Hollywood, Race, And Myths

This post is obviously in need of a disclaimer, on the off chance the Norse gods are real.

SO: Son of Nine Mothers, if you are real, sorry for calling you fictitious.

Back in 2011, when Thor came out, there was a bit of an uproar when Idris Elba was cast as Heimdallr, the gatekeeper-god, and as Wikipedia informs me “the whitest of the gods.”

Here was Hollywood meddling again, right? Everyone knows that everyone in the Dark and Middle Ages was white.  (There was no problem with almost all the Norse gods speaking with a British accent, because that is how we know they are civilized.) And what happens when this is done in reverse deserves its own post.

We’ll just gloss over the fact that many stories as close to canon as you can get in the King Arthur myth cycle have People of Color as knights. 

But knights (later cowboys)(and then Jedi) come in two colors, and they are both coded to mean something.

(Please note the next section contains lots of summary, I’m by no means an expert)

Traditionally, white=light=good, so black=darkness=bad. Does this connotation code an audiences’ perception of an POC hero? Is it simply that, as author Sean Hall writes, it is only a matter of perception that makes us aware of differences.

Why does a non-traditional depiction of fictitious character cause such a furor? I wondered, at the time, if it was partially that a PoC was given god-power that caused queasiness.

Elba’s casting is caught up in a lot of paradigms. It could, as the Salon article I linked to earlier (again, here) it could be read as a continuance Viking movies featuring PoCs. It’s detractors clearly see it in the framework of liberal media’s hostile takeover. It is caught up in the didactics of what means good and bad.


What it isn’t, is simple entertainment.




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