Merlin: Giving Credit Where Credit's Due

Sit in front of your mirrors and
wish this was you, bitches.
As much as the infamous lil sis tweets, she's not a bona fide netizen like her older sis.  But we do watch the same movies and shows, and I often have to get her caught up on the issues surrounding them.

Like Merlin.  The lil sis is growing increasingly interested in Merlin (we're actually going to have to have a marathon soon), as am I.  Initially, I intended to ignore the show because while I admired the audacity to cast Angel Coulby (left), a woman of color, to play Guinevere, I felt her characterization could've been handled better.

I also wanted to avoid the show because to really get into a show means to eventually have to deal its fandom.  And while Ms. Coulby enjoys a well-deserved following, she also has her share of racist haters.  First there were cries that the show, with its talking dragons, flying griffins, unicorns, sorcery, and glaring deviations from Arthurian legend, was lacking "authenticity" (there's that word again) because Guinevere was black.  Then came the usual, "She's annoying", "There's no chemistry", "She's mentally challenged", and "She's dull" complaints.  There were complains that's she's "repetitive", you know, because she's always calling people out on their privilege or reminding them of their duty.

There were also complaints about the fact she's gotten to share kisses with Merlin, Lancelot, and Arthur.  There were complaints as to why all three men are ever-willing to risk their lives for her.  Because when a black woman, playing a servant no less, gets this kind of treatment, something obviously wrong with the universe.  And you can only imagine how S3E10 "The Queen of Hearts" was received, in which Morgana has a vision of Guinevere finally being crowned Queen of Camelot, and when Morgana tries to derail that destiny, Arthur reveals he's willing to relinquish all his rights and privileges as a Crown Prince just to be with Guinevere.  There's a even scene where the guards have to physically pry him away from her when he shares what he fears will be their last kiss (it's actually kinda hot, if I dare say...no chemistry, my ass).

Three guesses who's complaining, by the way.

Mind you, there's also an assortment of black nobles, commoners, assassins, mystics, and knights on the show, as well as other colors (unlike on Spartacus, a show which is supposedly all about historical authenticity, yet only shows POC as slaves and peasants).  And this is where the lil sis turned to me and stated, "It seems like the Brits just wanted POC to be on the show."  The lil sis also theorized Ms. Coulby, like Sanaa Lathan in AvP, simply won the role fair and square over other actresses.  This is also makes perfect sense; Ms. Coulby trained at the Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh where she earned a degree in acting, and at the tender age of 30, she already has a career spanning 14 years.

Bow to the Queen, ladies and gents.

Guinevere, Queen of Camelot...21st Century-style
So here's where I have to give credit where credit's due.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again: British television, even though it has a ways to go where race is concerned, is already light years ahead of American media.  While we're over here stewing in a white saturation genre, Merlin is being renewed for a fourth season, even though in America, it's been shoved into the Friday night death slot on SyFy.  The Brits are willing to at least try, and because of this, they have a show with a really good chance of longevity here.  Let's face it; without its attempts at inclusion, this show wouldn't be nearly as successful as it's been.  It wouldn't have its broad, devoted fan base, and it probably wouldn't have lasted past its first season.

One of things I find hilarious about certain people's ire towards Guinevere and Arthur's romance is that neither Guinevere nor Arthur is the show's central figure.  Usually, certain fangirls don't have an aneurysm so long as the central figure isn't the one macking on a black woman.

Colin Morgan needs to play
a Vulcan in the next Star Trek Film.
Need I remind y'all, the show is called Merlin? Remember? The cute, skinny, adorably awkward nerd with the Vulcan ears? With all the attention Arthur and Guinevere are getting, I'm guessing certain fangirls feel like if Merlin ain't gettin' any, then nobody else can get any, and most especially not from a black woman. Like this chica right here:
I know this is a different telling of the story [read: "inauthentic"], but so far, it’s the one element of the story that hasn’t been convincing [read: "no chemistry"]. I don't fault the actors or the writers because both are doing great jobs [translation: "Guinevere's being black doesn't bother me but..."]. It's probably just that the story is about Merlin first and foremost, given the title, and there just isn’t enough time to explore Arthur and Gwen deeply enough. And I’m not even sure I’d want more, for the delight this season has been to see Arthur, Merlin and Gwen all working together as friends.
Mm-hm. What if Guinevere were white? Would she really prefer that Arthur and Guinevere remain platonic? Seriously?

Like...seriously?

