Media Consumers for Entertainment Equality


The Mortal Interview: Cassandra Clare on Diversity

October 18, 2012

Cassandra Clare is the product of an adventurous literary family. Born in Tehran, Iran, she is the daughter of respected American author Professor Richard Rumelt. Her grandfather Max Rosenberg produced the first horror film in color, The Curse of Frankenstein, in 1957 and is perhaps most noted as the producer of the Doctor Who films in the 1960’s. While she was still a toddler, her father spent a month in the Himalayas with Cassandra accompanying him on his treks in his backpack. With this adventure- peppered upbringing and time spent on the sets of horror films and supernatural thrillers, it is no surprise that Cassandra Clare would grow up to write her own urban supernatural series The Mortal Instruments.

[Image: Author Cassandra Clare surrounded by books]

The Mortal Instruments tells the story of the Nephilim through the eyes of New York teenager Clary Fray. The Nephilim are a secret organization devoted to combating demons. Over the course of the series, Clary becomes a part of the world of the Nephilim–and so have readers, with more than five million TMI books in print in over thirty languages. The first book in the series, City of Bones, is currently being adapted into a graphic novel and film and Cassandra Clare has been adamant that adaptations of her work reflect the diversity within their pages.

[Image: The title treatment for the “City of Bones” film]

The only character to appear in all of her books is Magnus Bane: the high warlock of Brooklyn. Readers eventually learn that he is half-Indonesian and half-Dutch and more than eight centuries old. When we first meet him, Magnus is explicitly described as Asian, and his attraction to Alec– one of the other main characters in The Mortal Instruments— is made clear. Their romance is a critical subplot of the novels and the scene where Clary confronts Alec about his sexuality was used as the audition piece for the role in the film adaptation of City of Bones.

Despite the explicit description of the character’s ethnicity and his integral link to the plot of the first book and its film adaptation, Cassandra Clare had to draw a line in the sand in regards to casting Magnus as Asian. She went to great lengths to explain to her fans why racebending his ethnicity would by hurtful and would be just as wrong as removing his sexual orientation from his character. When some fans reacted negatively to the casting of Taiwanese Canadian model/actor Godfrey Gao as Magnus because he was Asian, she again took to her blog to talk to fans about the impact of racebending roles and her own explicit descriptions of Magnus character.

Some fans have expressed a different concern, that Godfrey Gao’s casting showcases a trend of all Hollywood painting all Asian nationalities with the same broad ethnic brush in depictions on screen. Godfrey is Taiwanese and Peranakan Malaysian, not native Indonesian as Magnus is described in the book. Clare has expressed her happiness with Gao’s casting, but says she did not have a final say on casting decisions.

Clare was kind enough to give some of her time to racebending.com contributor Gabrial Canada while she was busy visiting the City of Bones set. She talks about her experience in the world of Young Adult fiction and the struggles of maintaining diversity on covers and in adaptations.

RACEBENDING.COM: How did you advocate as an author when most of the time authors are very powerless over movie casting or in the depictions of their characters in other media?

CASSANDRA CLARE: As a creator, you know going into working with filmmakers who are adapting your project that you are going to have a limited amount of power. There are some cases, I think, where the author has more power, but those instances are very rare. About the only choice you get to really make is who you sell your rights to.

You are correct that most of the time authors are powerless over movie casting. It is a terrifying feeling that the project that began as your brainchild is in the hands of others and you can only hope that they choose to allow you to have say.

I often think of Ursula le Guin’s experience with the TV movie of the Wizard of Earthsea which she wrote about so movingly. It is sobering to realize that such a well-known author’s call to not whitewash her beloved work would be so summarily dismissed. If it could happen to her it can happen to anyone.

People think authors have power that they don’t. I just want to be clear that though I did insist Magnus be cast as an actor of Asian descent, another studio could have shut me out of the [casting] process entirely.

I was looking at old emails about casting and I found one of mine that just said this: “MAGNUS IS ASIAN. HE NEEDS TO BE PLAYED BY AN ASIAN ACTOR. PERIOD.” Early on, before any auditions or real discussions, names for Magnus were bandied around. When I saw some were white actors and I said, “Please don’t do this, and this is why,” they could have easily chosen to ignore me. I am lucky they didn’t.

[Image: Godfrey Gao, the actor cast to depict Magnus Bane]

I was looking at old emails about casting and I found one of mine that just said this: “MAGNUS IS ASIAN. HE NEEDS TO BE PLAYED BY AN ASIAN ACTOR. PERIOD.”

So, I think it’s important, because it can be the only choice you get to make, to pick the right studio or producer to sell your rights to. Though, even then, they can switch producers on you, they can switch studios on you, or screenwriters on you — you can never be 100% sure.

I was lucky to have producers who wanted my feedback. I decided I needed to pick the hills I would die on — the things that were my “I will not see this movie if this happens” choices — and throw my weight behind those — because in this situation you might only ever get one chance to express your opinion at all.

In my case, that was the casting of Magnus. He’s a hugely important character, a fan favorite, and is the only character who appears in every book I’ve written. Both him being Asian and his bisexuality were core elements of his character that needed to be preserved.

RACEBENDING.COM: Did you also have to be adamant about the inclusion of the Alec and Magnus romance and their sexual orientations?

CASSANDRA CLARE: Yes, I got a lot of pushback about having gay characters in my books when my film agent was trying to sell the rights: “No one cares about your gay characters.” That’s the one I remember.

“No one cares about your gay characters.” That’s the one I remember.

I asked before I sold the rights to Unique/Constantin if the gay relationship would be preserved and they said yes. I was adamant from the start that Magnus and Alec’s romance and sexual orientation remain. So adamant that I can’t say what would have happened if I hadn’t been!

I never saw a script where Alec and Magnus’ sexuality wasn’t preserved. I’d like to think that would have been the case no matter what I had done. Alec’s talk with Clary about his sexuality was one of the audition pieces for his character.

