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Elric Movie (Thread part II)

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  • Might be worth mentioning here that Hitler was very admiring of American race laws and incorporated many of them into German Nazi law. America's psychic history has taught it that genocide and racialism work for the benefit of the (white) majority. That you can 'get away with it'. Europe's psychic history has recently taught it the opposite.
    I read Ursula's very good piece on what happened to her books and note that she was represented by William Morris, whom I'd have thought knew a thing or two about movie rights. Yet clearly her contract was not as good as mine. That said, nothing can guarantee quality. I trust the Weitz brothers. I even trust the people I talked to at Universal. The situation COULD change a little bit, but not as much as it changed for Ursula, it seems. One thing which might be worth pointing out is that many of these rights were sold before LOTR was such a success. They were sold at a time when very few fantasy movies were being made and very few film rights to fantasy books were being sold. Ursula might have thought it was the best deal she was going to get at the time. My contract, for instance, even covers the possibility of an Elric stage musical! My agents learned from experience that nothing is impossible, these days.

    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
    The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
    Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


    Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
    The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
    Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

    Comment


    • Thought we might as well have Ursula K. Le Guin speak for herself!


      Earthsea in Clorox
      by Ursula K. Le Guin






      photo by Marian Wood Kolisch

      In my work on The Agony Column, I hear from many correspondents. And it is one of these -- Mystery Donor -- who helped set me up with this essay from one of science fiction's and literature's most respected writers. -- Rick Kleffel


      Earthsea in Clorox
      by
      Ursula K. Le Guin




      1. Background: my (non)involvement with this production.


      For people who wonder why I "sold out to Halmi," or "let them change the story" -- you may find some answers here.


      The book is always better, again.
      The producers (not yet including Robert Halmi Sr.) approached us with a reasonable offer. My dramatic agency at that time was William Morris. The contract of course gave me only the standard status of "consultant" -- which means exactly what the producers want it to mean, almost always little or nothing. The agency could not improve this clause. But the purchasers talked as if they genuinely meant to respect the books and to ask for my input when planning the film.

      As I had scripted the first two books myself, with Michael Powell, years ago, and also worked with another scriptwriter to plan his script of the first book, I was in a position to be useful to them. I knew some of the difficulties in carrying this story over to film. And some of the possibilities that could be fulfilled, too, the things a movie can do that a novel can't. It was an exciting prospect.

      They were talking at that time of a large-scale theater movie, although the possibility of a TV miniseries was mentioned. They said that they had already secured Philippa Boyen (who scripted The Lord of the Rings) as principal scriptwriter, and reported that she was eager to work on an Earthsea film. As the script was, to me, all-important, her presence was the key factor in my decision to sell them the option to the film rights.

      Time went by. By the time they got backing from the Sci Fi Channel for a miniseries -- and Robert Halmi Sr. had come aboard -- they had lost Boyen.

      That was a blow. But 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. . .


      They're actually sort of grey -- ironically like the population of Earth after one of the wishes in The Lathe of Heaven.
      This was in the spring of 2004. They moved very fast then, because if they didn't get into production, they would lose their rights to the property. Early in this period they contacted me in a friendly fashion, and I responded in kind; I asked if they'd like to have a list of name pronunciations; and I said that although I knew well that a film must differ greatly from a book, I hoped they were making no unnecessary changes in the plot or to the characters -- a dangerous thing to do, since the books have been known to millions of people for over 30 years. To this they replied that the TV audience is much larger, and entirely different, and changes to a book's story and characters were of no importance to them.

      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. . .

      But then Mr. Lieberman published a statement telling people what "Ursula" (whom he has never met) "intended" by the books. That changed the situation. They were taking advantage of my silence by sticking words in my mouth. I put a reply on my web site, and since then have spoken freely to interviewers who have asked my opinion of the production.