Comments

  1. Me and mt mother were watching that episode and at the beginning, after Morgana wakes up, my mother says, "Well, I'm sure that's a nightmare not confined to Morgana."

    *wink wink nudge nudge*

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  2. @ BlackPeopleSufferFromPTSD

    I know, right? I laugh every time I watch that scene.

    How did you feel about the rest of the episode?

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  3. Well, truth be told, I thought it was kind of "Meh" like the rest of the episodes. I mean there is a lot of neglecting to mention the fact that Gwen is Black. It's totally glossed over. Like King Uther thinks of her as just a servant. Not a Black one. And then the whole, "Gwen does voodoo and she has been at the castle for years and no one has ever had an inkling but here is this new girl who comes in and all of a sudden there is trouble within the walls but she is white so we would never think to look at her askance" thing is really bugging the shit out of me as well.
    I don't know why I watch this show. Probably for the petty smug satisfaction of seeing Morgana's face. White people love to identify with a character. So I feel satisfaction on knowing that she/they are so horrified by Gwen.
    I watch this show because I have a perverse sense of humor.

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  4. I mean there is a lot of neglecting to mention the fact that Gwen is Black

    I've noticed this as well. Not just on the show, but in real life. The only people really talking about her race are bloggers and commenters.

    I don't know why I watch this show. Probably for the petty smug satisfaction of seeing Morgana's face.

    I think that's what's got me hooked as well. The creators are hell-bent on making this happen, have had three successful years in spite of serious obstacles (the reception to the pilot was lukewarm), and no amount of whining from white fangirls has changed a goddamn thing. It's like every time some white blogger/commenter goes on a rant, the writers simply respond by exploring the Arthur/Gwen romance. Very Orci/Kurtzman a la Star Trek (2009), by way of Gene Roddenberry. It's the attitude of "This is what it is, and you need to shut up and deal."

    Because if this were a WW/BM relationship, something tells me there would be a lot less whining.

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  5. "Because if this were a WW/BM relationship, something tells me there would be a lot less whining."

    Girl, didn't you get the memo? Black women are threatening. Jezebel, Sapphire, Mammy. Take your pick. Plus, the fact that Gwen is Black means she would be carrying Arthur's child. And we ALL know the most dangerous place for a child is in an African American womb.

    *extreme side eye*

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  6. Girl, didn't you get the memo? Black women are threatening.

    Which bring us to why we're seeing this trend in sci-fi/fantasy/comic book worlds. The BW/WM pairing is subtly being pushed, and I have to wonder why. Because the writers - whether it's Stan Lee, Gene Roddenberry, JJ Abrams, Bob Orci, Alex Kurtzman or Julian Jones, Jake Michie, Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps (the guys from Merlin) - are white guys. Once again, white nerds/geeks are pushing this theme in fandom, and I think that that's what's threatening these fangirls the most.

    These men aren't writing strong, beautiful, black female characters in response to pressure or threats - they're doing it of their own free will and have been doing it since the Sixties.

    It's no coincidence the attention isn't being place squarely on these white male writers. I'm not surprised that black women are getting all the hate. Because this is no different from the slavery era when white women blamed and punished enslaved black women because white men wanted black women.

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  7. "Because this is no different from the slavery era when white women blamed and punished enslaved black women because white men wanted black women."

    When I read that I instantly thought of the Creole women of antebellum New Orleans, the tignon and the Sumptuary Laws that white women DEMANDED that their men enact because they were so THREATENED by all the white men flocking to Creoles of Color. They literally had to enact a law to make sure that women of color looked raggedy because they couldn't compete. SMH

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  8. the tignon and the Sumptuary Laws that white women DEMANDED that their men enact because they were so THREATENED by all the white men flocking to Creoles of Color. They literally had to enact a law to make sure that women of color looked raggedy because they couldn't compete

    What????????

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  9. This sounds like a job for GOOGLE! *rubs off*

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  10. Back!

    And even WITH the laws, Creole/Black Women still rocked a mad ensemble - and got male attention. Whoops! Guess that law didn't work well after all. >:3

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  11. I think the WM/BW relationship is a bit less threatening than a WW/BM relationship is to white males. That's why such pairings have been going on since the sixties. It’s the ‘white male fantasy’ that takes precedence. White males might feel threatened (or inadequate) if forced to watch a brother sex up a Becky. So if white males have their choice, let it be a white male/black woman pairing.

