As you're probably all aware, the depiction of characters of color/non-white characters as white on book covers and film adaptations is a pervasive problem in America. (Very likely in other majority-white countries as well, but the USA situation is the one I'm familiar with.)

Just a few of the many examples of this include the film adaptation of the TV show Avatar. In the show, all the characters are Asian. In the movie, the villain is Asian and all the heroes are white.

In Ursula K. LeGuin's book A Wizard of Earthsea, all the characters except for a few minor villains are dark-skinned. In the TV movie, all but one wise mentor are white.

Until quite recently, Octavia Butler's novels, which feature black protagonists, were stuck with white folk on the covers.

Most recently of all, YA fantasy author Justine Larbalestier wrote a book with a black protagonist. The cover depicts a white girl.

Justine has a good explanation of exactly what's wrong with this. But in short, refusing to depict protagonists of color says that people of color are a shameful thing to be hidden and concealed, not heroes to showcase. This is despicable.

Authors do not have any control over the covers of their books. In many cases, they are not even consulted. If they do protest, they are almost always overruled, unless they have the stature of Stephen King.

However, protests can be directed to the publishers, who do control what the covers look like. The publisher of Larbalestier's book is Bloomsbury. They can be contacted here:

ETA: Looks like more direct contacts are Deb Shapiro and Melanie Cecka at and

It is true that covers are often inaccurate in ways that do not involve race. However, especially in the world of fantasy, the depiction of heroes as color as white people is a pervasive pattern of racism. Can you think of a single example of a white hero depicted as non-white on a book cover? I can't.

I also note that while all of Justine's books have protagonists of color, not a single one of her novel covers depicts a character of color.

ETA: Except for the hardcover edition of How to Ditch Your Fairy.

From: [identity profile]


You may recall the amount of screaming I had to do to escape having an emaciated naked white girl on the cover of my last book.

Which was, not coincidentally, also put out by Bloomsbury.

Time for another nastygram, I guess.

From: [identity profile]

And sometimes, the whitewashing turns people into albinos.

Another thing I've noticed while reading: Most author pictures that are shown (in what I read) are white. If a POC author's picture is shown, the name "sounds" ethnic. I'm sure there are many, many factors that contribute to if an author's picture is included in the bio, but it's interesting. Though not really in the happy way.

From: [identity profile]

One of my short tricks for determining if an author might be a POC (for 50 books POC) is to check for an author photo.

ETA: this is not to see if someone looks POC, though that doesn't hurt, but also because the lack of a photo is more likely to put someone in the POC category.
Edited Date: 2009-07-26 08:13 pm (UTC)
ext_2414: Brunette in glasses looking at viewer with books behind her (Not white)

From: [identity profile]

Thanks for writing about it. I'll send a letter in.

From: [identity profile]

I've also noticed this to be true--the Mercedes Lackey fantasy series Joust features Egyptian people. The cover? It has a dragon on it--not the human characters. The book does have dragons, but really, not a single human in any of the covers?

A good, notable exception is the Tamara Peirce series The Magic Circle--one of the main characters is black, and she is clearly pictured on the cover of her own book.

From: [identity profile]

The first, hardcover edition of her How To Ditch Your Fairy has a light-skinned girl of colour on it. See on amazon.

From: [identity profile]

She actually looks darker in that Amazon picture than on the book itself. I just looked - she's got a pointy nose, medium lips, light brown skin - the sort of looks that could be Jewish, Italian, Latina, or mixed. Which is actually perfect for the book!
octopedingenue: (ginko GYAH)

From: [personal profile] octopedingenue

Sometimes even the books with characters of color on the cover are maddening. I've avoided reading D.J. MacHale's popular Pendragon series because I dislike this cover so much. Apparently one of the spinoff books does a little better, but still, WTF first book!

I did read the Pendragon graphic novel because Carla Speed McNeil adapted it, and I liked her portrayal of the girl a lot, which makes me crankier about Super Exotic African Chick In Fur Bikini VS Whiteboy on the first cover.

There's some YA book I keep walking past that's a historical novel about teen!Cleopatra with Super-Pale Girl in kohl eyeliner on the cover. I'll track down the title today.

From: [identity profile]

And you know, there would have been an interesting solution if you had Absolutely Had to have a white person on the cover-- at least from Larbalestier's description of the book. You could have had a collage of faces, with the protagonist's 'real' face on the cover, to show the different identities and masks she wears. Hell, you could do something clever with masks. But nooooooo. Generic White Beauty it is.

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