August 20, 2011
My mama introduced me to all types of fantastical stories when I was a kid, somewhat younger. Gremlins. X-Men. The Dead Zone. Star Wars. Somewhere in Time. Batman. Peter Pan. Warriors of Virtue. Casper. Willow. Galaxy Quest. Reboot. Indiana Jones. Star Trek. Back to the Future. Ronin Warriors. Labyrinth. Hook. Star Gate SG-1. Sailor Moon. Ever After. Bram Stroker’s Dracula. I grew up playing RPG (role playing games) like the Zelda series, Castlevania, Soul Reaver, Sonic the Hedgehodge. Super Mario Brothers, Donkey Kong, Final Fantasy, and, later, Kingdom Hearts.
And, of course, all of those movies, games, and shows are chockfull of white/white skinned people. One of the movies that stands out the most in my thoughts is the NeverEnding Story, which led me to the title of this post. Full of symbols of whiteness and white people.
Yet I know me and my family weren’t the only Black folks watching and playing this stuff nor were our imaginations unstirred by them. I went to see Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt. 1 when it came out at a midnight showing. The theater was full of Black people who came there in the middle of the night and paid their money to do the same thing. There was this Black person, and you sometimes you get the vocal types in the movies theater, this Black guy, who said quite loudly and proudly, “Man, I don’t give a shit what nobody say, man, I luv Harry Potter.”
It’s not that Black people and writers don’t write or commune with what could be labeled the fantastical and simultaneously spiritual. But the point is that we as a peoples generally tend not to write/get published for fantasy fiction or anything related, like sci-fi, supernatural, magical girl (fantasy and more of a manga/anime thing), horror (unless you count some of our experiences in life, which we don’t even have to make up), etc. Do we cling to a realistic/realism writing style? Or is the market so simplistic, capitalist, and intent on typecasting/pigeon-holing us as slavery-related lit, street lit, and urban lit that the multiplicity of our writing as it crosses several genre classifications is just ignored? Maybe a lot of us lose motivation, think fantasy and Sci-Fi are for white folks, or have no opportunities to publish, which are my bets. I hope with our generations and the preceding ones that this will change for people of color.
I’m not trying to devalue or undervalue the importance of Black folks’ stories and struggles, but, at this point, my experience with the Black writers has been poetry to slave narratives to stories about slavery and its related periods, chocolate romanticizing and damn-near pornographic stuff to street lit and back again on a continuous loop. I’m just posing this question: why haven’t I heard of any Black fantasy fiction writers before now? There’s a few of them, less than twenty prominent names (I did some minimum research). Why haven’t more Black people made the leap to writing fantasy fiction and other genres that is generally palatable for Black people? Or do most of us just think it’s a genre best left to white folks?
I believe that we as a peoples, whether some of us want to acknowledge it or not, are still healing from the inflictions of slavery, colonialism, and, now, globalization.
We don’t have to sell out or be pretentious to write literature that respects, acknowledges, and is woven through, even heavily, with our history, which I think is necessary. It seems partly an issue of creative thinking versus [a regurgitation] of realism/realist style of writing and the trap of the market itself. Just by being who we are, as Black peoples across the African Diaspora, and writing stories that are thoughtfully about brown people and still fun and exciting and that provoke and evoke our dreams and imaginations, we can never be less than who we are.