Last week I talked about Othering, as in setting a demographic not your own as a Weird/Exotic “THEM” in contrast to your (and your assumed reader’s) “us.”

Thankfully, there are so many great examples of works that avoid Othering! Here are just a few:

Fiction: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Cover of Gaiman's Anansi BoysWhat is it?

Gaiman’s 2005 novel follows Fat Charlie, one of two sons of a mysterious man who it turns out is literally the West African trickster god Anansi. Anansi/Mr. Nancy showed up briefly in Gaiman’s previous novel, American Gods. In Anansi Boys, Fat Charlie and his brother Spider have to sort out quite a lot of trouble following their father’s death. The action of the story bounces between London and Florida.

How does it avoid Othering?

Put it this way: a friend of mine, when reading this book, commented that about halfway through she realized to her delight that all the characters were black. There are actually two white characters, a side character and a villain. So on the one hand, Gaiman’s flipping the script on the usual racial demographic in your standard Tokeninzing, Othering text. On the other hand, Gaiman mostly doesn’t make a big, obvious deal about the race of the characters. There are enough context clues to figure out what all of the characters look like, but more so than that, the cultural context of the characters is really important to the plot.

Film: The Legend of Korra, created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Koniestzko

Pictured:  Korra displays earth, water and firebending in THE LEGEND OF KORRA on Nickelodeon.  Photo: Nickelodeon.  ©2012 Viacom, International, Inc.  All Rights Reserved

She is the chosen one who can bend all the elements.

What is it?

This is an animated TV show set in the same world as Avatar: The Last Airbender. It was intended as a sequel, following the chosen-one-style heroine Korra on her adventures across the four elemental nations of the world.

How does it avoid Othering?

Both Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra are set in a fantasy world that is loosely based on myths and legends of East Asia. They have a four-part magical martial arts system that is based in an exciting variety of real-world martial arts (mostly Chinese), with each element (fire, water, earth, air) having its own style and magical powers. The characters are a variety of shades, but look mostly asian…unlike the film, which got a lot of flak for being whitewashed. Korra has medium-brown skin and dark brown hair.

The Legend of Korra also recently received media attention because of its ending, a suggested coupling of Korra and her female friend, Asami. Those who liked this move liked it because it validated “in canon” a suspected relationship and a fan favorite couple. Those who did not criticized it because there were not enough moments or  passionate intimacy or sexual tension between the two women in the rest of the show, and then ending felt tacked-on. (I mean, I’m sure some criticized it because they couldn’t conceive of a same-sex relationship and/or reality, but we’re ignoring them.)

 

Comics: Bitch Planet, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick

Cover of Bitch Planet #1

Every time I read an issue I get the urge to tattoo “NON-COMPLIANT” on my forehead.

What is it?

This comic is one part feminist fable, one part deconstruction of the women-in-prison genre of film, and one part bad-ass dystopian action tale. It’s set in a world where women can be imprisoned for any behavior deemed “non-compliant,” from murder to disobedience to obesity. They are then shipped off to a prison planet (known colloquially as “Bitch Planet”) to deal with an ever-shifting Pepito-bismol pink holographic warden and other lurking dangers. You can read me freaking out about how great it is at some length over at Girlslikecomics.com.

How does it avoid Othering?

Not only are there a lot of women of color in this prison story, but both in the comic and in each issue’s back-matter, DeConnick and team directly deal with race relations and how unfair the prison system is in this world as well as the world of Bitch Planet.

Also, I can’t say too much without spoilers, but let me just say that the protagonist of Bitch Planet is refreshing and revealed over the course of the first issue.

DeConnick also works with an awesome, diverse creative team, both in terms of the art (stunning work by Valentine DeLandro) & design and in terms of the series of rad feminists who write essays in the back of every issue.

Bonus Fiction: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Cover for A Wizard of Earthsea featuring an island castle and a dragon

It’s hard to find pictures of the cover that features Ged as he’s described in the book. Perhaps marketers decided dragons were easier to deal with than people of color.

What is it?

LeGuin’s classic 1968 fantasy novel, A Wizard of Earthsea, won both the Nebula and Hugo Awards. It’s set in a fantasy world that is comprised of a bunch of different nations on different islands of an archipelago. With a unique magic system and a excitingly non-“interminable Celtic bullshit” mythology, Earthsea arguably did the first interesting new thing with the fantasy genre since Tolkien.

How does it avoid Othering?

The main character, Ged, is described as having red-brown skin; in fact, nearly every character is described as non-white. Of course, this didn’t prevent the characters from being horribly white-washed on book covers and film. Ursula LeGuin has some harsh words for the producers of the 2004 Earthsea mini-series:

I realized the producers had no understanding of what the books are about and no interest in finding out. All they intended was to use the name Earthsea, and some of the scenes from the books, in a generic McMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence.

She also speaks about her process in building the world of Earthsea:

My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and why all the leading women had “violet eyes”). It didn’t even make sense. Whites are a minority on Earth now—why wouldn’t they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

The fantasy tradition I was writing in came from Northern Europe, which is why it was about white people. I’m white, but not European. My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for “young adults”) might not identify straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees—hoping that the reader would get “into Ged’s skin” and only then discover it wasn’t a white one.

 

Other examples? Thoughts? Tell us in the comments, eh?