      My principal feeling about it is one of sadness, loss. An opportunity thrown away, at great expense. I'm sorry for the actors. They all tried hard. I'm sorry for the people who think they've seen Earthsea, but saw a stale, senseless rehash of bits of other fantasy films instead. I'm very sorry for my readers who tuned in thinking they were going to see a film version of my books. To you readers, I apologise. I love movies, and I did want to see an Earthsea movie, so I fell for it. I'm sorry! We'll do better next time.


      2. Concerning race, color, and whitewash


      White King Detergent cleans anything!

      Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future sf books are not white. They're mixed, they're rainbow. In my first big sf novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In my first fantasy novels (the ones the miniseries is "based on"), A Wizard of Earthsea and The Tombs of Atuan, everybody's brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. Tenar is a Karg, a brunette white person. Ged is an Archipelagan, a redbrown man. Vetch, from the East Reach, is black.

      This color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn't see why everybody in sf had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn't see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white (and all the leading women had "violet eyes"). I didn't even believe it. Whites are a minority on Earth now -- why wouldn't they still be either a minority, or just swallowed up in the larger colored gene pool, in the future?

      The fantasy tradition I was writing in came from North Europe, which is why it was about white people. I'm white, but not European. My people could be any color I liked, and I like red and brown and black. I was a little wily about my color scheme. I figured some white kids (the books were published for "young adults") might not identify easily straight off with a brown kid, so I kind of eased the information about skin color in by degrees -- hoping that the reader would get "into Ged's skin," and only then discover it wasn't a white one.

      I was never questioned about this by any editor. No objection was ever raised. I think this is greatly to the credit of my first editors at Parnassus and Atheneum, who bought the books before they had a reputation to carry them. These editors took a risk without complaint.

      But I had endless trouble with cover art. Not on the great cover of the first edition -- a strong, red-brown profile of Ged -- or with Margaret Chodos Irvine's four fine paintings -- but all too often. The first British "Wizard" was this pallid, droopy, lily-like guy -- I screamed at sight of him.

      Gradually I got a little more clout, a little more say-so about covers. And very, very, very gradually the cover departments of major publishers may be beginning to lose their blind, panic terror of putting a colored face on a book. "Hurts sales, hurts sales" is the mantra. Yeah, so? On my books, Ged with a white face is a lie, a betrayal -- a betrayal of the book, and of the potential reader. A brown face might hurt sales in the short run, but my books are long-distance runners, and for the long haul, only the truth will serve.

      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.

      I have not had protests from white readers who resented reading about colored people, but racial bigots often hide their bigotry behind accusations of "witchcraft" and such. The Earthsea books have been forced many times to run the school banning gamut operated by fundamentalist Christians. These censorship operations against schools and libraries are stronger than ever in the present religio-political climate. They often focus on fantasy and sf books, which foster that deadly enemy to bigotry and blind faith, the imagination.


      Shampoo commercial queens.
      So far no reader of color has told me I ought to butt out, or that I got the ethnicity wrong. When they do, I'll listen. As an anthropologist's daughter I am intensely conscious of the risk of cultural or ethnic imperialism -- white writer speaking for nonwhite people, co-opting their voice, an act of extreme arrogance. In a totally invented fantasy world, or in a far-future sf setting, in the rainbow world we can imagine, this risk is mitigated. That's the beauty of sf and fantasy -- freedom of invention.

      But with all freedom comes responsibility. . .

      . . .which is something these film-makers seem not to understand.

      The books are about two young people finding what their power, their freedom, and their responsibility is. I don't know what the film is about. It's full of scenes from the story, but in this different plot, they make no sense. Its hero goes through lots of Ged's experiences, but learns nothing from them. How could he? He isn't Ged. Ged isn't a petulant white kid.

      It's like casting Eminem as Jim in Huckleberry Finn.

      And how did Danny Glover, the Token Mage, get into this Clorox archipelago? What island is he from? Poor guy! No wonder he gets the true name and the nickname mixed up, and solemnly baptizes Ged with his nickname!

