A minor kerfuffle on race and representation was kicked up following last Sunday’s season finale of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Most noticeably, the barely restrained tilt towards Orientalism and the “great white emancipator” finally crossed the red line with the episode “Mhysa.” By week’s end, more than a few articles appeared in criticism, most noticeably comedian Aamer Rahman who pointed out why the Khaleesi’s entire storyline has been “messed up” from the jump. The reactions to this were typical: Denials. Charges of political correctness run amok. And of course, lots’ o’ geek-splainin’. But anyone barely acquainted with modern fantasy literature knows that from black-veiled Haradrim to the Ever Victorious Seanchan to the slavers of Yunkai, the genre has had a long love affair with exotic and dangerous “others.”
Last month fashion icons Dolce & Gabbana sent models down the runway sporting earrings carved in the likeness of black women. The uproar was instantaneous. One story described the earrings as “slave-like,” linking them to a long history of black caricatures. Another lampooned D&G for engaging in “cartoonish, debasing, subaltern imagery that would make even your politically incorrect Grandpa think twice.” The official media term for them became, “slave earrings.”
So I’m doing what I normally do when I should be working/writing (trying to read the entire internet) and quite by chance I find out they’re making a sequel to 300. Then I threw up in my mouth a little… because nothing makes me gag like the thought of another bit of Hollywood-formulated Occidental fantasy and Orientalist othering with a large dose of historical revisionism by that icon of multiculturalism and gender representation, Frank Miller. Re-posted below, for whoever cares, is a review and critique I wrote on 300 back in 2007. In the name of blogger honesty, I haven’t changed anything from the original post–except for a few broken links. I have a feeling the inevitable sequel won’t require me to do that much revision anyway.
I attended an event at the Smithsonian this weekend called Asia After Dark: Afro-Asiatic Mash-Up. Held in the meditative Moongate garden, the evening featured a “mash-up” of Japanese vogue dance, theater, storytelling, hip-hop music and Afro-funk (Fela!) choreographed by visual artist iona rozeal brown. Among inventive cocktails, Japanese beer and floating origami lotus blossom lanterns, guests were invited to create masks using Asian botanical and Ashanti adinkra symbols from West Africa, while the highlight was a performance of soloist dancer Monstah Black–whose outfit was a dizzying array of Japanese Geisha meets Soulsonic Force topped off by a Gabon-Punu/Lumbo mask. Was pretty dope. And the only thing conspicuously missing in this Afro-Asian fusion was any mention of Wu-Tang Clan. Yet as novel and cutting-edge as all of this meeting of two seemingly un-related cultures and peoples may seem, it’s not really all that new. Asia and Africa have been melding and fusing for quite a long time.
*photo: (L) “…hold on…”–Erykah Badu, 2009 by artist iona rozeal brown- Courtesy of Robert Goff Gallery (R) Muhammad Khan, The Noble Ikhlas Khan With a Petition by Muhammad Khan (17th century), India. c. 1650. in San Diego Museum of Art
A quick word on my choice of header art. The piece is called “The Moorish Warrior,” by William Merritt Chase (1844-1916). I first came across the painting while strolling through the Brooklyn Museum of Art several years ago. I wasn’t familiar with the artist, but I knew the style–part of what was known as the Orientalist movement, which created picturesque paintings of the Near East. Like every other graduate student in the social sciences, I had the pleasure of reading Edward Said’s groundbreaking work, Orientalism.