Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


“The Immortal Rules” book cover whitewashed, optioned for movie adaptation

April 27, 2012

Deadline reports that Julie Kagawa’s book, The Immortal Rules, has already managed to sell screen rights. The book was published by Harlequin Teen this week. The story is set in the future United States and is about a girl named Allie Sekemoto who is turned into a vampire.

The review at Kirkus notes the disconnect between the book cover and excerpts from the book where other characters explicitly describe Allie as Asian.

Given the katana-wielding heroine has already been whitewashed on the book cover, this doesn’t bode very well for the movie.

Categories: blog

About the Author

Marissa Lee is one of the co-founders of Racebending.com

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  • Aw, man. 🙁 I’m so tired of whitewashed characters. It’s bad enough that the book cover already went that way, but the film? I mean, changing things in a film to fit time constraints and tighten up plot, or even for a product placement… I get. But changing race? Race doesn’t hinder plot or time constraints… they should just stick with what the original writer wrote.

    I haven’t read this book yet, but it’s in my to-read list over at Goodreads.com, and it would be so awesome if they turned it into a movie… with an Asian female lead. 🙂

    – Esther


  • Penny Moore

    I was really upset when I had read the book knowing the heroine was Asian, while the book cover featured a white girl instead. Though, the thing that upsets me the most is that Julie Kagawa herself is an Asian American, and she would let this happen to her work. Why is it always about profit?

    • Corinne Duyvis

      Sadly, 95% of authors have barely any say in their covers. I’m sure Julie Kagawa is more upset over this than anyone else. It’s hard to speak out against your publisher though, which is why it’s so important other people do it instead.

      • This is true. In a moderated live chat at the Mundie Moms blog, Julie said that she wasn’t much bothered by the whitewashed cover because the protagonist didn’t know her own ethnicity and also because race wasn’t an issue in the novel (there’s a bigger focus on religion in fact).

        This is the politically correct thing to say and it’s a logical reasoning away of the whitewashing, but I wonder what would have happened if she had truly spoken her mind. She is Asian, after all.

  • Penny Moore

    However, in Julie’s defense, I will add that 99% of the time, authors have no say in what the covers of their books look like, so it’s probably Harlequin Teen’s way of saying that having a white heroine is more profitable. 

    • Voragobox

       BS. They always have a choice. It’s more like, she’d rather have the book published with a whitewashed cover than a book that wasn’t published because she stood up for an accurate cover.

  • Amy H.

    Actually, one of the things that bothered me about this book is that the author also seems to whitewash her character so that the book cover actually ISN’T far off.  The main character is described as Asian but mostly in an exotic sense.  Her skin is literally described as white and pale multiple times in the book.  References to Allie being Asian come up when she 1.) picks a katana as her weapon of choice, 2.) when guys call her a “sweet little Asian doll” as they threaten her and 3.)  when her love interest calls her a “beautiful exotic looking vampire girl with a katana”.  

    • N. B.

      you are stereotyping asians as having yellow skin arent you? Asians have a range of skin colors from white to dark. I don’t wanna hear a white girl telling me what Asians should look like, ok? Go away.

      • Amy H.

        Actually, I know that Asians have a range of skin colors, but this entire post is about the whitewashing of Asian characters and refers specifically to the book cover being whitewashed.  I never said anything about what Asians should look like, merely mentioned that the only indicators of Allie being Asian are indicators that serve to exoticize her while otherwise referencing her in traditional concepts of whiteness — this is the very idea of whitewashing and is extremely problematic in the genre. 

        Paleness and whiteness are used traditionally to describe whiteness and when you have a character only described as Asian by others, with no other cultural or heritage or other ethnic markers about her whatsoever and she is repeatedly described as exotic, then the character is not being presented as a character of color, but an exotic white character.  You could argue that the book cover for this series isn’t whitewashed because the character on the cover literally represents how Allie is presented in the book.  

        A few writers I respect greatly summarized this issue in urban fantasy when they were talking about inclusion and its lack thereof.  Let me quote Renee of Fangs for the Fantasy and Womanist Musings, ”
        In Kim Harrisson’s The Hollows, Ivy is a living vampire and sidekick to Rachel, the protagonist. Throughout the series, we are constantly reminded of how exotic looking Ivy is. There is a continual reference to the shape her eyes, as a gift from some far flung Asian ancestor. The fact that Ivy’s Asian heritage is reduced to shape of her eyes, without any other cultural markers — is not only racist — it is reductive. Failing to include markers is easily explained away by claiming that the raced heritage in the character in question is so far removed, that it makes sense for them to have little to no knowledge of it, but yet it is prevalent enough to give the author the appearance of having a racially inclusive story.And this, in turn, gives us a very strong indication of one of the purposes of these mixed race characteristics – the exotic, “different” description. It makes them ”unique” and “special,” in a manner that is most certainly fetishised. In the description above, we’ve mentioned Ivy’s asiatic eyes, however, consider Anita Blake, and how often her black hair is presented as so special (but always assuring us of her glowing white skin). Even Rose Hathaway has her dusky skin mentioned as much as her curves. The “exotic” features are attractive and, yes, sexualised. These mixed characters are written by largely White authors, with no real inclusion of POC, who are not mixed race thereby furthering the project of dividing people of color from each other, because it specifically celebrates hueism. When we consider the history of Whiteness privileging lighter skin people of color or people who are mixed raced, we cannot accept that these portrayals are harmless, because they are based in a historical record that has proved damaging.”  Source:  http://www.fangsforthefantasy.com/2011/10/mixed-raced-characters-in-urban-fantasy.html

        • Voragobox

           Whiteness and paleness = vampire? The setting, perhaps? But also, the fact that “Asian people” should have an “Asian” background is also ignorant. What about Asian Americans who have been in this country for generations? Whose first and foremost language is English? Because when you boil it down to that, race as a facial feature really is just that–physical description.

  •  It is really sad to see this happening. I love books from Asian writers and I love that they are finally getting recognized for the great work that they do. It is just so annoying to see such great work whitewashed

  • Asian007man

    Shocking, back in the 80’s and 90’s we actually had movies with Asian main characters, “The Last Emperor”, “Joy Luck Club”, “Dragon, the Bruce Lee Story”…. etc.

    In this day and age, the producers will probably cast all White actors. Looks like we’ve taken a step backwards.

  • Andre

    Ok, perhaps I am the first one to have ever seen that, but this is not only whitewashing it is also insulting to white girls in general. Even if the character has to be pale due to vampirism, does she have to look like that? Why not a woman with a broader face? How many white woman actually look like that?
    And although I haven’t seen something like that on big bestsellers but on a few romance novel covers I did see the reverse: a non-white person portraying a white character. In both cases the portrayed men had dark brown eyes, black hair and light brown to medium brown skin, so kind of like what you would expect of peple from India. However in the book both characters were described as being of light brown hair and light skin. Personally I thought someone wanted to hide the racism in the books, it was urban fantasy and based on the provided background a whole lot of the characters should look like Natives of North and South America, but ecept for two everybody was white.