Over on livejournal under my fandom handle I ended up asking George RR Martin some questions about the Oberyn Martell casting and diversity in Game of Thrones. I know it’s gotten some attention on WinterisComing.net and Reddit and here on Tumblr.
In my first question, I expressed my concerns about the casting of the Martells, shared that many readers saw them as people of color, and concluded by asking ”Is there anything fans can do to help encourage the showrunners to cast the Martells diversely?”
After I wrote the comment to GRRM a friend asked me if I wanted to know what his answer would be. Another asked what the likelihood of getting an answer that would satisfy me would be. I paused for a moment, and then put it at about 5%. But, I added, justifying it to myself, it’s always important to know where things stand.
That didn’t stop my stomach from sinking when I read his response, though.
"Though by and large I reject one to one analogies, I’ve always pictured the “salty Dornish" as being more Mediterranean than African in appearance; Greek, Spanish, Italian, Portugese, etc. Dark hair and eyes, olive skin.”
And a glass door slammed. In the roar there was an ensuing wave of anti-blackness, fandom misogyny, etc. I still don’t know how George RR Martin and some of my fellow fans could read “people of color” and immediately jumped to black people. Over on reddit my “diction choice” of using the “nonsensical” term people of color was deconstructed as SJW whinging and having a race agenda (even though Martin himself has used the term in other contexts before.)
I wrote back to GRRM, using textual evidence to explain why fans saw themselves in the Martells, and I called out the existing characters of color in the franchise as “otherized supports to the stories of white PoV characters” in contrast to the Dornish characters who were actually “players of the Game of Thrones.”
I said that now after what he’s said about the Martells and how he sees them, for me as a reader, “my view of Westeros has changed. Some of the verisimilitude has faded, the world of Ice and Fire feels more plastic and shiny.”
And I asked again, what can fans like me do to encourage the show to cast the upcoming Martells diversely? because I noticed he hadn’t answered the question the first time.
It does trouble me to have [my PoC characters] dismissed as “otherized supports to… white PoV characters.” Yes, they are supporting characters; they’re not protagonists, they don’t have chapters from their own viewpoint. But Oberyn Martell is a supporting character as well. Which is not to say he is unimportant. Robb Stark never had a viewpoint chapter either.
I can’t think of a single non-white character in ASOIAF as plot-significant as Robb Stark, or even Oberyn Martell, now that we have cleared up that he is white.
I try to make ALL my characters fully-fleshed and human, whether they are secondary or tertiary characters, minor players, or spearcarriers who only have one line. I grant you, I may not always succeed, given that I have literally thousands of characters, but the intent is there. I should also point out that I am not done writing the books. If you’ve read my novels, you’ll know that sometimes a character who seems very minor in one book assumes great importance in later volumes… and sometimes even becomes a POV.
But later on, he responded to another fan (and called tumblr a cesspool—ouch.)
"While I stand by my previous descriptions of Prince Oberyn and the salty Dornish, and support the casting of Pedro Pascal, I hate to disappoint any of my readers, and I am sympathetic to their desires to ‘see themselves’ in the text.
"The text — the NOVELS — are actually the only thing I control, but I can say, with some certainty, that there will be people of color therein. Salladhor and Xaro are white in the books, true, but I have some interesting new characters coming forward (not viewpoints, admittedly, but cool, I hope) you may like, and there will be more of Strong Belwas, Moqorro, Missandei, Irri, Jhiqui, the bloodriders, many other Dothraki, Chataya and Alayaya, Jhalabar Xho, and the captain and crew of the Cinnamon Wind.
"They may not all come to good ends, mind you, and some will be deeply flawed, and some will be minor players… but they will be there, in living color, for good or ill."
Not viewpoints, though. The characters of color in ASOIAF, they won’t have old House words, Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken, proud and strong. They won’t press a cyvasse piece in your palm and tell you to wait for fire and blood, or ride a cavalry of horses streaking across hot desert sands. They won’t whisk a Lannister princess away or sail an ocean to court the Mother of Dragons.
But they will be there. Though, all the PoV characters in this sprawling epic will be white.
