Mr Worms and I have had several discussions over the last couple of years about re-casting of famous Marvel characters or of Dr Who of or James Bond as black or female. Given those characters are completely fictional and the worlds they live in are completely fictional, I am open to the idea that we can rethink them.
Recently I watched a Netflix production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion in which Lady Russell was a black woman and William Elliot was of Asian descent. It was a fantastic production – very different to others I have watched – and the parts were all brilliantly played. So I don’t argue with the casting in that sense.
But Jane Austen wrote about the England she lived in. As did George Elliot (note the masculine appellation there). So in that sense, although they wrote fiction, I don’t think it’s the same kind of fiction as James Bond or Dr Who. And so I wonder if, in Jane Austen’s time (1775 – 1817), having a black titled person was a likely scenario? I heard a movie producer (Emma Holly Jones – producer of Mr Malcolm’s List – a movie I hope to see at some point) argue that immigration is not new to Britain and this I can definitely believe. But was there the level of acceptance in those times that would allow people of different cultural backgrounds to be Lords and Ladies?
Now before you accuse me of being racist, hear me out. There are two ways you can look at it. Either my understanding of history has been whitewashed and, much as female scientists and female writers were hidden or suppressed, perhaps too there was happy integration of Black and Asian people into British society that has been, for mysterious reasons, swept under the rug in the intervening centuries. If this is so, then what movie producers are doing is fantastic and I applaud them.
But if it’s not true, is what they are doing good or bad? Seriously, if they are just rewriting history to make it look less awful than it was, is that good or bad? Isn’t it slightly disrespectful? The horrific story of how Alan Turing was treated for being gay is well known. If movies started coming out about openly gay Lords and Ladies in the 1940s, would we be comfortable with that?
I am a middle class white heterosexual woman and I feel I am treading on delicate ground. But I am really curious about different perspectives on this new trend. Anybody’s perspective.