community, historical fiction

Cultural Authenticity in Fiction: Part 2

Image result for shakespeare house

All right, ABC Studios, I am mad, and with good reason. Did anybody else see the premiere of “Still Star-Crossed”, a new TV show that takes up the story of Romeo and Juliet’s grieving families where Shakespeare’s play left off? If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts (just be prepared mine will be a little grouchy). If you didn’t, here’s a brief summary:

The set is supposed to be the late 1500s/early 1600s in Verona, Italy. The first episode starts with introducing the city’s ruling family (a black father/brother/sister with British accents); two big, feuding families, the Capulets and Montagues (both of which have white and black relatives); and the tragic young couple, Romeo and Juliet, caught in the middle. Romeo is black, Juliet is white; Romeo is 15 or 16, and Juliet is about 14, which is the only part of Shakespeare’s play the producers got right.

This is exactly what ticks me off. In the 16th century in Italy, the native Caucasians were in power and wealth, that historically simple. Anyone of African descent found within the city walls would have been slaves. They absolutely would not have been intermarrying with politically important families. And I am not sorry and I do not care if that offends the modern sensibilities of the network.

Image result for verona italy

If the producers truly felt that the 500-year-old story ofย Romeo and Julietย was worth revisiting with a diverse cast, how about setting it in the 1950s American South? Or in 2015 Los Angeles? Why couldn’t it be an Asian Romeo and a Hispanic Juliet? If the network is thinking about building bridges in our community, I’m not sure spotlighting the tensions between races is a good way to do it.

The idea of the show is that, after the tragic demise of Romeo and Juliet, the families proceed with an arranged marriage between a Capulet and a Montague to hopefully put the feud to rest. But, of course, the plan won’t work, and the feud will go on for the next 10 episodes or whatever.

But I won’t be watching it.

Image result for romeo and juliet ballet

 

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12 thoughts on “Cultural Authenticity in Fiction: Part 2”

  1. YES. Thank you. Haven’t seen the show, but this really annoys me in allegedly historical dramas. If you must portray things inaccurately like that, then establish that the story happened in a completely different world or reality, but don’t rewrite history.

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    1. The current push to pretty much rewrite history means that we are in danger of committing the most cardinal sin of civilization: REPEATING IT. If we’re truly going to advance, we have to REMEMBER where we came from, otherwise we’ll eventually forget the really bad parts, and one day risk making the same mistakes again!

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  2. I’m really glad you’re talking about this. I haven’t seen or heard about that show, but I have seen this type of thing again and again, and it makes me very irritated. Part of it is that anachronisms of any kind tend to take me out of a show. However, I understand that some small details are easy to get wrong and therefore forgivable, such as the occasional expression that hadn’t yet been coined, or a style of sleeve that wouldn’t come into vogue for another two years, etc. BUT THE ENTIRE SOCIAL CLIMATE AND SENSIBILITIES OF THE TIME is something that a little basic research should clear up for you. And you can’t change those just because you disagree with them.

    But there’s a greater reason this upsets me. From what I have observed, portraying problematic attitudes of the past in an accurate way doesn’t offend people. They are aware that it happened. You know what *is* offensive? Pretending that stuff never happened, or sugar-coating it. Because doing that invalidates the very real experiences of people whose ancestors lived through that.

    Side note: I would totally watch either of the shows that you suggested. Those would be brilliant. Especially the 1950s South one, because it would still be a historical drama, but it would be way more realistic and very interesting than this train-wreck of a show that you’ve brought to our attention here.

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    1. Some changes to certain types of a production don’t bother me; like “Hamilton” (which I haven’t seen because I don’t do musicals), but it’s supposed to be modern reflections on a historical time, not historically accurate, so that’s fine. But especially movies and TV shows that have research teams (for the correct fashions, architecture, etc.) and the producers intentionally ignore the truth, because they think inserting their 21st century politically correct ideology is more important, that’s not just insulting to the arts; it’s more than simply offensive; it risks us repeating some of the really terrible parts of our history, because in 200 years, people will think it never happened.

