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The Lord of the Rings has been criticized by actor John Boyega for having every character be white. I don't believe Boyega understands the background of the series (i.e. that it's based on medieval England).

If I were to write my own epic fantasy based on medieval England, would I also get in trouble for discrimination?

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    You can be accused of discrimination of one type or another no matter what you write about … May 17, 2020 at 17:52
  • We've got elves, dwarves, orcs and magic. A created world by the author. I don't see "accuracy" as a great argument against anything in a fantasy story. Are you writing an epic fantasy?
    – OldBat
    May 18, 2020 at 9:24
  • Considering how many of the characters live underground, I'm not sure there was exactly much pressure for development of dark skin on this temperate non-tropical forest-filled northern continent by either Evolution or Eru Ilúvatar. In the lands to the south of Gondor and Mordor (which we never visit), perhaps everyone is black, and there are no white characters? May 18, 2020 at 9:39

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If you write an epic fantasy based in Medieval England and only include white-skinned characters, then you would be misrepresenting history and could be accurately accused of discrimination - even if it were unintentional

Some people claim that including a variation of skin tones in certain historical settings is tantamount to ‘rewriting’ history to suit our modern sensibilities.

But in most cases the truth is that including such variety is setting the record straight.

‘History’ as we know it, is not some infallible truth set in stone. Every single history book was written by a human being who was a product of their own time and culture and affected by their own prejudices of their own era.

So ‘rewriting’ history makes sense if it means getting a clearer picture based on further evidence which has come to light.

Black female astronauts? You’re having a laugh!

The most striking example I’ve found of this regards black women in Nasa. If I wrote a story based in NASA, and I included a few black women among the scientists., mathematicians and engineers, then people would be lining up to accuse me of crow-barring people in to meet some positive discrimination agenda.

But in fact they’ve been there for as long as Nasa has existed: In 1958, when NASA was formed, Mary Jackson became its first African-American female engineer.

Bet you didn’t know black women have also been in space.

Still… surely there weren’t any non-whites in medieval England?

“People of colour are not an anachronism.” @medievalpoc (check out this twitter feed for a wealth of evidence)

“By the 15th century there were immigrants from all over Europe in Medieval England and they were spread all over the country. We know this from documents that have survived including letters, court records and - most of all - tax records.”

“One Medieval historian has said that the records show that no one was more than ten miles away from an immigrant. Foreign-born people included goldsmiths, bakers, inn-keepers, doctors, priests, farm labourers, tailors, brewers, weavers.”

Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/guides/zyrymnb/revision/2

Don’t worry about getting into trouble, worry about being accurate

So if you would like to write an epic fantasy based on Medieval England, then it would be better to do some historical research, rather than basing the historical interpretation on a single fantasy author.

In fact, if you did want to use a fantasy author as your source, you could do worse than George RR Martin, as his world is much more realistic in reflecting a variety of intermingling and interdependent cultures (not to mention remembering that women exist).

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You Bet You Will — Welcome to Writing!

I agree with @JasonBassford, there will always be someone who thinks you haven't achieved the social ideal d'jour.

Could you imagine the argument between supporters of gender diversity and the writer of a far-future sci-fi novel where, "quite obviously," the science behind gender is understood and, in that novel, the politics of the day simply (and automatically!) adjusted genetics at birth to ensure only a bi-gender species? Such a novel would generate a wheelbarrow load of hate.

But what if the author did that intentionally to explore (and invite others to explore) the sociological implications of advancing science?

Either way, that's part of the joy of being a writer. It's your story. But you should be prepared for criticism. You could try to avoid that trouble by writing a story that included every minority of every type you can think of.

Of course, then you'd be attacked for including diversity that didn't conform to the genre or didn't reflect the time period you were using for inspiration.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't. Welcome to writing!

But, more importantly, what kind of trouble can you get into? You will not get into legal trouble. I believe you would only face social criticism. In other words, you're good to go. Just remember that your right to speak freely is balanced by everyone else's right to speak freely — and speak they will. You'll need to grow a thick skin, but for a writer, that's part of the job.

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To be honest, I would not take people seriously who attack you. (Not everyone does this, I know, but many do appear to be offended too easily) Write what characters you want to. Just do some research and remember to include accurate descriptions. If you are making a character in a place that is mainly white, that is your choice. In the book I am currently writing, there are more POC people than white people (white people are considered exotic), but that's only because it's set in a place where people evolved to have darker skin. At some point my character will come across a land where there are more white people, but that's really just based off of the geography of my world.

Just remember to keep in mind geography, evolution, and to research. A place that gets more sun is going to have darker skinned people than a place that doesn't get as much sun. And there are immigrants, which you can add.

Also remember that The Lord of the Rings was made in a time period where it was considered more acceptable to have an all-white cast, but now it's not. I would just add characters that seem right for the story if I were you.

And try to keep the gender balanced (somewhat), or at least mark down the ratio of men to women.

Good luck on your story!

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  • Genetics and isolated breeding made some humans lose their coloring. White people are not from the north pole, and did not turn white to hide against the snow. Proto-humans were already wearing clothes before white humans found England. This is a myth, not science. White humans evolved in Africa like all other humans, and lost color while migrating. The Inuit lived much further north than merry old England and did not lose their coloring (same sun, btw). People at the Equator come in all human colors, they are not the darkest-skinned people. Genetics works through selective breeding, not sun.
    – wetcircuit
    May 22, 2020 at 11:35
  • @wetcircuit I said geography, not genetics. May 22, 2020 at 15:16
  • @wetcircuit And I never said something about "no clothes". I've studied history some, not sat around twiddling my thumbs. May 22, 2020 at 15:24

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