December 16, 2004

Earthsea (SciFi Channel)

I wasn't going to say anything. I was going to pretend it didn't exist.

Shipwrecked in Earthsea

Lookit, the castThe Legend of Earthsea (SciFi Channel original miniseries)
Starring: Shawn Ashmore, Isabella Rossellini, Kristin Kreuk, Danny Glover, Isabella Rossellini (again, because I love her name—say it with me, "Isabella Rossellini"), Denmark, Norway, and the Swedish Bikini Team.
Directed by: Robert Lieberman
Written by: Gavin Scott, based on a passing knowledge of the books by Ursula K. LeGuin.
MPAA says: Don't look at us, this was made for TV
Running time: Not sure it ever ends
Release date: December, 2004
Seen at: Home, with the remote within reach.

Whitewashing the world

I wasn't going to say anything—being the Critic Formerly Known as Outside Food Critic, and all that. But last night I was speaking with a nice-lookin' guy at a book reading at KGB bar. At a wild, completely uninformed guess, I'd say there's a chance the very fair-complexioned nice-lookin' guy is originally from India. (This is somewhat relevant to the topic at hand, even though I always dislike it when people look at me and say "Are you from India? Of course you're from India. You don't know it, but your family came from India." Uhm, no.) His take on The Legend of Earthsea, the miniseries that aired this week on the SciFi Channel, was, coming from the perspective of his own job in marketing, you can't have a darkskinned hero on a cable channel movie, because you'll lose 90% of your caucasian viewers, and there goes your advertising. Most of the characters in the novels are non-caucasian, but from his industry perspective, it's not a matter of "colorblind casting." It's a matter of your target audience, those non-readers, the television viewership—or, that viewership as perceived through the minds of television producers and their marketing department.

Everything is darker if you squintI countered that, in science fiction and fantasy, for which viewers look to the SciFi channel to be the television flagship, your audience must be accustomed to everything from aliens to dragons as sympathetic heroes. And if they're incapable of empathising with a fellow human, how can they comprehend the genre at all? He argued that advertising and marketing precepts teach him that people will only empathise with people who are very similar to themselves, like with like. Then (I countered), I suppose Outside Food Critic is meant to empathise with nothing at all, what with being an alien hybrid mix and all. He did not invite me to accompany him to his post-reading stop at the ramen place down the street.

Ursula K. LeGuin, author of the Earthsea books and many other novels (including one I groused about in the entry Read the Book), counters with this column in Slate. An excerpt: "I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don't notice, don't care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being 'colorblind.' Nobody else does."

Aside from the casting, how was the miniseries?

A shipwreck.

Read the book.

Next week: I subject readers to 800 years of my wild and wacky family tree. Or maybe not.

Posted by OutsideFood at December 16, 2004 01:23 PM

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