    Will Smith didn’t get the white girl in any of his Science fiction vehicles. Wesley Snipes didn't get the girl in any of the three installment of Blade. Morpheus had no love scene in the Matrix, because white men can’t bear to see that much black sexuality onscreen. The fear of Black male sexuality is embodied in a centuries-old fear of the black male penis. It may be why so many black men are rendered sexless in films directed by white men. If you’re going to offend anyone racially/sexually let it be white women.

    I saw this documentary back in 2004 on PBS. "America Beyond the Color Line: By Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr." Where politics in Hollywood is examined from a racial/financial point of view. In the segment, Behind the Scenes in Black Hollywood; producer Arnon Milchan says, "The audience is not interested in seeing two black people, black man and black woman, make love. And they are definitely not interested in seeing a black woman and her son being terrorized by anybody. "They are not going to pay for that," he said."

    Nobody (meaning whites) wants to see a black woman in peril. Whites are unable to identify/empathize with her character. They feel little if no empathy for a black protagonist. How can they not see the elephant in the room? Of course race matters in Hollywood.

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  12. Have you guys checked out the British version of Being Human? Now, as far as diversity goes the show is definitely lacking. The main characters are Caucasian with the exception of Annie who is bi-racial. But they do a pretty decent job portraying Annie, she is a doll.

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  13. @K

    Co-signed on the BBC. Between the Sarah Jane Adventures, Dr. Martha Jones, from Doctor Who, the ghost from Being Human, and the brother from the series Trinity, I've seen more shows from the BBC showcase POCs, specifically blacks, in leading compelling roles than most of the shit shown here in the states.

    And why did you have to inform me about bigots hating on my queen Angel Coulby? See now I'm about to catch a case.

    I like Merlin and look at it as an interpretation on the mythos in the manner that Smallville is. The series isn't perfect but it's enjoyable. And yeah I've heard those code words for throwing shade at interracial pairings before. No chemistry, my ass.

    You gotta love how suspension of disbelief is fine for witches, dragons and magic. Interracial pairings, OMG ZOINKS! THAT'S SOOOO FAR FETCHED.

    Guinevere and for that matter Dr. Martha Jones, Anne (Being Human) are handled with femininity, grace, appeal, wisdom, strength and respectability that's usually reserved for white female characters. In fact it's almost as if they wrote these roles for white actresses and cast black women instead for lack of better description. And I'm so glad that Coulby is Guinnevere because you know here in the states, she would've been Morgana, and the sapphiring would've been in overdrive.

    I enjoy Angel Coulby’s Guinevere and the fact that they’re setting her up to be the Anti-Morgana. Morgana is the rich white girl who has had a privileged life and descends into darkness. This Guinevere however is a woman of the people, she’s humble and kind but will check Arthur’s ass and will be the one who tempers his asshole nature and make him a great king and she will be a great queen by his side.

    And I think they make the cutest couple (aside from the overt subtext between Arthur and Merlin as the other OTP).

    But haters, why are you upset? Is it because the classy sexy black girl gets to win the heart of that fine ass blond white boy and gets to learn first hand where Excalibur really lies.

    Awwww you mad? Why you mad? Awwww you mad? Good. Now play with it. STOP! ROTATE!

    [note to self: stop watching the Bad Girls Club]

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  14. Queen of the Cynics4/4/11, 8:40 PM

    roughout history, societies have used sumptuary laws for a variety of purposes. They attempted to regulate the balance of trade by limiting the market for expensive imported goods. They were also an easy way to identify social rank and privilege, and often were used for social discrimination.[2]
    This frequently meant preventing commoners from imitating the appearance of aristocrats, and sometimes also to stigmatize disfavored groups. In the Late Middle Ages sumptuary laws were instituted as a way for the nobility to cap the conspicuous consumption of the prosperous bourgeoisie of medieval cities, and they continued to be used for these purposes well into the 17th century.[2]

    from wikipedia

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  15. @ leoprincess & Queen of Cynics

    Holy Shit.

    Do I...do I feel another post coming on?

    @ M. Gibson

    White males might feel threatened (or inadequate) if forced to watch a brother sex up a Becky.

    Ohhhh...don't even get me started on that.

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  16. Awwww you mad? Why you mad? Awwww you mad? Good. Now play with it. STOP! ROTATE!

    [note to self: stop watching the Bad Girls Club]


    LOL I love this whole thread!

    I had to google the tignon and the sumptuary laws as well. White women used to be so honest with their hatred. Now they try to disguise it.

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  17. Also I told my sis about this blog entry and we're going to set our dvr to record this show. I need to see whats making people so angry.