RACEBENDING.COM: How did the manga adaptation of your book come about?

CASSANDRA CLARE: Yen Press contacted me and asked me how I would feel about a manga adaptation of The Infernal Devices. I love manga and anime so I said I would be thrilled. They’ve been very inclusive of me in the project. They sent me artist HyeKyung Baek’s mock-up designs of the characters to approve. I think the art is wonderful and I hope it will bring the story to a new audience.

[Image: Cover of the manga adaptation of “The Infernal Devices,” art by HyeKyung Baek.]

RACEBENDING.COM: How do you feel as an author when you see your work depicted visually by fans and artists?

CASSANDRA CLARE: I think fanart is wonderful. I have very creative and talented fans and feel blessed. I do make it clear I reblog fanart and fancastings of characters of color only when they are depicted as characters of color and my fans have by-and-large been wonderful about that.

[Image: Fan art of actor Godfrey Gao portraying Magnus Bane, drawn by Cassandra Jean and presented by Clare presented as a gift to the actor.]

RACEBENDING.COM: We have profiled many instances where authors with P.O.C. protagonists or major supporting characters have had the covers of their books changed by publishers to not represent the backgrounds of these characters. Have you ever encountered the same difficulty with Jem or Magnus on covers?

CASSANDRA CLARE: Authors generally don’t get any input over what’s on their book covers. I had no say over what appeared on the covers of my first series of books. For later books, I was able to get cover consultation written into my contract. “Consultation” still isn’t “approval” — but Simon and Schuster has been good about listening to my opinion.

Magnus hasn’t appeared on the covers of the Mortal Instruments — the publisher has been very insistent that the main protagonists, and only them, appear on the covers — though I am always hopeful for a repackage or special edition that would allow for a Magnus cover.

As for Jem, I insisted from the start with Infernal Devices that each cover would feature one of the three main characters — Jem, Will, and Tessa. When the time came to do the cover of Clockwork Prince, I said I only wanted to see Asian models for the boy on the cover. I was only sent sheets of Asian models, and I picked one who was LA-based because that’s close to where Cliff, the cover artist, works. Didn’t hurt that he was also really gorgeous. I thought he would make a perfect Jem.

One interesting thing that happened is that they sent me the “comps” first. Comps are early mocked up versions of the cover that show the model’s positioning and the background. In them, Jem was wearing a tall hat that was pulled down halfway over his face. I wasn’t happy with that because with his face covered, he could have been of any ethnicity. I asked them to reshoot and reveal his whole face, and they did do that.

[Image: The cover of “Clockwork Prince,” featuring Jem as depicted by an Asian model.]

Jem was wearing a tall hat that was pulled down halfway over his face. I wasn’t happy with that because with his face covered, he could have been of any ethnicity. I asked them to reshoot and reveal his whole face, and they did do that.

I think the cover that resulted was very beautiful — Jem is gorgeous, and I’ve had parents come up to me and say “My son is biracial and this is the only book cover I have that represents someone who looks like him.” So that is a wonderful thing to hear. And I am also so happy that in the banner that Simon and Schuster produced to represent the Shadowhunter series, that Jem’s is one of the faces depicted.

RACEBENDING.COM: Why do you think this difficulty persists in young adult fiction and with publishers at large?

CASSANDRA CLARE: I wish I could say I knew for sure why POC (people of color) characters are so underrepresented on YA covers. A cover is not chosen by the author, but it also isn’t even chosen entirely by the publisher. It is dictated in part by booksellers.

If booksellers don’t like your cover, they can choose to not carry the book, effectively sinking the book. There is enormous crushing pressure to produce a cover that big booksellers will think is marketable.

I have a friend who insisted that her biracial main character be portrayed by a biracial girl on the cover of her book and was told after it came out and had disappointing sales: “Well you did insist on that model for the cover.”

There is enormous crushing pressure to produce a cover that big booksellers will think is marketable. I have a friend who insisted that her biracial main character be portrayed by a biracial girl on the cover of her book and was told after it came out and had disappointing sales: “Well you did insist on that model for the cover.”

There is a lot of received wisdom in publishing, just like there is in movies. And by received wisdom I mean myths about success and failure that everyone in the business believes, and when they’re proven to be false by an example, that example is held up as an exception that proves the rule.

In movies, people believe that girls and women characters cannot carry films unless that film is a romantic comedy. When a movie like Aeon Flux comes out and doesn’t do well, it’s
because “no one wants to see a woman carry an action movie.” When Battleship fails, it’s never because “people don’t want to see men carry an action movie.”

I believe that one of the pieces of received wisdom that permeates publishing is that everyone will buy a book with a white person on the cover, but having a character of color on the cover limits your audience to only people of that race. It’s not something anyone ever says out loud. But you can sense that it’s there in the pushback you get, that your friends get, in the silences that are the reply when you ask about it.

As long as the idea that “white is mainstream”‘ remains endemic in the media I think this will be a problem. Individual writers who are lucky enough to have some say over their covers can fight it on an individual level. But most writers are not that lucky.

The racism is entrenched in what everyone in the book business thinks readers want and will buy. To place a person of color on the cover of say, a big book, is to make a conscious choice to not take “the safe route”. And if you are, say, the editor who fought for that, and the book fails–for any reason– the blame for that choice will fall on you.

Again, all this will not be spoken aloud, but this is an atmosphere where publishers are firing, not hiring. It could be something that counts against you in your next employee review. People are scared. It takes bravery to fight the entrenched racism of a whole industry.

I do think that the public outcry over whitewashed covers that has happened in the past few years is helpful because an author or editor can point to it and say “Look. Negative publicity.” And when you have to fight with any weapon you have to hand, that threat is a valuable one.