As this WinterisComing moderator notes on her personal tumblr:
"let’s be real, no way is the crew of the Cinnamon Wind and Moqorro equal with Oberyn, Doran and Arianne Martell in terms of importance. oh, Grrm…"
Not the response I was hoping for, not that 5% chance. I’m thankful that he took the time to respond in a respectful way, even though he says he doesn’t agree with everything I said.
A small stubborn voice in me rails, which part wasn’t agreeable, the part where i said that the Mediterranean region includes more than Europe? the part where i say there are no poc Game players? the part where i said it’s important for POC to be seen in fantasy and that not having them affects the verisimilitude?
Extra props to Martin and/or his assistant for unscreening this clever gem of a comment. ImaJuicyGirl so accurately captures what I was going for (in a reductive, dismissing, and uh, invalidating way.)
I’m fat, so I’ve grown up seeing how everybody like me (fat) was considered either stupid, meaningless or stupidly meaningless in most books, films and tv shows. In fact, I read the ASOIAF novels and I kept seeing how many fat characters (Sam, Lysa Arryn, Hodor, Robert Baratheon…) are either stupid, crazy or even mentally deficient.
But I feel even worse about reducing the number of fat characters in the show. It’s bad to have so many stereotypes around, but not even having a decent amount of overweight and obese people is even more insulting. You even made Lysa Arryn super skinny!!! I’m not gonna forgive you just because the actress was fucking amazing and she WAS Lysa Arryn, I would have preferred to have a mediocre fat person!
Also, when I was reading the books I thought about how some characters would be amazing as fatties. I mean, I know Daenerys is supposed to be in shape and all that, but I like her, so I imagined her morbidly obese. Iit would have been nice of the producers to have chosen an obese actress to play her, that way all of us fat women who suffer discrimation because of our weight would have an amazing role model, and we would have been represented in the show. However, you chose to stick to the book instead of my imagination, which I think is DISCRIMINATORY. Therefore, I HATE YOU SO MUCH.
With everything that has happened, FatPinkCast feels more important to me than ever. There’s just three of us, but we’re women of color and dammit we’ve managed to carve out a space that is just for us and people who feel like us in fandom, and we’re not afraid of having conversations about ASOIAF using a critical media studies, critical feminist studies, and yes, critical race studies lens. So at least there’s that. (Even though I feel like Gendry in his plot canoe trying to row to King’s Landing.)
And the rest of me just feels sorry.
Not sorry that, because I asked, he wrote back instead of writing more TWOW.
Sorry because, before I asked him, the part of fandom that cared about diversity in ASOIAF (and if you don’t care, why are you spending so much time haranguing the people who do?), the fans who were invested in seeing nonwhite actors cast in the roles of the Martells…we could all go on believing that they were people of color in the novel and that the show had slipped up.
It’s so much harder to do that now, and I just feel like if I hadn’t asked, we wouldn’t have experienced this loss.
It is a loss—and the lusty and friendly Cinnamon Wind isn’t a consolation prize, not even close— it’s a loss for readers of color who saw themselves visually in the Dornish the way they couldn’t in the other great houses of Westeros. Readers who could have gone on reading the books that way, more diverse than they are actually intended to be. It is a loss for the book series in terms of verisimilitude; the way the Dothraki, Mereen, and Essos are treated in the context of Dany’s story is a huge awkward colonialist blip in the ASOIAF mythos…one that the presence of Dorne can no longer mitigate.
I’m so sorry I asked. I’m sorry that my questions inadvertently prompted George RR Martin to hammer glass panels all over fandom’s imagination.
Like I said in my comment to him, I’m from a racial group that doesn’t get to be present in western medieval fantasy at all, so I didn’t see myself in Dorne the same way other readers of color did…and I shouldn’t have been so callous in gambling with that when I asked him those questions.
And I realize that even though I repeated my primary question twice—Is there anything fans can do to help encourage the showrunners to cast the Martells diversely?—he hasn’t answered it.
I’m tempted to ask why, but I’m afraid of the answer.
"I wasn’t present for Pedro Pascal’s audition, but I understand that he really killed it with his reading. And since his casting was announced, the producer of another TV show on which he appeared recently has written me to say how terrific Pascal is, and to congratulate us on the casting. So I…
And now unsurprisingly GRRM still doesn’t have the balls to say anything negative about the show and is missing the point.
