I generally ignore this type of thing and go on about my book-making business, but it has happened twice and it makes me wonder what people are thinking? Here’s a link to an article about another cover controversy starring my old employer, BloomsburyUSA. Apparently Bloomsbury has released a book with a black protagonist but has used a white model on the cover again. This happened a few months back with their book LIAR, where there was so much uproar that they yanked the original cover featuring a white girl with long straight hair and replaced her with a black model with curly hair, more closely (but not exactly) resembling the description of the main character.
As a freelance designer there at the time, I was able to discuss the issue with my art department where I was told the cover was conceptually driven and that the premise was that the character was a liar; therefore, how were we to believe anything she said? Now, I hadn’t read the book..still haven’t, but I did read the preview pamphlet that was sent out before the book’s release and Micah, our protagonist, was clearly described as a dark skinned girl with short nappy hair. From the author’s blog, there were many things that were debatable about the character, but her ethnicity was never one of them… My stance on it all was that Bloomsbury publishes many books for teens and in the four years I had been working there I don’t remember seeing any covers with people of color, black, Latino, Indian, Asian, or otherwise. So, it’s not that there are too few covers with Af. Am. people, there too few covers with people of color period…in ALL of the major houses.
In Bloomsbury’s defense, they did release OUR CHILDREN CAN SOAR after Obama took office. It’s a beautiful tribute to many of the people who helped carry the Civil Rights Movement. I am glad to have been a part of the project, but my question is this—would this book have been published if it had not been for the Obama train leaving the station? Are books like these only relevant when there is an event that shapes them, and an event that they can be marketed around? Maybe I am naive to think that good books are relevant at all times
When “The Princess and the Frog” was released I was less than enthusiastic. Some of my white friends laugh uncomfortably or roll their eyes for the rant that follows when I disdainfully remark about the string of Disney princess movies that came out in the 90’s (I owned almost all of them), my friends of color know exactly what I am talking about. We had Ariel (Denmark?), Jasmine (Arabia), Mulan (China), Pocahontas (new America) but when we went to Africa we got animals…not ONE human character????? Good one Disney. Because “The Princess and the Frog” was inspired by one of Bloomsbury’s title, THE FROG PRINCESS, the staff was invited to a premiere screening in the city. I went, out of curiosity (and it was free). Watching the movie, I kept waiting to be offended, waiting to be able to say, “it figures”. At the end I couldn’t. Though it wasn’t one of Disney’s greatest films artistically in my opinion, it was cute, a fun story, and in the end when Tiana won her prince EVERY little girl– black, or otherwise, cheered at her victory. This made me smile through my cynicism, as did on my walk home when passing the marquis and a poster from the movie where two little black girls stopped to have their picture taken next to Tiana’s face. It hit me then, that they were experiencing something I never did. Isn’t this a testament to the power of good story? Though here’s a thought—cynic alert— Disney’s release of this film around the anniversary of Katrina is probably no accident. Marketing trumps all.
What frustrates me the most, is the lack of consideration that goes on in the business.There are always two sides to every coin and people can rationalize their way out of anything, especially when they are surrounded by like minded individuals who confirm and support their decisions. I know for a fact that, though few and far between, there ARE people of color in the industry; therefore, sitting in the same offices as the editorial decision makers. When faced with situations like the one Bloomsbury is currently, does it ever occur to editors to ask their minority employees how they feel about this stuff? Or do they really not care?
Maybe hearing from a young reader of color will persuade them to think about their actions.
Do better everyone.