RACEBENDING.COM: There was a surprising trend of readers shocked that characters described as people of color were cast as people of color in on screen adaptations. You experienced this reaction to the casting of Magnus Bane and responded on your blog. As an author are you surprised that despite explicit descriptions of a character’s race, this sentiment can still be provoked among some readers?

CASSANDRA CLARE: Surprised, saddened, dismayed, yes. I can only speculate that because whiteness is so socially privileged, and to see characters of color on the page is so much rarer than it should be, that white becomes the default in reader’s minds.

The assumption is that characters are white unless it is explicitly stated otherwise. But even then there is a certain amount of reader resistance. Jem is a good example. He speaks Chinese, he is from China, he is portrayed on the cover of Clockwork Prince by an Asian model. And yet people still come up to me and say –or Tweet me and say–that they were shocked to hear he was Asian, or even that they are displeased that he is Asian.

I have had people come up at signings and say “My Jem isn’t Chinese.” Well, then, he isn’t Jem. Or they will ask me if he “looks Asian” and say they think Mitch Hewer would be great to play him if there was a film.

I think part of the fan reaction to Magnus’ casting was that he had been so repeatedly fancast as Adam Lambert. I think this is probably because Lambert is one of the few openly gay celebrities young people are aware of. But it did create an unrealistic picture of what Magnus might look like, which was why I always said I would not reblog fanart or link to graphics that used any fancast for Magnus that was of a white actor. I didn’t want to perpetuate that erroneous image of Magnus.

On the other end of the spectrum, you had people fancasting Darren Criss, who is half Filipino and half Dutch (Magnus is half Indonesian, half Dutch) and being told, by white people, that Darren Criss “didn’t count as Asian” because he didn’t fit their mental image of what Asian is supposed to look like, even though he identifies as half-Filipino, [such as in this tweet] in which he actually specifically addresses being biracial and issues of casting.

I wish I had the solution. It’s heartbreaking to see people angered or upset that Magnus is being played by an Asian actor when Magnus is Asian.

I know that I have made a lot of mistakes in my portrayals of PoC characters; I try hard, but I know that I have a lot of room for improvement. But I really do believe that the only remedy for the issues we’re discussing is more representation and more diverse representation. When only a small percent of YA novels have major characters of color and less than one percent have characters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender maybe it isn’t so surprising that the default in reader’s minds is white and straight. I think the first thing has to change before the second thing can.

I know that I have made a lot of mistakes in my portrayals of PoC characters; I try hard, but I know that I have a lot of room for improvement. But I really do believe that the only remedy for the issues we’re discussing is more representation and more diverse representation.

RACEBENDING.COM: As someone who has lived and worked in other countries do you think diverse or more realistic depictions in media help cater to the wider global audience?

CASSANDRA CLARE: Yes, I think it does help. I think that other countries are used to being presented with media from America which shows an extremely non-diverse cast of characters. Everyone is used to the sort of false America presented in movies and media where for some reason, everyone is white.

There is a character in the Mortal Instruments books, Raphael Santiago, who is Hispanic, and he has been enormously embraced by my Hispanic and Latin American readers. When I did a signing in Mexico City, dozens of girls came up and asked me whether I would include a Hispanic female character soon and I was happy to be able to say that yes, as my next series is set in Los Angeles one of the major female protagonists is Mexican, and they were so happy — it made me
feel sad to see how starved they were for representation in the fantasy adventure books they love. It made me extra aware of the ways in which I’ve fallen short in presenting diversity myself and determined to do better in future.

Because of the received wisdom I was talking about earlier, media is very slow to change. However one thing I know helped get Godfrey Gao cast as Magnus was his enormous popularity in Asia. America is not the only country that produces superstars and the media is starting to understand that. White middle-class Americans are not the only people who read and I believe publishing is starting to understand that, too.

My books are in thirty-six languages, only one of which is English. My Asian readers, my readers from Latin America, they are some of the most vocal, passionate, supportive and literate readers I have. I owe them better. We all do.

Racebending.com would like to thank Cassandra Clare for her interview. To learn more about her and her books, visit http://www.cassandraclare.com/.

To learn more about the City of Bones adaptation, visit: http://www.themortalinstrumentsmovie.com/

NOTE: The opinions espoused by the interviewees represent their viewpoints alone, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff of racebending.com

Categories: blog, Current Diversity Highlights, Featured, Interviews
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About the Author

Gabriel Canada is a contributing writer to Racebending.com. Gabe Canada is from Indianapolis, Indiana where he is currently studying Journalism at Indiana University. He joined Racebending as a fan of the original Airbender series. Outside of school he runs a local anime meetup group and is the cofounder of a production company, Kind of Epic Films.

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  • thank you so much for this article! Cassandra clare is amazing!

  • This was a really great interview with a woman who deeply, sincerely cares about how important it is to minorities to see themselves represented in the media. Wish this site’s blog updated more regularly.

  • Rachel

    I think it is really ignorant of people to be in such an uproar over casting of an Asian actor, I don’t think it should even be an issue and I am proud of Cassie for sticking to her guns and saying Magnus needs to be Asian and such with Jem.

    • Andre

      Small problem: Would the Magnus she claims to have written really be from Batavia and of the alleged ancestry chances are good he would look nowhere like Godfrey Gao. Magnus would have grown up in a developing Mestizo culture in a city where the native population has mostly been replaced with immigrants and slaves from all other Western Europe and Southeast as well as East Asia. Calling Magnus Asian as you and she did would be totally wrong both biologically and culturally and actually is for me reminiscent of the practice to assign mixed-race children to their non-white parentage.
      And don’t even get me started with Jem.

  • Pingback: Cassandra Clare fala sobre diversidade | Idris()

  • That was a good read. It seems reading comprehension is a major issue these days.

    ‘Jem is a good example. He speaks Chinese, he is from China, he is portrayed on the cover of Clockwork Prince
    by an Asian model. And yet people still come up to me and say –or Tweet
    me and say–that they were shocked to hear he was Asian, or even that
    they are displeased that he is Asian’

    Amazing that people can miss such a thing. The education system does seem to be failing some people.

