And… Here’s Leguin’s Proper Response to Earthsea’s Whitewash

Titled, appropriately, Earthsea in Clorox,” or A Whitewashed Earthsea: How the Sci Fi Channel Wrecked My Books.


I had just seen Mr Halmi’s miniseries Dreamkeeper with its stunning Native American cast, so I said to them in a phone conversation, hey, maybe Mr Halmi will cast some of those great actors in Earthsea! — Oh, no, I was told — Mr Halmi had found those people impossible to work with.

“Well,” I said, “you do realise that almost everybody in Earthsea is ‘those people,’ or anyhow not white?”

I don’t remember what their answer to that was — it may have used that wonderful weasel word “colorblind” — but it wasn’t reassuring, because I do remember saying to my husband, oh, gee, I bet they’re going to have a honky Ged.

Ah. How right she was.

They then sent me several versions of the script — and told me that shooting had already begun. In other words, I had been absolutely cut out of the process.

I withdrew my offered pronunciation guide (so Ogion, which rhymes with bogy-on, is “Oh-jee-on” in the film.) Having looked over the script, I realised they had no understanding of what the two 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 MacMagic movie with a meaningless plot based on sex and violence. (And “faith” — according to Mr Halmi. Faith in what? Who knows? Who cares?)

Larry Landsman, who looks after the book end of things at Sci Fi and has been very kind, sent me an early CD of the film, so I saw it some weeks before it was aired.

There was nothing I could do about it at that point, and I said nothing negative in public. It seemed mean-spirited to bash the thing it before other people had a chance to see it. Anyhow, what’s the use whining? Take the money and run, as whoever it is said. Someday, somebody would make a real Earthsea movie. . .

Any volunteers?

And here’s why this matters:

I think it is possible that some readers never even notice what color the people in the story are. Don’t notice, don’t care. Whites of course have the privilege of not caring, of being “colorblind.” Nobody else does.

I have heard, not often, but very memorably, from colored readers who told me that the Earthsea books were the only books in the genre that they felt included in — and how much this meant to them, particularly as adolescents, who’d found nothing to read in fantasy and sf except the adventures of white people in a white world. Those letters have been a tremendous reward and true joy to me.

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