Racebending, ‘Game of Thrones,’ and Default Whiteness

I was sort of being flip yesterday when I tweeted that Game of Thrones was engaging in a little reverse racebending by casting a quite dark-skinned black British actor to play a character who George R.R. Martin describes as “pale as milk” in his novels. But I do think that it’s important to see adaptors raise questions about why characters need to be white in the first place.

There are all kinds of characters for whom, if you think about it for more than thirty seconds, don’t absolutely need to be white. And really, that’s the way things should work when we’re assigning characters’ races: the default shouldn’t be white. There should be no default. If you’re making a movie about Minnesota Lutherans, or something, then I’m fine if your cast ends up all white. But if you’re making a show about, say, a group of friends who all live in an urban environment, making them all white is as lazy as making every women in pop culture a publicist or an event planner. All sorts of sloth in character design should be embarrassing.