriented? Do they have a quest, a handler, a mission statement, a department-level development objective in five stages? I am Hatboy. https://hatboy.blog/2013/12/17/metalude-who-are-creepy-and-hatboy/
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21 Responses to Wheel of Time casting, questions of ethnicity, and so on

  1. Haven’t seen this one yet but I am usually a day behind on videos. My main issues on this topic are if the race (I guess I mean skin color) of the character was really, really clearly described, then I don’t *like* it but I can live with it. Especially if the author has said the swap is fine, but then again everyone should keep in mind if an author does NOT say it is fine, he will get a shitload of hate from my “side”. Not from me, by the way.

    I’m pretty sure a lot of these characters were clearly described enough that it reaches this bar for me, but not in an extreme way. Like I’ll just say it, I think the 3 main boys and the 3 main girls (the E’s and Nana) are all lily white. There it is. But I actually don’t particularly care. The biggest thing about this is, Jordan’s world is ALREADY diverse. He just didn’t make those 6 characters diverse and they are kind of the main characters.

    There are other examples of the swap when race is clearly described, but I don’t want to beat that into the ground.

    My bigger issue comes in when the “race” is pivotal to the plot, especially in a major way. For example, Swapping Roland to a black man makes Detta’s entire plot wonky. But! Not as much as making Detta white, of course. That would be the real weird one, not to mention offensive to whitewash her. But! Detta’s already offensive, so that’s an example of a character that needs changing anyway.

    But I think you get me. Casting a black man as a slave master in a pre Civil War film, there you go. That, I would have a problem with, even as fantasy. Stuff like that.

    I don’t think anything in WoT reaches this second bar. So the casting stuff? My thoughts? Casting means the show is about to come out. So casting is good. Let’s have more casting. And filming. And folding arms under boobs with low cut shirts.

    I can deal if I don’t get that last one.

    • stchucky says:

      Hey, if there’s not at least one sniff and one arm folding and one braid-tug in the first … episode? Season at the outside – then I am rioting.

    • stchucky says:

      Also, about Roland again, his colour really isn’t pivotal except Detta calls him a honk mafah and that’s super easy (barely an inconvenience) to write around, and King said it was fine. So we’re all set.

      • Also about Roland again there is a LOT more going on with Detta than one namecalling incident. Her entire attitude towards them is based on race! So it’s less easy to write around. And again, rewriting Detta would almost certainly be necessary, as I commented above. So it’s just an example of how you can overturn an apple cart with a swap. It’s not a claim that an entire apple cart WAS overturned.

        Also the movie seemed to fail anyway so who knows if this discussion will ever be relevant again. So I guess we’re still all set.

        Now can I get to being introspective about the rest of my brain finally figuring out why my lizard brain likes all the River Song episodes of Doctor Who? Because I have been noticing this time around, man the tops of her boobs must get really hot or something. She’s always trying to give them some more air.

        Not complaining, though I think that’s obvious knowing me.

        Just need some arm folding….

      • stchucky says:

        I disagree, her reaction to him is hateful but the racial side of it always seemed incidental and one of convenience for me. Detta is a hostile and broken thing and yes, that manifests as racism against Roland and Eddie. If the easy out of racism was gone (at least from Roland) it would be easy to write around because the Gunslinger is still a black man all dressed up like a fancy white man (in Detta’s eyes), with a white boy (assuming Eddie was cast white) and with the white man’s attitude. It can effortlessly be transferred over, in my view, because her hatred is unconditional and opportunistic. it’s not like Odetta, Detta or Susannah were raised anti-white racist, after all – except insofar as any successful black family in that era would absorb the background racism.

      • Hunh. Well this would be why I’m not a writer. Neither, apparently, are many in Hollywood. *smri*

      • stchucky says:

        Well we love complaining about that here on the Hatstand.

        But anyway yeah, you’re all good. I definitely agree that they race-swapped Roland and they arguably didn’t race-swap the Two Rivers team (according to the excellent research in the video), which is the main point here.

        Whether we like or dislike either case is just personal opinion and we definitely get to have those. If I think yours is racist, I’ll call you out (and vice versa), but that’s not happening here. As Maui might sing.

      • LOL now I’m amusing myself thinking of the Emond’s Field 5 plus Elayne as “A couple of E’s, an M and a P, an R, and an N.”

        I blame you.

      • stchucky says:

        Only a Child of the Dragon can call another Child of the Dragon Child of the Dragon…

      • Once you go Dragon you can never go back.