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  18. Here's another good one:

    "...compared to Gwen, who is about as interesting as wet dish rag, Morgana sparkles."

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  19. @ Ankh - And yet the wet dish rag has 1, maybe 2, dudes hankering for her. Suck it, bytches! >:D

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  20. ChocolateSunshine4/6/11, 12:44 AM

    @Ankh

    I love how the rest of the IMDB thread is them complaining about how all Gwen does now is be evil/angry all the time. LOL! I couldn't help thinking, welcome to the sapphire stereotype white people...sucks doesn't it?

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  21. I love how the rest of the IMDB thread is them complaining about how all Gwen does now is be evil/angry all the time.

    You mean Morgana. And yes...I hope they enjoy seeing her be a hateful bitch all the time.

    The reason I so enjoy the opening of "Queen of Hearts" is that the notion of black women being loved and elevated by white men really is a nightmare for many white women, so I have to wonder if the writers were trying to be clever.

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  22. Hollywood has made the Western past so lily-white we have come to believe that it was in fact lily-white. But it was not. There were black people in Britain back then for the very same reason there are black people there now: it had been part of an empire that took in bits of Africa. And the blacks were not just slaves or peasants either. One of the richest women in York in the 300s was much blacker than Ms Coulby:

    http://afroeurope.blogspot.com/2010/03/roman-grave-reveals-that-black-people.html

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  23. @ Abagond - I read some bitter and amusing comments by some regarding that discovery on either The Guardian or The Daily Mail. "Ancient Britain was NOT multicultural!!!! This is a liberal LIE!!!!!111", followed by kicking and screaming.

    I loved it. >:3

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  24. Some of the comments in this blog are making me so proud to be a Lousiana Creole right now. *tears*

    "Awwww you mad? Why you mad? Awwww you mad? Good. Now play with it. STOP! ROTATE!

    [note to self: stop watching the Bad Girls Club]"

    Bahahaha! Loving all of these comments, actually.

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  25. @ Neo-Prodigy

    And I think they make the cutest couple (aside from the overt subtext between Arthur and Merlin as the other OTP).

    Boo-boo...you noticed this too.

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  26. @K. That's how I first heard about the show. A friend told me I needed to start watching because of the blatant overtones.

    I thought that was interesting and I'm certain writers were intentionally doing it.

    I also thought it was clever the writers using the analogy as those with magic having to stay in the closet and couldn't be who they are. IE LGBTQ/Pagan struggle.

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  27. I also thought it was clever the writers using the analogy as those with magic having to stay in the closet and couldn't be who they are. IE LGBTQ/Pagan struggle.

    I LOVE this about the show. The Arthur/Gwen drama also allows the writers to point out anti-interracial attitudes, in this case, outing their own audience.

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  28. ***comment moderation***

    @ Anonymous

    1) Um, go fuck yourself.

    2) Like, really...go fuck yourself.

    3) Learn how to read.

    4) Learn how to comprehend what you read.

    5) Deal with the fact that this is my blog, and you can fuck go yourself.

    xoxo

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  29. I'm neither White or Black, and as soon as I watched an episode of Merlin, I realized Arthur/Morgana was amazing! ...then I watched Guinevere as a character come alive and slowly Arthur/Gwen as a couple bloom. I then realized that Merlin has one epic romantic couple, and that is Arthur/Gwen. (Seriously, I'm slightly embarrassed over my Morgana/Arthur days, although of course I continue to adore Morgana as the crazy step sister!)

    The thing is though, when I showed it to all of my friends (who are predominantly white), while they were hooked on to the show, they did EXACTLY what you showed as an example in your blog! There was tons of, "Oh I LOVE Gwen" (basically, hun, I realize you're not white, so I can't of course say I don't like her, in case I offend you) , "but I just don't see how Arthur/Gwen makes sense" (How can Bradley James, God's gift to women, be with her?!) It's odd, and maybe a bit dramatic for me to say, but I could almost more clearly tell which of my friends don't see me for being different ethnically by how they reacted to this ship. (I'm ecstatic to report that my three best white best friends gushed and gushed and are now some of their crazy vidders haha)

    I have to say though, the 409 episode was so incredible though that even two of my friends who despise Gwen (again, for seriously no reason) called me to talk about how they finally saw the brilliance of her acting, her beauty, and their chemistry! They were even sad that the couple temporarily broke up! Just goes to show for all the racist idiots, Angel Coulby is such a superior actress she can even bring some haters to their knees!

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    Replies
    1. Welcome to the bar. Use a name, please.

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