Regarding Fantasy #2: Black Female Protagonist

I read a lot of fantasy, but certainly not as much as others. Thus I may be missing some stories, but my googling has indicated I’m not missing much. Is having a black female protagonist really all that much to ask for? The ability to sit down with a book with a character that is more like me would put me in heaven. Though I’m certain many of these protagonists would be entirely unrelatable to me. And to that I say, give me many more black females so I have a pool of character types I can draw from.

Female in Fantasy
Let’s start with the females role in fantasy. For a long time, the female’s role was merely the dear love left back at home. A motivation for a character to complete whatever mission they are on. Females were token pieces who may or may not be fleshed out, but their purposes were limited.

Then we hit an era when female characters weren’t just there for motivation. These characters were there to help. Even if their help turned out to be incompetent, they were given roles that they could actually do something with. The best part was females also started to become antagonists. Sure, I may have some issues with the way many female antagonists were portrayed, but they were given motivations and desires. But, the biggest thing the this change lead to was female characters moving from a support role to protagonist.

We are finally at a point in literature, where females are not uncommon protagonists. I’d argue there are more female protagonists in some fantasy subgenres than male protagonists. Urban Fantasy is an example of this. The prominence of female characters who are as take charge and appealing as male characters is encouraging.

Being Black in Fantasy
The portrayal of black characters in fantasy is not quite so encouraging. Black characters are far more rare in fantasy even today. In many stories I’ve read, they pop up as token characters. I’ve seen spectacles made of black characters as they enter a room and the POV characters can’t do anything but muse over the color of their skin. It is infuriating that the POV character can think of nothing more important. A mention of race or color is fine, but it’s not okay to muse.

A story mentions race tastefully, when it isn’t the thing that is most focused on, the thing that is always brought to our attention. I think Suzanne Collins did an okay job with describing Rue in The Hunger Games. The color of Rue’s skin was mentioned a little bit more than I would have liked, but it wasn’t overkill. Yet, there was still uproar when the film came out and the had the audacity to stay true to the book, cast a young black girl, and shatter the false image people created of an empathetic character. It brings light to the fact that our society hasn’t progressed as much as people think. It should not be an outrage to have felt something for a black character.

Black Female Protagonist
This leaves the black female protagonist in a precarious situation. In terms of being a female, there is room for her character. But the color of her skin restricts it. Much like in our current society, black females are at the bottom of the totem pole with two strikes against them. It is difficult to combat. When I saw that FOX’s new show Sleepy Hollow, I was excited. There is a black female character who has a chance of being an emotional center of the show. A fantasy show at that. We’ll see how whether she is brushed to the side and is simply overshadowed by the modern day Ichabod or if we will gain depth and intrigue to her character.

Is it really so much to ask to have a black female protagonist in a book I pick up? Are black females not allowed to be at the center of something fantastical or did I miss the memo? The only thing I can do is continue to write novels with black female protagonists and hope that one day they will make it through the ringer and into the hands of some person who also wants to see a black female in the lead.

Find the other Regarding Fantasy Series Posts:
Regarding Fantasy #1: Fantasy is all about the What If.
Regarding Fantasy #3: About why Fantasy is primed for escapism.
Regarding Fantasy #4: Fantasy is the cross genre genre.
Regarding Fantasy #5: Worldbuilding in Fantasy can transcend just a story.

18 thoughts on “Regarding Fantasy #2: Black Female Protagonist

  1. The lack of black female protagonists is definitely a noticeable trait of the fantasy genre. I’m tempted to say that this is largely a reflection of the demographics of both the writers and readers of fantasy. That, and the fact that so many fantasy novels are based on Anglo-Saxon history and culture.

    I’m trying to think of any fantasy novels I’ve read with a black male protagonist, let alone a black female protagonist, and I’m having trouble. The only one I can come up with is “The Legend of Tarik” by Walter Dean Meyers. It was one of my favorite books when I was a kid. But since then, nothing.

    Glen Cook’s “The Chronicles of the Black Company” has a mix of black and white characters, but if memory serves, the narrators were always white.

    Science fiction fares a little better. The first works that come to mind are the novels of Octavia Butler, and Tad Williams’ “Otherland” series.

  2. I think you are pretty spot on.

    The demographics of the writers may be a reflection, but I don’t believe it is a reflection of the readers. I know many black females and black males who read fantasy. I don’t know how many black writers are in the speculative genres, but what I have seen does bend toward Science Fiction.

    I would love to see some more black protagonists. I don’t see what is so difficult about having one. At the end of the day, they are characters just like anyone else, the only difference is the color of their skin. In the world of Fantasy, the striations between black and white and any other color don’t need to exist. Thus, I don’t see the reason a character can’t have darker skin.

    Like I mentioned before, since I don’t see it on the shelves, I’m going to try to fill the gap. The only pesky problem is getting my books published. =(

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  13. I don’t think it’s just the demographic, but also the entire issue with people getting upset. As you said with Rue, people were not happy she had dark skin. As such if you had a dark skinned female as the MC, then I’m sure people would flip out.

    Then there’s the issue that if you DID make the MC female and black, would she be a stereotype? I think that could be another thing that people are afraid of when writing out-side of their race. I suppose that just means instead of complaining about the lack of female black MCs we should just make them.

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