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  3. I haven’t actually seen it yet- but I do like the concept. I do *totally* get what you’re talking about when it comes to historical accuracy. I actually have a slightly different opinion. I’m okay with things not being historically accurate, if say they want to make something like, say, Reign, which is utterly ludicrous and inaccurate anyway. Personally, my issue is that too often people will do this to a film set in the middle ages in Europe, but then get upset when a movie set in Asia has one white guy in the movie. I just hate the double standards on this. If historical accuracy doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter- but if it does then it has to go both ways- Hollywood has to make up its mind already on this and stop the endless pandering, it’s getting on my nerves. Again, I think it’s totally fair to have your opinion- and I agree with what the person above said as well about it not being good to pretend like these things didn’t happen as well!! Or pretend like Europe wasn’t almost entirely white at the time (I’ve genuinely had people tell me that Austen is a whitewash, despite the fact the UK was close to 100% white at the time) Anyway I’m rambling- but this was a great post!!

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    1. Yeah, the double standard really drives me crazy. I’ve watched a few episodes of “Reign”, and it’s really getting to me. The way that they have absolutely no historical proof for so many of these conspiracies and interpersonal relationships and motivations. So it’s one thing to call it “speculative fiction,” which, to a point, a lot of historical fiction is. But the writers are constantly inserting modern viewpoints and ideas into the dialogue, and I’m like, “Argghhh, no!!”

      And I don’t mind adaptations for things like ballets and musicals – for example, when you have a ballet company with minority dancers perform a traditional “Swan Lake,” but with a diverse cast – big deal, in my eyes. But if it’s a movie version of “Pride and Prejudice,” I want to see an all-white, all-European cast, dammit!

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      1. haha yes, I gave up on that eventually, but it was good trashy tv, once I switched off to what utter nonsense it was. hehe so true!! it’s such a dumb show.
        Yes, that’s very true and very fair! I have to say I’m very thrown when they completely ignore context like that. Bit off topic, but there was a version of Wuthering Heights a few years ago and it was dreadful for a million reasons- but one of the ways it didn’t work was because rather than having Heathcliff be of gypsy origins, they made him black- which wouldn’t have been a problem, except that because they made this change, they had to change huge parts of the story to accommodate for the new element of racism and they changed huge amounts of the dialogue to include the n-word every few sentences. What made so little sense was that they were aware of the need to be historically accurate, but for some reason thought it made sense to just destroy the book to make a completely irrelevant point. I will never understand why they didn’t just adapt a different book. It’s the same with this- I don’t get why they can’t just try writing/adapting different stories.

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      2. Hmmm, that makes a lot of sense, what you’re saying about that “Wuthering Heights” version — you’re right, we can’t just change an entire story to make one point, that could so easily be made with choosing a different original text!

        Yeah, it’s funny, because if you ignore that “Reign” is based on actual people, it’s really exciting in a purely visceral way — all the soap opera drama and tawdry details! ha! ๐Ÿ˜€ But after a few episodes, I couldn’t stand not knowing the truth, so I looked up the bio for Mary Queen of Scots (the objective, facts-only sort), and then was just like, “Okay, come on, folks!!!”

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      3. Yes exactly! I’m glad you agree- and that it makes sense ๐Ÿ˜‰ (cos I wasn’t sure I explained it all that well ๐Ÿ˜‰ )
        hahaha I know right- I’m much more likely to be critical of something that’s trying to be accurate and fails. Reign is just complete nonsense- and they always teach the Tudor period in English schools, so I knew enough about it going in to know it was laughably wrong. It’s like alternative universe Mary Queen of Scots ๐Ÿ˜‰

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      4. YES! (for “Reign”) I knew a fair amount about the facts of that time period even before I lived in England (since American high schools always study Shakespeare), and the way that show portrays Elizabeth the 1st as a fumbling, man-crazy, overgrown teenager who wasn’t fit to rule makes me MAD. She was one of the most courageous and innovative queens of that era, and she was a lot more forward-thinking and diplomatic than the Catholics tried to pretend she was. And Mary was NOT at all that compassionate to her cousin — she definitely had a Protestant hate thing going on. And don’t even get me started on all the problems with their depiction of the French Court of the time!! ๐Ÿ˜›

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      5. hahaha yes- I saw the trailer for her and that was what made me give up on the show- I agree with you so much!! I just cannot fathom how they could present her as they did. hahahaha yes- the way they did the French court was *dreadful*!!!

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