    • Mahalia

      Really? Blame education? I have to say, this problem does not stem fom a lack of reading comprehension skills. As Cassie said in the interview, people are CHOOSING to see/imagine the character as a white person. They aren’t missing the information. They’re just subconciously deciding not to let it alter the image they personally have of Jem. Sad but true. For other reasons, however, I do think the system certainly isn’t ABLE to help. While I don’t believe that it’s up to the education system to teach children about diversity (I think parents need to do that); let’s say for argument’s sake that it is up to the schools. How can they be expected to do it when all the teaching/reading materials feature white characters as their protagonists? Just my opinion.

      • If you say that a person is from China and and show a picture of that person as being Asian, then if someone else says they are surprised that that person turns out to be Asian, then that someone has a serious comprehension issue.

        In fact, I would suggest that if a person is hostile to POCs, then they should be even more sensitive to that message of the character being Asian.

        I am at a loss to really see how the issue of poor comprehension cannot be a serious contributing factor. I would say that choosing to see a character a certain way instead of paying attention to what was actually said is indeed a sign of poor comprehension.

        I might be biased given my involvement in education and seeing how many adults really can’t recall and comprehend much of what they read. However, I am certain that this is a result of poor education so yes, Mahalia, I would blame education. At least as a contributing factor.

        • happyappa

          Most probably a serious racism issue and a sign of racism. Sure the education system is failing people, with white history, white fiction, white non-fiction, etc.

          You’re giving way too much ‘credit’ to lack of education, when people don’t want to a see/read about a race they don’t like, they’ll block it out. They can come up with any excuse. “Oh it’s just book art and not canon”. “Oh did that say Asian, I’ll just ignore that, he’s white in my head”.

          Look at the amount of whitewashing of poc characters in tv shows, done by “fans” doing fanart. And now tell me that they don’t see color because it’s a comprehension issue.

          • Not understanding what is in the text, making it up yourself, and then being shocked to find out what was actually in the text, especially when it is something as obvious as this, shows an extreme reading inability.

            I do not understand how anyone can honestly argue that it shows an acceptable reading ability.

            I used ‘comprehension’ somewhat euphemistically. The word used to describe the stupidity of people who would also complain about such an issue in a public forum before actually double checking with the text truly escapes my linguistic ability.

            Just try to imagine how intellectually lazy these people must be to do this, and the ignorance that this laziness would cause. Easily the kind that Rachel was talking about above.

          • I’d say it’s a combination of lack of reading comprehension, cultural conditioning to see white as the default race while otherizing other races, and implicit racism/bias that really leads to this problem.

          • I agree, Marissa. I am sure that what people see as default has a lot to do with it. We all do it. We need a default. And the default is likely to be what we see as normal and we all think we are normal.

    • Andre

      Wow they didn’t know he was “Asian”… hm what could it have been. Oh yeah, his pale skin, his silver eyes, the silver hair, the fact that his name is James Carstairs, surely this guy is immediately identifiable as Chinese. Actually have you even read these books?
      Jem is an Asian stereotype if there ever was one, the torture and death of his family doesn’t seem to affect him at all, he is basically Will’s support, is always calm, always controlled, physically weak, the unlikely love interest and speaks Mandarin despite being from Shanghai, for some reason his British father had a dragon headed cane made for himself in Beijing despite that probably being highly illegal at the time. And over the course of The Infernal Devices Jem suddenly seems to develop high cheekbones despite the first description stating that only his eye shape hint towards a foreign ancestry (quoted).
      Instead of blaming the oh so bad readers maybe defenders of Clare’s books should take a look at how screwed her characters are.
      And if the guy on the cover is allegedly so Asian looking, then explain why he fits the description of Will and not Jem.

      • Clint Steele

        Seems writing is an issue too. First you say that he is not described as Asian, then you say he is a stereotype and mention that he has foreign features and speaks Mandarin. What exactly are you trying to argue here? I can see grounds of an argument and your claim seems to be that the writer is of poor quality (not the readers), but your warrant does not seem to link the two. Which is unfortunate because you might be onto something very significant if the racebending actually starting much earlier in the creative process than assumed in the article.

        I can’t say I have read these in as much details as others – with so much to read, these books are not really on my list. That’s why my argument relies on text from the original post. I use the article as my grounds in forming my argument. If you think the grounds are floored, which I think is what you’re implying in your last sentence, then that’s very noteworthy and you should explicate it more.

        Also, instead of writing ‘quote’ try actually using quotation marks when quoting others.

        I’ve met numerous people from Shanghai who speak Mandarin. Mandarin is the national language of China so everyone there pretty much speaks it. Thus I am not sure what you’re trying to extract from this. The same goes for the dragon headed cane. What exactly are you trying to argue here?

        • Andre

          I am stating the facts. If it is confusing to you than it is because the facts, like the books by Clare in general, are contradictory and convoluted, which in my mind is the reason for their success, people remember what they want to remember. Also read what I write I never said he has foreign features I spoke of ancestry. And I would personally not put that much stock in the article, because by the time it was written it was already stated that Magnus Bane is from Batavia and so he could not be 800 years old (the age given to him had shifted over the course of Clare’s first three books and it was later stated that he lies about it constantly out of habit, even to his friends and loved ones).

