No matter what, I am going to see Crimson Peak next month.
I decided this back when the cast was first announced and then when we got those set photos of what looked like a funeral. I love Tom Hiddleston. Love him like I love naps, it’s that intense. And I of course enjoy Guillermo del Toro’s work. He’s a freaking master of horror and tension and his movies always leave me feeling kind of uncomfortable but in a good way.
But here’s the thing about my intense love of del Toro and Hiddleston coming together to put on the Gothic nightmare of my heart: it’s so not diverse in terms of race and I’m not okay with that.
Sure, with a month to go before the film comes out in the US, all we have are trailers, TV spots, and clips up on Youtube, but here’s the thing: you can and absolutely should judge a movie by its trailer. This is especially true when diversity is concerned.
Yesterday, I spent all day watching the Crimson Peak trailers and clips that we have out and one thing stood out for me amidst the gut clenching horror: the lack of characters of color in any part of the film’s trailers. There aren’t any POC in the crowd scenes that we see or in the backgrounds.
From the trailer alone, you get the feeling that POC literally don’t exist in this world because well… we don’t.
“Oh but Stitch,” you may say as you read this post, “This is a Gothic horror movie set in the Victorian era, of course there wouldn’t be any people of color in this movie. Guillermo del Toro was probably going for historical accuracy with this movie and the casting choices.”
You mean the same historical accuracy that gets us ghosts, spirits, and the shambling undead in England?
Automatically if a book or film has even a suggestion of the supernatural, the argument of historical accuracy to excuse all white casts of characters gets thrown out. It has to be tossed.
As people of color who are interested in the genre, we’re looking at this movie with its unbearable, unbroken whiteness and hearing people say “ghosts are more realistic than people of color in historical fiction”.
How messed up is that?
Do you really think that historical accuracy came into play at any point in this process? Do you really think that Guillermo del Toro somehow did a shit ton of research and then came up with the information that there were in fact, more haunted houses full of nasty, violent ghosts in Victorian Era England than there were people of color? As if that’s in any way realistic —
The very second that you introduce the supernatural to your historical fiction (be it a novel, a comic, or film), you lose the right to blather on about historical accuracy and so do your fans. If you really cared about historical accuracy, there’d be characters of color in your works.
If you really cared about your fans, there’d be characters of color in your film in main roles or supporting ones (that weren’t as slaves or servants!)
If you really have no idea that there were people of color who were part of everyday European life going back all the way to the time of the Romans but are writing a “historically accurate” book or movie set in Europe, there’s nothing I can do for you. I can shove you at MedievalPOC’s website and handwrite essays for you about what people looked like, thought like, were like back then and you’re probably going to be like “but — that’s an exception.”
I don’t need to throw up stats for this. I shouldn’t have to.
Because the thing is that we’re not really talking about diversity then. The goal is diversity in the here and now.
A Gothic horror story set in the Victorian era that has a black woman as the female lead isn’t going to offend Victorians because well… THEY’RE DEAD. It’s going to offend purists, people who focus on white as the default, armchair historians who think that white is always right, and of course, those two weirdos that are living in the Victorian Era over on the West Coast right now.
But the world of difference that diversity is going to make to horror fans of color?
That’s what you should care about.
Mia Wasikowska is a good actress and she does the “wide-eyed, virgin damsel” thing so very well, but let’s be very clear here: her role as Edith could have been played by a woman of color.
Straight up. Here we have these mysterious siblings who are super shady and suddenly the brother Thomas wants to enter a marriage with her out of nowhere? Why the risk? Seriously, all Edith has to be is innocent and an author.
That’s really it because there’s nothing about her character that is associated with/assigned to white actresses — except for how I’m sure no one even thought to consider a WOC in the role but whatever…
I’m not saying that her performance is going to suck but at the same time, I’m helpless to imagine how casting a woman of color would’ve hindered the film.
I’m watching Belle right now (seriously, it’s taking up the left side of my screen right now) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw is just killing it. She looks gorgeous in the clothing of the period and she carries herself with so much grace even when she’s at the end of her rope. Belle is a critically acclaimed movie, Mbatha-Raw, an actress that has gained so much notice because of her role in that film and in Beyond the Lights.
So why isn’t she in Crimson Peak?
Why isn’t Edith a biracial author scandalizing the upper classes for her charm, wit, and unwillingness to bend in the face of adversity?
Riddle me that!
(Note: I have even more specific thoughts on how casting a Black British actress in the role of Edith would probably add further nuance to the character and buck stereotypes as Black women are rarely cast in roles like Edith where they’re coddled and seen as innocent but are at the same time, will most likely be the hero of the piece. I will however, save these thoughts until after I see Crimson Peak two or three times.)
As it stands, the cast we’ve got is incredibly lacking in diversity.
Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Charlie Hunnam, and Mia Wasikowska are our core cast and the most diverse thing about them is that they’re evenly split down the blonds vs brunets line.
That’s about it.
And I don’t get it — I just don’t get why at no point did anyone seem to say “hey, why don’t we cast some people of color here so that our film is more accessible to viewers of color?” (And this is from Guillermo del Toro who gave us Pacific Rim and while imperfect, it sure was a hell of a lot more diverse than this film.)
The genre of Gothic horror isn’t bordered by race lines. There’s no rulebook that says “characters of color need not be present,” no rule that the cast of characters within the genre has to be a homogenous line of white faces with only ghosts or monsters to make up for the monotony.
That’s something that the creators decide for themselves. . Seriously, if you’re walking down the street and the diverse people around you won’t make it into your plots as characters, you’ve got a problem and you are a problem.
And boy do they do it often.
I had this issue with Penny Dreadful, with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, and well — with basically every single fantasy film or show set in historical times.
People of color don’t exist except as monsters, slaves/servants, or as hypersexualized fantasies for white male leads.
I think the most diverse mainstream historical fantasy film I’ve seen is the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and let’s be very clear here… It’s not that diverse.
There’s no reason for all-white casts.
There’s no reason for reinforcing tropes about whiteness on end.
There’s no reason to not even think about casting characters of color in this movie.
And yet we’ve got a glorious and gory Gothic horror film where the most diverse thing about it is the color of the different ghosts in the trailer? Okay. Sure. I’ve wanted to watch this film since I heard of it but here’s the thing, the feeling that you don’t exist in a world that the supernatural one hurts.
Already I know of multiple horror fans of color (and multiple Hiddleston fans on top of that!!) who are uncomfortable with the fact that from trailers, clips, and cast interviews we don’t see any characters or actors of color. We’re torn between supporting our favorite acotrs/genre or saying no to a movie set in a universe where we don’t seem to exist.
That’s not something that anyone should have to do.
I want to be hopeful. I know that Crimson Peak will be a lush masterpiece of horror and murder and all that good stuff but at the same time, I’m so not okay about how writers and directors constantly decide that a thin veneer of “historical accuracy” is enough to excuse their all white casts. I’m so not here for it even if I’ve been watching the trailer on repeat for 24 hours.
Do better Guillermo del Toro.
Do way better.
Stay tuned for a post about fellow writers of color (especially in the fandom side of things) doing the opposite of what fandom typically does with AUs. We’re going to do Gothic romance, horror and Crimson Peak AUs, and we’re going to do it up with diversity!
I have a plan and it’s going to be fantastic! So keep an eye out for further information on this future fannish event!!