Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Adventures in #MedievalTwitter - Racists and Swans

I was going to post this yesterday, but was too sick. Below is a tweet from former graduate student in medieval literature, responding to a petulant tweet by a racist UKIP (right-wing English political party) about an actress of color playing Queen Margaret of Anjou.
Here's good coverage of the whole affair by The Independent, including an interview with Le Chevalier (with whom I have also corresponded), saying:
Chevalier au Canard' wrote afterwards about how in the 21st century it's representation rather than medieval misappropriation that matters:

If I'd been able to complete my PhD, it would have been about exactly this - myth solidifying into history, then liquefying into myth again. Everywhere you think there is solid 'history' to lean on, it falls out from under you.

It's wrong to try and dictate what roles black actresses can play, whatever the context - but this guy decided to do it using an image from a manuscript I've written half a PhD on, unluckily for him. I thought it was a great opportunity to show that the sources we rely on to imagine a golden age of pure "historical accuracy" are often anything but.
As ever, the important thing is purpose - it's not misuse of medieval stuff that matters, it's attempting to deny work to a black actress.
Le Chevalier is handling her sudden twitter fame with good grace and a continued fine sense of wit. It's been a pleasure to watch.

There were, of course, some similar backlashes surrounding Hamilton, in which the founding fathers of American history were re-imagined as people of color. Not to mention Black Hermione.

There is, of course, a long history of experimenting with race and, for that matter, gender, in casting of Shakespeare (from which this Margaret of Anjou is drawn, more or less). As many tweeters pointed out, the earliest actors playing Margaret, for that matter, would have been male. I find the idea of Queen Margaret - a French queen tasked with defending the House of Lancaster, as her husband flounders (perhaps due to mental disability) - being cast as a Jewish/Nigerian actress, to be an interesting move for many reasons. Her identity in the plays (I haven't seen this BBC show) is very much structured around her foreignness to England, as I recall them, and so marking that in ways other than a fake French accent seems like a sharp approach.

ICYMI, here's an interview I did around race and representation in medieval fiction.

What's going on here, of course, is yet another proof that representation really matters. The UKIPper knows it, which is why he wants to keep the memory of medieval Europe lily white. As experts, we don't have to let him get away with it.








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