Fandom is nothing if not predictable.
I know I’m late, but I just saw the casting announcements for the upcoming Netflix/BBC series Troy: Fall of a City. One thing that immediately stood out to me was the way that the casting immediately flipped the script when it came to Achilles and Patroclus, casting two dark skinned Black actors in the roles.
I was (am still) excited by the choice to cast David Gyasi as Achilles and Lemogang Tsipa as Patroclus because it’s an inspired casting choice. Nothing about this story of gods and messy humans has whiteness inherent to the casting and I think it’s time that we got some dark-skinned people in these period pieces who weren’t slaves…
However, I know fandom.
I’m in fandom.
I know what the response will be from people who make a point of claiming objectivity and fighting against “blackwashing” with no sense of self-awareness even as they plaster #BlackLivesMatter and don a cloak of perfect progressivism. I can predict fandom racism and the forms it will take without even trying (and definitely without wanting to) because it’s a repeating pattern that fandom can’t let go of.
I know what to expect.
Look, I’ve read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles.
I watched Troy back in high school.
My minor in religious studies was concentrated on Greek mythology.
I know that fandom and history’s default for both Achilles and Patroclus portrays them as white guys with fair to golden skin and straight hair. The idea of actually looking at the ancient Mediterranean as a place where people met, married, and had with kids from all over the place escapes them. It’s just easier to default to the industry and fandom standard…
When I say fandom is predictable, I’m saying that I already can hear what viewers will say about the casting and the excuses they’ll make when Black fans and anti-racist allies come for their concern trolling posts claiming that they’re not racist.
They’re not racist, but they’re tired of “diversity for diversity’s sake”.
They’re not racist, but they just wanted Achilles and Patroclus to be “casted properly”.
They’re not racist, but “blackwashing is just as bad as whitewashing”.
They’re not racist, but they just want history to be told properly.
But it’s not history… Not really. It’s an adaptation of an embellished, fantastic take on history (because that’s kind of what the Iliad is.)
And certainly, if we’re going for historical accuracy, let’s talk about the fact that they’re all for historical accuracy when a performer of color is cast in a “traditionally white” role, but they’re silent not just about whitewashing, but that Greek and Roman people are rarely cast to play Greek and Roman people as major headliners in these series.
More people were set to throw fits about the fact that Naevia in Spartacus was played by a Black woman than by the fact that hardly anyone in the main cast came from Rome. They’re still complaining about Nick Fury being Black in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but of course, Tilda Swinton was the best actor to play the Tibetan Ancient One in Doctor Strange.
Hypocrisy and racism know no bounds.
What really gets me was that I can already hear the folks who hype up Miller’s Song of Achilles (which is fine) as the one true telling of Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship claiming that they suddenly don’t feel like shipping the two in this series.
I can picture it now:
“I don’t know why, but I think that Achilles and Patroclus are like brothers and I can’t ship them. Now, [random white guys who hate each other/are actually brothers], that’s a good ship.”
The reason why I have absolutely ZERO trouble picturing this response to this version of Achilles/Patroclus is because for years, this has been how fandom responds not just to racebending, but to the prominence of characters of color where they think a white one should be.
It just so happens that racebending seems to be the thing that “gets in the way” of what fandom likes to ship best…
Folks shipped Iris West and Barry Allen right up until a Black woman was cast in the role. Then, one of DC’s “iconic” ships was suddenly the worst thing ever… in a fandom where the Ollie/Felicity relationship was canon.
No one cared about shipping Kara and Jimmy Olsen until Mechad Brooks was cast as Jimmy (and said that he preferred to be called “James”). Then it was open season on the ship which was suddenly super boring to people who otherwise didn’t even care about the ship.
And that’s just with racebending.
Think about how Rhodey and Tony Stark are always seen as “just bros” to the MCU fandom and how Finn is always removed from his importance in Rey’s life courtesy of the Star Wars fandom. When Elementary first aired, the main complaint was that casting Lucy Liu somehow ruined the potential for a queer relationship between Watson and Holmes – a relationship that has never been canon – because fandom views healthy relationships and queerness as something that can only involve white men.
What’s going to happen with Troy: Fall of a City is that a lot of white people are going to dislike it sight unseen because Greek figures that they see as belonging to them specifically are being played by actors of color. (Zeus, by the way, is also being played by a dark-skinned Black actor, and I think several other historical figures are played by performers of color.)
But we’re not just going to get overt white supremacists and racists crawling out of murky online hellholes to shut down a show that they have no interest in watching, we’re going to get the fandom version too. The ones who swear they’re fighting the good fight, who have participated in every major fandom charity drive (a la “Fandom Trumps Hate”) …
But who think that “redhead erasure” is a serious form of oppression and makes a point of being racist to fans of color and/or about characters of color because accuracy is more important and “social justice warriors” are harshing their fandom squee when it comes to ships.
Mark my words: when Troy: Fall of a City airs on Netflix, one thing that we will see aside from channers and redditors complaining about blackwashing and calling everyone cucks, is a lot of white women who will couch their bigotry in wanting to ship whatever they want (the way they want) and who’ll perform perfect progressive activism even as they dehumanize the Black men playing Achilles/Patroclus and badmouth Black fans talking about how their behavior is a clearly marked and frequently replicated form of fandom racism.
I’m looking forward to Troy: Fall of a City because I love messy historical dramas almost as much as I love naps, but what I’m not looking forward to is watching as fandom continues to center white men in the narrative and fandom focus (punishing characters of color for not being white men and fans of color for speaking out about what they’ve witnessed).
It happens all the time.
And I’m tired of the predictability inherent in fandom racism.