      I really am sorry for the actors. They all tried awfully hard. It's not their fault.


      آ© 2004 Ursula K. Le Guin


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      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

      Comment


      • It's worth adding a footnote to Ursula's piece from my own experience. As regular readers know, pretty much all the characters in the 'Blood'
        books (really, Blood and War Amongst the Angels) are brown or black.
        The first American edition of the book put a Slavic guy on the cover. I, too, was told that black people on books didn't sell (I replied 'Tell that to Mandingo' and, on a more serious note, 'Tell that to Toni Morrison'). I argued very hard to have the cover changed and was told (it was a lie, I knew, but there you go) that it was too late to change the cover. It wouldn't have been too late to change (by computer) the colour of the central character on the book. I've had similar problems with other black characters -- Eternal Champion, for instance -- and the same lie has been told. Personally, I never had any problems with readers at all
        and I'd be curious if any white readers here would not buy a book because it had a black person on the cover. Given the dominance of black popular culture and the popularity of black movie actors, I can't see this at all, but I'd be interested to hear. Did Delany's Dhalgren sell fewer copies because it had black characters and a black author ? Does Walter Mosley sell fewer copies ? This really is baffling to me and I'd like some feed back.

        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
        The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
        Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


        Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
        The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
        Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

        Comment


        • There is quite a stir over at the Sci-Fi boards over this "adaptation" of Ursala's books. A lot of angry fans of her work are taking out their frustrations on the board (myself included).

          Oh and hello Michael, been away for a bit. Hope you are well.
          When they had advanced together to meet on common
          ground, then there was the clash of shields, of spears
          and the fury of men cased in bronze; bossed shields met
          each other and the din rose loud. Then there were
          mingled the groaning and the crowing of men killed and
          killing, and the ground ran with blood.

          Homer, The Illiad

          Comment


          • I can understand why so many people are upset by what is, after all, a betrayal. A lazy one, at that.
            Wotcher VW. I'm doing well, thanks.

            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

            Comment


            • Jack K. (among others) is much more interesting brown. The cover of the American edition of Blood doesn't fit the work at all. I suspect that Blood would seem more interesting to a casual reader with a person of color on the cover, especially when they saw your jacket photo.

              Also, for what it's worth, the covers of the British editions of the entire second ether series are fantastic, and even more so compared to their American counterparts.

              Comment


              • Like many people, I have grown up with the idea that the future will be white, male, straight and American... as is the present, according to the majority of the mass media... therefore I am interested in any story that throws some light on characters or cultures or histories that provide a little more colour or variety. So no, a black/brown character on the cover of a book certainly wouldn't discourage me... as Doc says, it might even encourage me. If the future really does look like Tom Cruise, I'm going to be very cross indeed.
                "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

                Comment


                • Originally posted by DeeCrowSeer
                  Like many people, I have grown up with the idea that the future will be white, male, straight and American... as is the present, according to the majority of the mass media... therefore I am interested in any story that throws some light on characters or cultures or histories that provide a little more colour or variety. So no, a black/brown character on the cover of a book certainly wouldn't discourage me... as Doc says, it might even encourage me. If the future really does look like Tom Cruise, I'm going to be very cross indeed.
                  What if the future looked like Robin Williams? :lol:

                  Comment


                  • Originally posted by McTalbayne
                    What if the future looked like Robin Williams? :lol:
                    We'd need more razors.

                    Comment


                    • Um... sorry to start this rant on nazis / race / discrimination. Although it has been entertaining and thought provoking, I long for more chat about Elric & the Movie

                      ~Enon

                      Comment


                      • Originally posted by TheAdlerian
                        The crazy thing about marketing is how do they knew that books with black people on the cover won't sell if thet don't make them. That seems like an assumption.

