Different Princes

Here’s an odd one for today, following up on my Nine Princes piece last week. I want to discuss the issue of the “whiteness” of the Princes and the story they are in. We live in a time when diversity is being recognized (and reacted against) in new ways. Black Panther – with a brilliant cast of primarily black actors – has become the highest grossing superhero movie in North America of all time (not adjusted for inflation) and number 4 all-time (when you do adjust for inflation). Wonder Woman was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal DC movie-verse. New opportunities for directors and actors of different nationalities have become increasingly prevalent. And unfortunately – as is always the case – there has been ugly backlash against this as well (reference the sad little men whining about The Last Jedi for a great example).

But in this time, right now, is there a place for a story like Nine Princes in Amber with its all-white-male cast? I’d argue that there is a place, still, for such a story because on its own merits it is a very strong narrative with all the action and surprises to draw a viewer down the rabbit-hole and into a magical new world.

But I’d also argue that Nine Princes in Amber wouldn’t need an entirely all-white-male cast. When I did my casting-call the other day, I based it on my thoughts about how the characters look from their descriptions in the book (and various other Amber sources over the years). I was hewing to a vision of Amber as perhaps it was originally imagined. But here’s the thing (spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read Amber)… It absolutely does not matter what color the Amberites skin is. Because for them, they would not carry any of the baggage that we do – culturally – surrounding those skin colors.

Oberon was the Amber universe equivalent of Zeus, wandering around like a randy goat just doing whatever he wanted. His children could be as diverse as the universe is wide. His children could be different colors entirely from normal “earth-people” skin colors and no one would care. Corwin and Bleys recruit an army of furry, cat-like people.

I walked among Shadows, and found a race of furry creatures, dark and clawed and fanged, reasonably manlike

Despite the idea that Amberites in the stories all “look” one way, and that the universe as it exists in Shadow is a reflection of Amber (and Chaos) it remains clear that there is a very divergent amount of beings out there in the universe who don’t just look like, earth-people.

So what’s to say that Oberon’s wives weren’t more diverse in appearance? What’s to say that the Nine Princes couldn’t all be black – or asian – or any other group of people? Why couldn’t they be from a variety of cultures and nationalities? Sure, Corwin is described as a white guy, but so what? That’s purist talk.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Some stories do have a component where the appearance, race, nationality, etc. of a character really does matter. Because they are rooted in some “Earth” problem where we can’t seem to figure out that we are all humans first; different types of humans second. (Or the fantasy world equivalent of “Earth” problems built out of issues of segregation.)

But Amber does not have to be bound by our “earth-people” baggage of race, religion, etc. I mean, the character of Dara is literally the daughter of an Amberite and a chaos demon. She doesn’t have to be a pretty little white girl as she’s described in the books… she could be anything. Heck, go back a generation or two and you find out that all Amberites are descended from a race of shape-shifters.

Why write this and what is my point? I guess I’m just trying to point out that no matter how attached you are to a story – as a fan – that there is little reason to apply your own biases to the story when it is interpreted by someone else. Envisioning a black Corwin is no more difficult than simply accepting that he doesn’t have to be a white guy. His brothers and sisters won’t care – they don’t have our cultural baggage to worry about. Corwin would just be another Prince of Amber, scheming away.

And yes, I know that it is difficult for us – as earth-people to leave our baggage at the door. We are bombarded by cultural signals about our world. But that is the great gift of fantasy and science-fiction; that they allow us to escape our reality, to re-imagine it, to see it from another point of view.

Of course, the larger point is that I’m ready for it. Hey Netflix… Hey HBO… Heck, even AMC… bring on the Amber.

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