          I will try to explain myself as best as I can.
          Now, the thing with Clares “non-white” or “POC” characters is that they are that only under 2 conditions:
          1) If you are not of pure white ancestry you are not white at all
          2) You are only white when without the sun you are pale as chalk (except her golden boy Jace) and basically look like an Anglo-person. Whatever that means in her books that is, it’s simply suggested that white is apparently synonymous with Anglo.
          You see not only have the majority of shown Shadowhunter families English names, odd considered that according to the Mortal Instruments their magical hidden land Idris is between Germany and France (according to the published Codex [which also only has English names as suggestions] its between Germany, France and Switzerland) but also that Shadowhunters allegedly come from all over the world. So why have nearly all of the shown ones so far English names?
          And it doesn’t stop with them, the “non-white” characters of hers that are more than extras are (in order of appearance):
          Magnus Bane
          Raphael Santiago
          Maia Roberts
          Aline Penhallow
          James Carstairs
          Imasu Morales

          Of these only Imasu has at least a mixed name, all others have fully European names and Aline is really barely more than an extra and she is mixed Chinese/something European (btw. all her three White/Asian mixes have an Asian mother [well Asian by the article’s standards] and a white father, typical stereotype). But either way, they are all part European, part white, at least. And even then thing seem to be pretty screwed:
          Magnus is allegedly representing a first generation Dutch/Indonesian mix, albeit his description suggesting that Clare envisioned a Chinese man. Raphael Santiago is basically white but brown skinned (and screamed Latino stereotype in his first appearance already), well later, at first he was described as honey skinned in City of Bones, then in the same book he was suddenly brown. And while in City of Bones stated as slightly older looking than 17 year old Jace in the next book he was suddenly much younger looking, without any comment as to why that suddenly is. Maia Roberts was also stated to be a brown-skinned biracial girl with her mother having honey-colored skin. And keep in mind that “gold” is the skin tone uberwhite protagonist Jace is constantly described with (e.g. His skin was pale gold, layered over hard muscle), so apparently Maia’s mother could be white. Technically Maia is white, based on her appearance, but like I said, look at the two points above.
          Imazu Morales is described simply as more mingled even than most of the mestizos, whatever that means, but clearly part Spanish and therefore part white and based on his description at least Caucasoid if not Caucasian.
          And he is one of Magnus’s “diverse” lovers, well that is what the books state but the ones we see are nearly exclusively fully white.
          Magnus changed skin tone as well over the course of the books without any comment on that. And in the movie tie-in version of City of Bones his description was changed from part-Asian to just Asian and was very fitting to actor Godfrey Gao, a man with probably no Indonesian ancestry at all, since Peranakan usually refers to a Chinese ethnicity, not a Malay one. In either version Magnus’s skin was described as golden but for some strange reason the books speaks about how he spread his long white hands and long white fingers (and I checked the text, there is no talk about gloves or powder or anything), which is odd. You could say it is part of his warlock mark, like his cat eyes, except that this feature was never mentioned again. The second (chronologically based on publication) we get of his description is in Clockwork Angel where he is suddenly brown, which could be tan of course but 1878 London in those books is mostly described as not sunny, unlike City of Bones 2007 New York City, so why is he darker in 1878? In his stories in The Bane Chronicles he changed skin-tone several times and his backstory was also changed. This makes me think his alleged Indonesian ancestry was added later by Clare since the Christian background she had given him would not leave many options for a warlock of part East/South-East Asian ancestry and so she might as well have stumbled about Batavia (aka Jakarta). And here is another dilemma. She states his “Asian” background as important, based on her statements apparently more important than his European one, but we know practically nothing about that and trust me when she thinks something is important she constantly mentions it in her books (e.g. I lost count how often eye and hair colors of the same person are described and that only in the first book). Even the Chronicles never mentioned any date earlier than the 1720s (where he was already an adult and had left Batavia when he was a child) and they are just mentioned in passing. His early years are barely touched upon, the Chronicles told nothing that you wouldn’t have known already from The Mortal Instruments or The Infernal Devices, despite the character so far being in 18 novels of the series. This is very strange in my mind, how the books never go deeper than the very upper surface in that regard and him being constantly having stories in western countries (except maybe Peru, but some classifications see that as a western country as well). And from him we get to Jem. The thing is that in Clockwork Angel Magnus was stated with the cast of his features like Jem’s. She wondered if perhaps, like Jem, he was of foreign extraction. So when both represent first generation mixes the Dutch/Indonesian looks like the British/Chinese? Even when you are a mix of the same two ethnicities doesn’t mean you end up looking alike.
          So I think there is a strong notion of just brushing off all East/South-East Asians in stroke in Clare’s book and Jem represents that.
          I think he is very typical in that regard in that Clare is incapable or unwilling to write a character with his alleged background and so unlike barely mentioning it like with Magnus, she mixes the Asian stereotype with a modern day teenage Anglo boy. But still she seems to at the same time want to drive it home that he is “Chinese.”

          When we first meet him in Clockwork Angel he is described like this:
          The young man who appeared at the mouth of the alley was pale in the lamplight – paler even than he usually was, which was quite pale indeed. He was bareheaded, which drew the eye immediately to his hair. It was an odd bright silver color, like an untarnished shilling. His eyes were the same silver, and his fine-boned face was angular, the slight curve of his eyes the only clue to his heritage.
          His eyes and hair color are due to a magical drug he is addicted to. But otherwise this description suggests a very European looking person, kind of like Mario Maurer or Eiji Wentz. But despite this the character Tessa in the same book who is from New York City and strangely not even remotely disturbed by Jem’s Chinese ancestry (she refers to him as Chinese because his mother is, ignoring his father, and no this opinion of hers is never challenged in any way) only names his eyes and hair as differentiating him from the Chinese in NYC, despite him having to tell her that his mother is from China, so apparently looks didn’t give it away. Strange if you ask me.
          But we do not stay with this. Apparently Clare wanted to drive it home even more and so we get to a contradiction:
          In the next book, Clockwork Prince, we get this:
          His other hand rested on a jade-topped cane, and if any of the great crowd of people milling around them thought that it was odd that someone so young should need a walking stick, or found anything unusual about his coloring or the cast of his features, they didn’t pause to stare.
          Now the coloring is pretty obvious but why would they stare at the cast of his features if only his eyes hint towards non-British ancestry?
          Well, shortly afterwards it gets obvious as to why:
          She sat beside another woman, who had turned her head and was looking at them. She wore an elegant silk dress, and her face was like Jem’s – the same delicately beautiful features, the same curve to her eyes and cheekbones, though where his hair and eyes were silver, hers were dark.
          So was this woman supposed to be mixed-British-Chinese as well? I don’t think so for several reasons:
          1) In Clockwork Prince Jem starts to talk Mandarin for the first time, in most cases for no reason apparently and we get some more of his backstory, also added at pretty weird moments (when they are rushing to get another character out of trouble).
          2) In both Clockwork Angel and Clockwork Prince it seems that Clare wants to drive the message home that Jem is “Chinese” in a very clumsy way by suddenly have him reveal backstory from out of nowhere and add some “Chinese” elements.
          3) In a book playing about 130 years later we see Jem again, now called Brother Zachariah (long story) and is strangely described with high cheekbones something not even hinted at in Clockwork Angel but suddenly there in Clockwork Prince.