When is everyone going to get that the explanation that Pascal was simply the best actor who auditioned for the part is no explanation because WHY WERE THERE ANY WHITE ACTORS BEING CONSIDERED FOR THE PART AT ALL? If the showrunners actually grasped the importance of having a stronger representation of POC in this cast, then they would understand that you can’t just make up for whitewashing one of the only pretty important characters who’s clearly described as one by casting several canonically white minor characters as POC (which are practically always disenfranchised people, never characters in powerful and important roles). If they gave a shit, they would have made a point of looking specifically for actors who fit the character in appearance.
I mean you know there is just no way that when casting all the major characters so far in this series they didn’t specifically call for white people. I seriously doubt any actors of color even had the opportunity to read for parts like Melisandre or Bronn.
And sure, it would in a lot of cases get complicated to race-bend characters in this universe because a lot of the them are of large families who all need to look like they could be related, and the appearances of people from different regions of Westeros and history of their common ancestry and all that shit is strongly established. And that’s why it is good that they’ve at least used chances to be all-inclusive in the casting for characters like pirates who could be from anywhere.
But at this point that’s just become tokenism because anyone connected to the show seems willing to point to it as a defense against complaints that any of the casting is unfair. It’s still bullshit that people of color can only get roles on this show when the creators decide to be all-inclusive and unspecific about ethnicity when casting certain roles, because actually excluding white people from playing some characters is out of the question even though POC actors’ careers and opportunities are always being limited in this way. A role like Daenerys Targaryen is generally always going to be secured for a white person, but even the role of a character as popular and important as OBERYN FUCKING MARTELL can’t be secured for the minorities he could represent? There is no excusing that.
favourite asoiaf characters; Oberyn Martell
“Is it sheep you take us for, or fools? My brother is not a bloodthirsty man, but neither has he been asleep for sixteen years. I did not come for some mummer’s show of an inquiry. I came for justice for Elia and her children, and I will have it. Starting with this lummox Gregor Clegane … but not, I think, ending there. Before he dies, the Enormity That Rides will tell me whence came his orders, please assure your lord father of that.” He smiled. “An old septon once claimed I was living proof of the goodness of the gods. Do you know why that is, Imp?”
“No,” Tyrion admitted warily.
“Why, if the gods were cruel, they would have made me my mother’s firstborn, and Doran her third. I am a bloodthirsty man, you see. And it is me you must contend with now, not my patient, prudent, and gouty brother.”
ODED FEHR as oberyn martell | asked by craigroyale
young elia and oberyn martell they make me sad
Game of Thrones Meme ✖ 3/8 RELATIONSHIPS ✖ OBERYN & ELIA
"Our destination was marriage. Elia found it all exciting. She was of that age, and her delicate health had never permitted her much travel. I preferred to amuse myself by mocking my sister’s suitors. There was the Whale That Walks, Little Lord Lazyeye, that sort of thing. Elia was half in love with Lord Leyton’s heir until I named him Baelor Breakwind, and after that she couldn’t look at him without laughing. I was a monstrous young fellow, someone should have sliced out my vile tongue."
Tyrion agreed silently. Had Elia wed Baelor Hightower in place of Rhaegar Targaryen, she might be in Oldtown with her children growing tall around her.
Oberyn abruptly changed the subject. “It’s said there are to be seventy-seven dishes served at the king’s wedding feast.”
“Are you hungry, my prince?”
“I have hungered for a long time. Though not for food. Pray tell me, when will the justice be served?”
oh boy, oberyn
i see what u did there
BE MY BEST FRIEND
YOU WOULD TOTALLY BE MY DREAM PERSON TO LIVEBLOG PORN WITH
YOU DON’T EVEN SAY FULL SENTENCES YET
WE’D GO TO SEX TOY SHOPS TOGETHER AND SNARK AT THE SHAPES OF VIBRATORS
WE’D MIMIC ALL THE “I CAME FACES” IN ALL THE D GRADE PORNOS THAT HAVE EVER EXISTED
I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE NOT REAL
BE MY FRIEND
“The Mountain VS The Red Viper”
by John Picacio
for Calendar 2012 A Song of Ice and Fire