"You is kind. You is smart. You is important."
These are a set of repeated lines from the 2011 movie The Help, in which two black nannies serve as Magical Negros to an upper middle class white girl who later goes on to become the journalist that exposes the "secret" racism in the segregated South and "wins" the Civil Rights Movement.
I was taken to see The Help by my mother and aunt, who grew up in the Deep South during the 1950s and 1960s and enjoyed the movie's portrayal of their life experiences. As I walked out of the theater, I felt like a plastic container filled with undiluted rage. I couldn't speak, I couldn't write, and I couldn't interact with other human beings. I think "murder" is the word that best describes my state of mind. It wasn't just the ignorance of a Hollywood portrayal of race relations in the United States that bothered me, it was the enthusiastic mainstream embrace of that ignorance on the ten-year memorial of 9/11. I kept reading reviews and editorials in an attempt to validate my anger, and it seemed that any number of intelligent and well-intentioned people were going out of their way to celebrate the narrative of white heroism.
I'm currently writing what was meant to be a fluffy Zelda/Ganondorf shipfic loosely based on a Hayao Miyazaki version of "Beauty and the Beast" set in medieval Japan (link
). I thought it would be cool if, as in the Miyazaki retelling, both "Beauty" and "Beast" had their own agendas, which briefly intersected and would then move in parallel directions, the idea being that the reader would be encouraged to acknowledge that there is no real practical difference between "Beauty" and "Beast." I set up literal magic power as the marker of "difference," a kind of female-gendered method of expression that is denied to Zelda in her patriarchal society and accessible to Ganondorf in his matriarchal society. Unfortunately, I've run into an unforeseen complication, which is that Ganondorf's magical "difference" is colliding with the reality of his ethnic "difference."
Basically, I don't want to write a Magical Negro who helps the white girl realize her full potential so that she can then go on to be a hero. Based on what I've written so far, I don't think the vast majority of people coming to the story without ulterior motives would read it that way, as the project mostly involves giving agency and interiority to two characters – damseled princess and monstrous villain – who are nothing more than archetypes in the universe of the games I'm writing about, Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. Still, I'm picking up faint sonar echoes of the tropes that drove me crazy in The Help. I don't want to deconstruct these tropes; I want to not ever see them in any context, and I certainly don't want to reproduce them.
But it's hard, and I know that I'm probably going to fuck up.
Regardless, I'm going to finish the story, and I'm going to write through my self-doubt and the problematic-ness of it all. I need to figure out what works and what doesn't, and thinking about this in an abstract sense is not going to solve anything. If I can't learn to write about difference in Hyrule, then I'm going to be hopeless when it comes to writing about the real world.