          Furthermore in Clockwork Angel there was already Tessa’s strange reference to him. But there is more since we get some more of his story as to why he is in London and the full story is this:
          When I was eleven, Yanluo found a weak spot in the ward that protected the Institute, and tunneled inside. The demon killed the guards and took my family prisoner, binding us all to chairs in the great room of the house. Then it went to work.
          “Yanluo tortured me in front of my parents,” Jem went on, his voice empty. “Over and over it injected me with a burning demon poison that scorched my veins and tore at my mind. For two days I went in and out of hallucinations and dreams. I saw the world drowned in rivers of blood, and I heard the screams of all the dead and dying throughout history. I saw London burning, and great metal creatures striding here and there like huge spiders—”
          “Every few hours I would come back to reality long enough to hear my parents screaming for me. Then on the second day, I came back and heard only my mother. My father had been silenced. My mother’s voice was raw and cracked, but she was still saying my name. Not my name in English, but the name she had given me when I was born: Jian. I can still hear her sometimes, calling out for me.”
          His hands were tight on the pillow he held, tight enough that the fabric had begun to tear.
          “Jem,” Tessa said softly. “You can stop. You needn’t tell me all of it now.”
          “You remember when I said that Mortmain had probably made his money smuggling opium?” he asked. “The British bring opium into China by the ton. They have made a nation of addicts out of us. In Chinese we call it ‘foreign mud’ or ‘black smoke.’ In some ways Shanghai, my city, is built on opium. It wouldn’t exist as it does without it. The city is full of dens where hollow-eyed men starve to death because all they want is the drug, more of the drug. They’ll give anything for it. I used to despise men like that. I couldn’t understand how they were so weak.”
          He took a deep breath.
          “By the time the Shanghai Enclave became worried at the silence from the Institute and broke in to save us, both my parents were already dead. I don’t remember any of it. I was screaming and delirious. They took me to the Silent Brothers, who healed my body as well as they could. There was one thing they couldn’t fix, though. I had become addicted to the substance the demon had poisoned me with. My body was dependent on it the way an opium addict’s body is dependent on the drug. They tried to wean me off it, but going without it caused terrible pain. Even when they were able to block the pain with warlock spells, the lack of the drug pushed my body to the brink of death. After weeks of experimentation they decided that there was nothing to be done: I could not live without the drug. The drug itself meant a slow death, but to take me off it would mean a very quick one.”

          Note: I did not edit that, this is how the book tells it.

          • Clint Steele

            If you are only stating facts, then you draw no conclusion. Thus, there is no point to what you say.

            Try working out what your point is, Andre. Start with that, and then support it.

        • Andre

          For some reason, practically in the middle of his story he talks about the Opium Wars. And it is gone as quickly as it came and if you would cut it out of the book it would make no difference. It seems to have been some sort of “westerners are bad” or screwed comparison to Jem’s drug problem. I say screwed because Jem’s drug will kill him either way, without it he dies fast and agonizingly, with it slow and somewhat painful, something Opium doesn’t do. Not to mention that opium use was already well established in China long before and considered where its use was most prevalent I can only say: it was in Guangdong, where the bulk of the early Chinese immigration to the USA was from, since during the first half of the nineteenth century, Guangdong experienced numerous natural disasters, family feuds, rebellions, and government campaigns to smash rebellions. No wonder Opium addiction became so prevalent there. Sure I know of such things, but most readers won’t, what sort of distorted image will they get from this?
          But apart from that, there is the name his mother had given him: Jian. A name he specifically states to be different than his English name.
          If that is the name she has given him, and, as he said earlier in the book, We are Nephilim, first and foremost, and only after that do we make a nod to whatever country we might have been born and bred in. And as for third, there is no third. We are only ever Shadowhunters. When other Nephilim look at me, they see only a Shadowhunter. Not like mundanes, who look at me and see a boy who is not entirely foreign but not quite like them either.
          If Shadowhunters do not make that distinction, why is he referred to as either James or Jem, why was his name Jian only mentioned this time (it is truly never mentioned again according to my quick e-book search)? Why not call him Jian all the time? Surely this name can’t be difficult and it’s not some sort of pet name his mother used, it definitely was his official name. And I asked a friend of mine from Hong Kong who has some knowledge about imperial China of that time and the choice of “Jian” is at least weird according to her. Chinese parents at the time usually took naming their children seriously and the name at best means “soldier” or “army commander,” maybe even “lake.” But based on the sign used it can also mean “bad quality”, “no value” and “worthless”, and other negative things. A literal translation can mean “my humble” but that would be used, e.g. when your kid failed in school and you address it as “my humble…” to show you are not proud of it. And I doubt Clare had that in mind.

