The Politically Correct Villain
A very interesting piece was passed on to me recently regarding the Good Reading Magazine. It seems that author Anthony Horowitz (of the Alex Rider series, amongst other things) wrote a piece wondering why all his villains have to be white these days. In relating the recent filmed adaptation of Stormbreaker, for example, he writes, "How depressing it is that Herod Sayle, the Lebanese businessman that Alex Rider fought in his first adventure, Stormbreaker, quietly morphed into Darrius Sayle, Californian trailer trash, by the time the film came out last summer."
It’s funny, but this hit close to home. You see, I rather disliked Stormbreaker for the very reasons Mr. Horowitz is bringing up here. As I recall (and granted, my memory may be faulty here) I was under the impression that Herod Sayle appears in the book as someone who was adopted from his home country, brought to Britain, and grew up there. Then he becomes the book’s supervillain and decides to kill all the children in England. I’m so used to Muslim villain characatures in film that to find a Lebanese enemy in a YA novel struck me a bit cheap. Cheap and kind of insulting. The old, you take them in and raise them and they’ll turn around and bite you, kind of cheap. I had other problems with Stormbreaker too, but that was my primary concern.
But Mr. Horowitz’s point is that nowandays it’s hard to create any kind of a villain who isn’t white and in full possession of all his limbs and bodily functions. I sympathize, certainly, but up to a point. Seems to me that if you’re beginning a great boy spy teen series then maybe your first villain doesn’t have to be a Muslim right off the bat. Take a gander at the other sci-fi villains out there. Horowitz is right when he points out that it’s a pretty white crowd. Will we have achieved racial equality when children and teen literature villains are of as many hues as… well, not the heroes. The heroes tend to be pretty white as well. Hm. There’s something to be said for showing skepticism if a book contains a white kid saving the world from an evil multi-ethnic crew.
I’d be interested to hear what you think on the matter. A good villain is a difficult creation anyway.
Thanks to Jane Yolen for the link.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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