  2. So I’m watching the video now, just amazing work. Do we know Matt? Was he ever on either NG we both were?

    And damn. It’s clear that my expectations and bias caused me to assume whiteness all over this series where it wasn’t. This was a really good video.

    Again, not that I was worried at all over the WoT casting diversity in GENERAL (specific issue previously noted on Fain). I truly did think, however, that most of the main characters from Randland (not Shawn Chan) were white. Not all, but definitely most.

    I actually thought it was kind of a bad thing, but that it was what RJ wrote. I can see I was wrong, or could have been wrong, about all of that.

    • stchucky says:

      So I’m watching the video now, just amazing work. Do we know Matt? Was he ever on either NG we both were?

      Afraid not, it seems as though he wasn’t on Usenet, but the later (and presumably contemporary) web-based forums and other fan groups. Great work though.

      And damn. It’s clear that my expectations and bias caused me to assume whiteness all over this series where it wasn’t. This was a really good video.

      Again, not that I was worried at all over the WoT casting diversity in GENERAL (specific issue previously noted on Fain). I truly did think, however, that most of the main characters from Randland (not Shawn Chan) were white. Not all, but definitely most.

      I actually thought it was kind of a bad thing, but that it was what RJ wrote. I can see I was wrong, or could have been wrong, about all of that.

      Yeah, I mean, it can still be safely assumed either way, for example the “paler than the [white] flowers” line is pretty clear, but the main points here are:

      1) Jordan had some favourite go-to phrases when it came to describing things, and didn’t necessarily do a great job, but that left it conveniently open to interpretation.

      2) There were definitely dark-skinned, dark-eyed, dark-haired people in the Two Rivers as a matter of canon, regardless of the vagueness of the main characters’ descriptions. White readers can be forgiven for assuming the protagonists are white, and black readers can be forgiven for assuming the protagonists are black. The TV show doesn’t even necessarily need to change that, but that’s another discussion altogether.

      3) People arguing that the casting in this show is against canon absolutely haven’t got a leg to stand on. They’re just objectively proven to be wrong on this one. Even without the “book and TV show have separate canon” side-discussion.

      I’m really looking forward to this. Is it time for the hype train yet?

  3. Beer Rot says:

    People today are forgetting one thing with their “I’m totally not racist but RJ didn’t specifically say there weren’t white, while sometimes describing others as ‘darker’, therefore they’re white.”

    1. This series was started in the 80s.
    2. RJ was raised in the South.
    3. America was* systemically racist.
    4. Nobody would read “LOTR n da Hood” if he explicitly described any of the heroes as non-white.
    5. JK Rowling.

    He left plenty of enough material in the books to show the native EF4 weren’t pasty Euros.


    • All true. Systematically, systemically, and sickeningly racist, I would add.

    • As I watched Matt’s excellent explanations I realized that the covers were the main thing that deceived me. And yes, I railed against Sweet’s terrible artwork as much as any. But I never got so far as to think that maybe he got the skin color completely off, as I see now he easily could have! And on the covers, all the EF are white. I can’t rightly say how many of the various women are on the covers because of how terrible his artwork was, but all of them are pasty, too. Elayne as well, I think she’s on a couple of the covers. But again, terrible artwork, hard to say.

      But then again, your point about selling books in those times….

    • stchucky says:

      I’m not entirely clear what your point here was, but it looks like you’re agreeing that Jordan wrote the characters to be arguably racially diverse? Or that he died before he could Rowling that shit, so now others are doing it for him?

      I mean, it would have been painful to see Robert Jordan on twitter. Every tweet would have been a thread.

      • Beer Rot says:

        Actually I believe RJ wrote in enough ambiguity so that non-white readers could see the characters as closer to themselves. I’d like to think I would have been able to read and enjoy an epic if 4 of the 8 heroes of book 1 were distinctly portrayed as naturally tanned/darker skinned, but who knows about the rest of America. The late 80s and early 90s were pretty shitty. There were quite a few inner city/ghetto/gangster movies that came out during that time, and I could easily see some idiots making that “LOTR n da Hood” joke if the EF natives were obviously POC.

        As for JK, I was referencing the fact that she had to publish her first book as JK because a woman’s name on the cover may not have garnered as much success. Same with publishing a fantasy book where the hero wasn’t white.

      • stchucky says:

        Ahhh now I get you. Yeah, those are good points, and it’s definitely to Jordan’s credit. The huge amount of research that went into this video kind of proves beyond doubt that he was intentionally writing the books to show a diverse set of races in a post-apocalyptic world where old racial distinctions (ie. skin colour) weren’t as important as geographical ones.

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