          And despite this gruesome backstory (which with its London reference also contains what I call a very clumsy omen) Jem is constantly described as friendly, calm, likeable, never raising his voice, never saying anything bad and always supportive (especially to the other main character Will). And apparently only his body needed treatment, there is no mentioning of any emotional trauma, which is extremely odd, especially how often we get told in the other books (and this one) how troubled and tortured Jace, Will and Magnus are, the reader is practically beaten with it over the head and mark: none of them faced what Jem faced and even in the earliest Bane Chronicles story (playing In 1791 Paris) Magnus is probably at the very least 90 years old if not much older and he still constantly whines.
          Now Jem: Due to the drug he is skinny and physically weak, it is highlighted even by the female protagonist:
          he was so thin, without Will’s cording of muscle, but there was something about his fragility that was lovely, like the spare lines of a poem. Gold to airy thinness beat. Though a layer of muscle still covered his chest, she could see the shadows between his ribs.
          And even likens him to the pages of an old book:
          Her hands had stopped shaking. They were exploratory, fascinated now. Her mother had owned a very old copy of a book once, she remembered, its pages so fragile they were liable to turn to dust when you touched them, and she felt that same responsibility of enormous care now as she brushed her fingers over the Marks on his chest, across the hollows between his ribs and the slope of his stomach, which shuddered under her touch; here was something that was as breakable as it was lovely.
          Despite having him seen fight several times, his weakness is constantly highlighted by her and she constantly portrays him only in contrast to Will, which to me suggests that he is basically Will’s mirror and not a character himself.

          And unlike Will whom all girls have the hots for, Jem is usually ignored in that regard and only one other character saw him as beautiful and even she stressed is unlikely love interest status: Most people went on about Will, how handsome he was, but she thought that Jem was a thousand times better-looking. He had the ethereal look of angels in paintings, and though she knew that the silvery color of his hair and skin was a result of the medicine he took for his illness, she couldn’t help finding it lovely too. Not only does this actually suggest he has silver skin (bad writing again), but it clearly demonstrates that in terms of physical appeal Jem is usually ignored.
          And like I said he is always calm, controlled, allegedly being the smartest there, he speaks Mandarin, Latin and Greek, plays the violin expertly and in a fight side by side with Will he is the support. And despite his terrible past (he is one of the few in the Clarebooks who in my mind would have a legitimate reason to be emotionally unstable) and all that happened in Shanghai, Clare had him be homesick after not even a year away: When I first came here, I was twelve years old. It most decidedly did not feel like home to me then. I saw only how London was not like Shanghai, and I was homesick.
          So early was he homesick for the place all this stuff happened to him and his family? I find that very hard to believe. And the way he is described physically (especially post Clockwork Angel) – apart from the hair, eyes and skin – as well as his character, he seems to be very close to the stereotype of the always calm, polite, introverted, supportive and physically weak Asian who is mostly the friend (the teenage protagonist only very suddenly noticed her attraction to him, it quite literally comes out of nowhere for her, by the rules of a Clarebook it was of course obvious) and at best an unlikely love interest. This all seems to me as though Clare wants to say “look he is Chinese” by adding nothing but stereotypes. We get some more you see, since in Clockwork Angel there is some talk about him having the image of Kwan Yin. The goddess of mercy and compassion inside the box he has to keep his drug in, so it may make his suffering a little less. And in Clockwork Prince it’s stated he believes in reincarnation. However not only is Kwan Yin not a goddess but a bodhisattva (there is a similar problem with Yanluo who is referred to as a demon despite being a god), she and the element of reincarnation are mentioned once and that was it, never brought up again. And not just simply not mentioned, but also not visible in his character and you would think something like that would influence his personality some more. Kwan Yin is known for her mercy but she is also know for actively working to better people, something Jem doesn’t actually do, he just supports them for… well no reason. Tessa might give him some reason but in Will’s case its basically that he believes Jace is actually good (again no reason, well in real life there would be signs but even those would be screwed up by his usual behavior and even when he wants to do good Clare often writes in a way that makes him look like an asshole [e.g. telling Tessa about the lethal laws of vampire etiquette only when they are already on their way to the vampires]).
          And why does he believe in that to begin with? They say Shadowhunters are descended from humans who drank the blood of the angel Raziel, who use angelic runes to gain special abilities, whose land is in Europe and who call upon the names of angels to power their magic weapons. So why isn’t Jem a Christian, or at the very least Abrahamic?
          And if this weren’t enough, like I said, in Clockwork Prince Jem suddenly starts talking Mandarin, quite randomly actually, apart from the case where he didn’t want to let Tessa know that he thinks “she is beautiful.” Later he tells her that he loves her and that is a very open statement, quite unusual for a normal Chinese at the time. But another Chinese Goodreads user had helpfully pointed out that the words Jem had used is ‘You’re pretty’, not ‘You’re beautiful’. And in the Chinese speaking, telling a girl ‘You’re pretty’ doesn’t have much deep meaning. It’s only a polite way to praise someone’s appearance instead of what you would say to a girl whom you had deep affection. So basically Jem uses the words with a meaning that a modern day Anglo-American boy would use, not as a Chinese boy, which Clare claims he is.
          If Jem is supposed to be so influenced by Chinese culture, he would have know that an educated Chinese man would not simply tell a girl she’s beautiful, it’s something that commoners would do. An educated man would choose something a lot more subtle or at least try to liken the girl with a historical/mythical beauty, or liken her beauty to flowers, the moon or other pretty things.
          Also he could have likened Tessa to Kwan Yin, but she only appears two times again, towards the end of Clockwork Prince and only in the description of the box. Then in Clockwork Princess, still referred to as a goddess and talking about how she would not enter paradise because of the cries and anguish of the world. And even that pretty close to the end. So in all three books she appears only 3 times and considered what an influence the drug has on Jem’s life you would think Kwan Yin would provide a strong enough counter to that influence. But apparently not.
          Well, if Clare really wanted to point out Jem’s ‘Chinese-ness’ in a more natural way, she should have just let Jem hump a Chinese song or know how to play a Chinese instrument or something.
          Let’s say he would have been fresh from Shanghai than he would have probably been speaking English and Shanghainese instead of Mandarin. In addition you could probably refer to him as an Anglo-Chinese but no longer a Chinese since from 11/12 to 17 the character is still formed and he ws surrounded by English influenced culture. And actually his age makes his calmness when dealing with Will even that more strange in my eyes.

