Before I say a word, know that I’m not a racist. I simply think that changing the ethnicity of classic characters just to prove how not racist you are is a cheap thing for production companies to do. I mean, Lancelot was not an African. Not in one story or piece of art was he depicted as anything but an English born white man. Do you have any idea how rare Africans were in England in those days? Only just recently has the first skeletal remains of a black man been found and from the condition of them, he was most likely a slave and not treated very well. I know Lancelot isn’t real. Unlike Mulan, he really is from a fairy tale… but c’mon. I know I may sound like I’m taking this stuff too seriously, but why bother getting into a TV series if you’re not going to let yourself really get into it.
Isn’t it hilarious when you think about the fact that Lancelot didn’t exist? You know who else didn’t exist? Basically every character in this series! Do you know what else didn’t exist? Magic…magic totally didn’t exist. And people couldn’t turn into dragons. And there are no such things as wraiths. There’s a lot about this show that could be complaining about, but you’ve chosen to complain about the fact that Lancelot isn’t white.
Dear self-proclaimed non-racist, if in a fantasy series, with magic and dragons and entire universes existing through portals in hats, you find it more unrealistic/unbelievable that Lancelot is played by a person of colour, what do you think that makes you?
I don’t see as many complaints when history’s completely white-washed and characters who should be people of colour aren’t played by people of colour. I don’t see anyone complaining because Jesus is usually depicted by a blonde-haired blue-eyed white dude even though there was no way in hell he was white. Just because Lancelot’s always been depicted as someone white doesn’t mean it should stay that way, (especially when you consider the fact that people of colour are severely underrepresented in entertainment). The story of King Arthur is a legend that has been interpreted many different ways through many different lenses and in fact, there are a few black characters who do appear in the legends. There are even artistic depictions of at least one knight as a black man:
[Art by Pavel Tatarnikov]
There might not have been very many Africans in England and Wales, but contrary to popular belief, black people didn’t suddenly appear on earth as downtrodden slaves. There were significant numbers of black Africans who went to Europe during the 15 century onward. Also, ever heard of Moors? They ruled parts of the Iberian Peninsula for 700 years (from 8th-15th centuries). North Africa was very prosperous and advanced in comparison to England during the middle ages. There are plenty of depictions and mentions of wealthy blacks in actual European history. There are also depictions of people of colour in popular stories (Shakespeare’s Othello for instance).
Simply because there was a skeleton of one black man found in England that indicates that he was likely poor, doesn’t mean every black person in England (during whatever time period you’re invoking to support your ill-formed ideas) was poor. There is historical evidence of wealthy people of colour from various time periods in England and even though European history tends to be depicted as completely white in general—it wasn’t. That sort of thinking doesn’t even make any sense when you consider that there were Africans in ancient Rome. It doesn’t make any sense when you consider that there was plenty of trade happening between European countries and African countries for centuries—honestly, these continents are not that far apart at all (Strait of Gibraltar).
In addition, slavery as we think of it did not exist until the trans atlantic slave trade, and though there were systems of slavery in various parts of the world—including England, they weren’t race-based.
Next time you launch a complaint like this, perhaps you should spend a little time actually googling for historical reference? I mean, not that it matters since as we’ve established, Lancelot didn’t exist and there are people who turn into wolves and dragons on this show. I’m sure your delicate sensibilities will be just fine.
Thank you for this commentary. (And Palamedes, Safir and Segwarides were PoC in arthurian legends).
Bloop bloop bloop!
Reblogging for commentary
And for a Lancelot I’d actually want to watch.
One additional comment: Lancelot got treated really badly on Once Upon A Time. He appeared in only a few episodes and was then killed off-screen. Considering how few PoC there are on the show (off the top of my head, I can only think of two: Sydney/Genie/Magic Mirror and Anton the Miniaturized Giant), it would be nice to bring him back, either through some miraculous resurrection or in further flashbacks.
I think this is an old post, but I just wanted to add a few things on Sir Morien and Black British history.
In the Arthurian canon, written at the same time as the rest of the Arthurian Romances, there is an entire Romance devoted entirely to a Black Knight (very specifically Black), Sir Morien.
He was all black, even as I tell ye: his head, his body, and his hands were all black, saving only his teeth. His shield and his armour were even those of a Moor, and black as a raven…
Had they not heard him call upon God no man had dared face him, deeming that he was the devil or one of his fellows out of hell,
for that his steed was so great, and he was taller even than Sir Lancelot, and black withal, as I said afore…
When the Moor heard these words he laughed with heart and mouth (his teeth were white as chalk, otherwise was he altogether black)…
And yet, even some students of Arthurian Literature have never heard of him. As for artwork depicting these characters in the Middle Ages, here is a Black Knight in a Medieval fresco showing scenes from the Arthurian Cycle:
This seems to be a case in which a show loosely based on historical fiction is considerably less racially diverse than the actual Medieval texts on which it is based. And considerably less diverse than the society that produced it, too.
FYI, the OP’s assertion that Black people in England, specifically, were “rare” isn’t super accurate, nor is the claim that they were poor or enslaved:
One of the richest inhabitants of fourth century Roman York, buried in a stone sarcophagus with luxury imports including jewellery made of elephant ivory, a mirror and a blue glass perfume jar, was a woman of black African ancestry, a re-examination of her skeleton has shown.
Now, 16 centuries after her death, her skeleton is helping prove the startling diversity of the society in which she lived.
"We’re looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected," Hella Eckhardt, senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at Reading University, said. "In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now."
Those people didn’t just evaporate when modern historians decided a new “period” of history has begun about a century later.
There’s plenty of documentation of Black individuals living their lives in the early and “High” Medieval Period in England, in both art and documents:
John Blanke, from the Westminster Tournament Roll
More at the British National Archives.