When the Lord of the Rings trilogy hit theaters in the early 2000s, millions of Tolkien fans around the world delighted to see one of their favorite epic fantasies on-screen. I, on the other hand, remained completely unaware of the films. I do not recall viewing any trailers, seeing the films on my local theater’s marquee, or speaking with any fans about it. I lived in a bubble where the Lord of the Rings did not exist. In hindsight, I realize that I remained unaware of Lord of the Rings because I could not find myself in Lord of the Rings. There was no place for people of color, and especially women of color, on this epic adventure, so I tuned out.
As a child, I tuned out of a lot of things at that time that many science fiction (sci-fi) and fantasy consider hallmark works of their respective genres. These works largely ignored me and my existence (or only recognized me in token ways), so I ignored them. You could call me a “late bloomer” with regards to science-fiction and fantasy. It wasn’t until my mother revealed that she rocked the Star Wars geek label from the day she saw A New Hope in theaters as we passed by a Revenge of the Sith poster at a cheap seats theater that I hopped on board. We paid our two bucks to watch the movie, and I never looked back.
Well, almost never looked back.
Because even as I began consuming and enjoying on some levels mainstream genre films and television shows, I remained hyper-aware of the absence or near absence of people with whom I could identify as a poor woman of color. While white kids could imagine themselves running off on heroic quests to save the world or maybe even the universe, these kinds of stories worked to stunt my imagination about my possibilities in the world. As an adult, the absence of other people of color or absence of people of color as protagonists twisted my imagination so that when I wrote genre works (original or transformative), I imagined white male characters and their stories before anyone else’s. I still struggle with undoing a lifetime of internalized racism and sexism that privileges the experiences of white people, and particularly white men, over my own and other people of color. I still struggle with how to reconcile consuming media that is white-centric with the harm such ethnocentric media has caused and continues to cause.
That’s why I feel alienated, unsettled and, sometimes, angry when my white peers proclaim Harry Potter a “formative influence” or as having “defined a generation” or eagerly ask me who I think should be the new Doctor. I can only tilt my head and think, “You mean the one where another White Male Saves the World with a little help from his friends?” That’s why I feel alienated and unsettled and, sometimes, angry when I reveal to white genre fans that, no, I haven’t watched or am not knowledgeable about their favorites, and they react with surprise. That’s why I feel alienated, unsettled and, sometimes, angry when they grill me on why I’m not privy or enthusiastically recommend that I partake.
That’s why I’m going to need white sci-fi and fantasy fans to stop recommending that I watch Harry Potter and Doctor Who.
[If you’re a person of color looking for sci-fi and fantasy blogs, be sure to check out 5 Tumblrs for the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Enthusiast of Color.]