Recently, the old conversation about “representation” in media has “resurfaced” and seems to be relating to two things: the Disney’s live action version of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘The Woman King.’ I’m sure there’s more examples, but I’m just going to go with these two because they represent two solutions to the “problem” of “representation.”
Most people know at this point that the Little Mermaid is a Danish ‘fairy tale,’ most famously adapted by Disney in 1989 (are you feeling old yet?). The original is a rather dark, depressing tale as most original fairy tales are, while the animated version is probably more of a lighthearted romcom for little girls. Presumably, the live action version is going to be taking its ques from the animated version.
Of course the controversy regarding the live action remake is the fact that an “actress of color” has been cast in what (for hundreds of years) has traditionally been a ‘white’ role. This is considered a good thing by many because it “increases the representation of people of color.” Not everyone, however, agrees.
The Woman King, on the other hand, is essentially a new story based on the Amazon Warriors of the Dahomey Kingdom of Africa. It is the story of brave freedom fighters fighting off the invasive forces of imperialist and colonialist Europeans and was championed as a landmark of “representation” for black people in the media.
Of course the truth is significantly different as people have started to point out. Dahomey was one of the leading kingdoms responsible for the sale of slaves to Western countries. If you’re a black person, and your ancestors were slaves, it’s more than likely you’re in the West because of the Dahomey. The “Amazons” were in fact one of the military forces used to enslave people. As for their war with the European Powers, from research and conversations I’ve had, the conflict taking place during the movie, is likely a misrepresentation of one of the wars against the Dahomey to end their practices of slavery and human sacrifice.
As a Heathen, I am most certainly a member of a minority. Heathens are almost never shown in the media, and when we are, it’s usually as nothing more than racist lunatics. There are exceptions, of course, but those tend to be more “historical” (Vikings, The Northman, etc) rather than “modern.” I remember when “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was starting up they had an episode about an Asgardian Weapon, and I also remember the feelings evoked by how they described and treated those who worship the Norse Gods. They were so bad that I turned off the show after that episode and I’ve not watched it since.
So I can certainly sympathize with a lack of representation in the media, especially a lack of positive, respectful representation. I do wish there were more Heathen characters out there, especially good, noble, honorable ones who showed us at our best.
But if you have to build your representation on lies, then you’re building your reputation on lies as well.
Honor has always been a big part of Heathen culture, both ancient and modern, and a good part of your honor is your reputation. Are you known as an honest person who keeps their oaths, or are you a person who lies about who you are and what you’ve done, especially in order to get something?
I may want more Heathen representation in the media, but that representation doesn’t mean shit if it’s built on a lie. Yes, we could tell the story of, say, Martin Luther King Jr. as a white, heathen gothi fighting for civil rights rather than a black, christian preacher…but while I might be “represented” no one would ever agree that it was a good thing. It would be an erasure of the truth and the propagation of a lie, no matter how I or anyone else justified it.
If you have to lie in order to be represented, one must ask if you truly deserve to be represented? What value does a liar give to society? What honor does a liar gain for his or her people? What does any group of people gain if the people representing them are all liars?
There are those, of course, who will insist I am a racist for holding these views or for feeling that “people of color” should not co-opt traditionally white roles and stories. They would even likely paint my pointing out that my example of against co-opting a black role and story as an act of racism as well. They, in my experience, would become very furious about this. They would claim that representation of “people of color” is and would always be more important. I’ve even seen examples of these people threatening or demanding that friendships be ended over this.
I think their anger comes both from knowing they are wrong and knowing that they are having to defend a lie.
The truth is, it would be easy for “people of color” to be represented by original, accurate, and truthful stories, and I know this because it has been happening for decades. Dolomite, Shaft (originals and remakes), El Mariachi, Desperado, Zorro, Glory, The Mighty Quinn, and hundreds more films all tell the stories of “people of color” and represent them. Heck, Disney itself proved it could be done with Black Panther and that was one of their most successful and acclaimed films.
“Well, you’re a white guy, what do you know about it?” I can hear people say. I would say I know a lot about it. While it isn’t Heathenism, Wicca has shown that not only do Pagan and Heathens not need to co-opt stories to be represented, they can be incredibly successful with their own original stories. Charmed was a long running and highly successful TV series about a group of (essentially Wiccan) sisters that ran for nearly a decade…during a time when Paganism was still on the public shit lists of almost everyone out there. The Good Witch is a more recent example, starting with a movie and garnering seven seasons and five “movies” while running on the Hallmark channel of all places (not a place or audience traditionally associated with a friendly attitude towards Magic, Witchcraft, or Pagans). Vikings, while it has its issues, was wildly successful during its first seasons when it was focused on clearly Heathen characters who performed Heathen rites and rituals, with Floki (an unapologeticly devout Heathen) being a fan favorite for most watchers. So I know it can be done, and combined Pagans and Heathens make up maybe about the same percentage of the population as say the LGBT community, which means it isn’t just us who love and support these stories.
There is no need to lie in order to represent people. There is no need to co-opt the stories of others and claim them as your own in order to be “represented.” The only thing that happens when you do that is you make people angry and you make them despise you, because no one likes or trusts a liar. The backlash towards The Woman King from the black community itself shows this, just the same as the backlash about the Little Mermaid. Because as it is in the large things (rewriting the history of an actual kingdom), so too it in the little things (rewriting the story of a Danish fairy tail). The Alchemical Principle of “As Above, So Below” holds true in all things. A lie is a lie, big or small.
People respect the truth and they respect those who tell them the truth. Especially if they tell that truth well. It may not be as easy as telling a lie, and it may not feel as good, but the time, effort, and reward are worth it.
Ask yourself which you would rather have yourself or others represented by, truth or lies? Then ask yourself which you need yourself or others to be represented by, truth or lies? I think the answer to those questions will not only tell yourself a lot about who you are as a person, but what you think of others.