                        Also, "honky" is not used anymore.
                        But I love how Ursula used it. It made me laugh out loud! :lol:
                        When they had advanced together to meet on common
                        ground, then there was the clash of shields, of spears
                        and the fury of men cased in bronze; bossed shields met
                        each other and the din rose loud. Then there were
                        mingled the groaning and the crowing of men killed and
                        killing, and the ground ran with blood.

                        Homer, The Illiad

                        Comment


                        • Hehe...I posted a rather long rant about the subject of 'colorblind' casting on another forum back in August:

                          The look of the peoples in Earthsea is every bit as important as all the other numerous specific details in the novel. If these were so trivial the author would'nt have bothered describing Ged's appearance and the difference between his people (both physical and cultural) and the Kargs (who ARE fair skinned) more than 5 times in one novel alone ...It's tantamount to saying that the LOTR Dunedain looked and acted identical to the Easterlings...absolutely ridiculous! The Easterlings and the Haradrim were played by mostly non-white actors, because that's the way Tolkien described those two races. Can you imagine the decibels if on the flip side, Aragorn had been cast as a man of color!?! That is EXACTLY the problem I have with the actor chosen for Ged's role. It's fine if the same thing is done in the opposite scenario? I don't think so.
                          I got many replies: "If Le Guin hasn't made her objections public, she probably doesn't have any 'issues' with the adaptation...it's all your problem."Thanks for posting that article Michael, it looks like they just got their answer :lol: ...

                          Comment


                          • Ursula and I come out of the old sf tradition, where the stuff was considered to require some kind of social purpose as well as being able to tell a good story if it was to fulfill reader expectations. Many of us were concerned with issues of race and gender in those days (cf Joanna Russ: The Female Man, as well as others already mentioned). I still think Lucas has a lot to answer for in shifting the emphasis of sf away from social dialogue to 'cool stuff'. Funny he should nowadays be claiming Ulysses and such as his originals, eh ? Like Spielberg he seemed prepared to do anything for a cheap shock. A shame to see such talent corrupted. But it didn't just corrupt itself, it sort of poisoned the whole well. At least movies like The Matrix CLAIM to have social content, but I wonder what the various Dick movies would have been like if Dick's dialogue with his culture was fully retained. Instead,the infantile elements are retained and the adult ones either sidelined or dumped altogether. There ought to be some sort of clause in a contract you could call the Clause of Reasonable Expectation of Content. The problem with making a bad Le Guin movie, rather than a good one, is that this continues to lower the standard rather than raising it and that makes the chances of an intelligent remake less likely, I suspect. I felt this about The Final Programme, which turned my own gender bending ideas into mere bad jokes about lesbians. An unholy betrayal. Ursula's taking it very well, considering.

                            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                            The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                            Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                            Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                            The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                            Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                            Comment


                            • I am still in the belief that the Earthsea books are also doomed. Anyways a picture of a non-white person on the cover of will not keep me from reading the book. I read the book Amos Fortune ( a book which I like). I should point out that alot of people read the Bible ( which consist mainly of non-white characters). On to Elric. Will people be able to relate to Elric? I don't see the majority of people carreing for the people of Melnibone. They sacrifice people, eat people, torture people, rape, and are sexualy loose. In fact I can imagine most people cheering on the Young Kingdoms. People would shake their heads to see Elric let his cousin sit on the ruby throne while he is away. I can also picture people being mad that Elric kills Rackhir the Red Archer ( a character I happen to like).

                              Galadriel

                              Comment


                              • I'm not sure you have to 'like' a character to enjoy that character. The dominant figures of most horror series are not, after all, people you'd want to share a hotel bedroom with. Neither was Dirty Harry or most of the characters played by Clint Eastwood. The list is endless. The answer is -- it depends how you play it. Richard III for instance has remained one of the most popular of Shakespeare's plays and neither he, nor Macbeth, for instance, are exactly cuddly or cute.

                                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                                The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                                Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                                Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                                The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                                Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

                                Comment

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