          Plus he speaks Mandarin only rarely. And here is the crux:
          Why does he speak Mandarin? Mandarin became the true official language of China and Taiwan in the 20th century. And according to Clockwork Angel: “You know,” he said, “that for most of my life I lived in Shanghai with my parents? That I was raised in the Institute there?”
          In Clockwork Prince he says himself that The dialect there is barely intelligible by someone who speaks Mandarin. (there he also stated that “they” moved to Shanghai so he must have remembered that, casting some doubt on this “most of my life” statement). So why wasn’t young Jem taught Shanghainese to better fit in with the locals, since that is allegedly what Shadowhunters are supposed to do? And it would either way have made things much easier for them and make more sense background wise. But nope, he has to speak Mandarin apparently. And is there any more cliché a choice from all Chinese languages than to choose Mandarin?

          Now as for his mixed blood status:
          Even though mentioned a few times, Jem is nonetheless constantly treated as an outsider in regards to English society, (although considered how he was described in Clockwork Angel he probably would have gotten along better in London than Shanghai or most of imperial China) despite living in London since he was 12, which also makes it odd that his Mandarin is allegedly still intact, after all who does he practice it with? Clare herself counts him as Chinese apparently, despite him living with English influenced Shadowhunters and his “British” father and even while it’s allegedly so important it is still mostly ignored. Why, I wonder. So it seems to me that he is supposed to be seen as Chinese and it seems as though his mixed-blood status is only there so the later sexual relation to the female protagonist is not truly interracial. And since he is constantly treated as Chinese by the author apparently, why isn’t he a full blood?
          And how “typical” would a Chinese from Shanghai of that time be to begin with? Shanghai was open to the world, it was one of the many cities past and present where all sorts of people lived. And not even that Jem represents. I have nothing against characters of such alleged background, but when it’s so obvious that they could not possibly be as “Chinese” as is claimed than statements like Clare’s are for me nothing more than assigning “mixed” people to the non-white heritage and culture.
          And it goes even deeper: why is he “Chinese” if Shadowhunters allegedly are Shadowhunters first and everything else second, he even states that his father is not truly “English:”
          Almost the first thing I realized when I came here was that my father never thought of himself as British, not the way an Englishman would. Real Englishmen are British first, and gentlemen second. Whatever else it is they might be—a doctor, a magistrate or landowner—comes third.
          So why is Jem “Chinese”?

          And it’s not only about Jem that is weird, his father is the same:
          James (Jem) Carstairs is according to the books allegedly born shortly after the 2nd Opium War (based on his age and the year the book plays in) so probably not the best time for foreigners in China and so I find it very odd, to say the least, that his “British” father has a dragon-headed jade cane made for himself in Beijing. And this was during the late Qing dynasty and back then it was already capital offense for Chinese commoners to wear dragons on their clothes as far as I know. But even if my information is flawed I think it’s safe to say that a foreigner like Jem’s father walking around with a dragon-headed cane would probably have made some people angry at the time.

          All this cultural material that is supposed to identify him as Chinese appears all so crudely grafted onto the character that I simply cannot help it but think this and all the descriptions (including the shifts) are there to say “look people, he is Chinese” to score some points (like the rest of her non-Anglo, non-straight and female characters) and nothing more. No effort seems to have been spend to actually make such characters not simply identifiable but actually regional.
          What Clare lists as “Chinese traits” would at most make Jem identifiable, not regional, he would be just “Chinese”, not “Shanghainese”, what an actual person of his background (minus the Shadowhunter of course) would at least partially be.

          At the very least this odd constellation should raise some eyebrows in my opinion.

          PS. I had to post this isn two comments since it was so long, I hope both get posted and its not confusing.

  • I am always curious when titles are changed to suit an audience. Lawrence Hill’s novel “Book of Negroes” title was changed for US, Australian and New Zealand audiences to “Someone knows my name” and the first Harry Potter novel’s title was changed by the publishers from “Philosopher’s Stone” to “Sorcerer’s Stone” also for US audiences. If I like a book I will often avoid movie adaptations just because the plot and characters are messed with by producers and directors. Great article.

    • Kenneth

      The PHILOSOPHER issue is depressing. The change happened because the American studio was convinced that most Americans wouldn’t know what a “philosopher’s stone” was – (no knowledge of history) – and those who did would think that “philosopher” would denote philosophy, and that therefore the film would be perceived as actionless and dull.

      As for people excising the description of the character as Asian, it’s no more surprising than that nobody noticed Rue being described as having a darker complexion in HUNGER GAMES. The fact is, most Americans have atrocious reading comprehension. They don’t bother to keep in the facts when they read and they don’t understand what they’re reading. It’s just that simple.

      And they’re mostly racists.

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  • Athirae

    I am really glad that Cassie writes with diversity of race and sexuality and that she defends it so heavily in its visual portrayal to her readers. Cassie’s fervour in the matter inspired me to highlight the sexuality of the characters in my own novels (as I am unable to highlight race). It makes me very happy that she will go so far as to disgruntle some people just to stand up for what she created, to represent the minorities in her works.

    • Andre

      With diversity of race and sexuality? What makes you even say that?
      All her “non-white” characters that are more than extra are half-whites or generally mixed with white and have full European names. Her writing about sexuality and race is a joke as Magnus even in Victorian England and during the French Revolution never encounters any actual problems with his looks or his sexuality, except of course when she once again tries to portray the average Shadowhunter as an asshole.

  • Dawn

    Great article. Small note though, Darren is half Filipino and half Irish, not dutch.

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  • Dieslo

    never read the book but’ll check it out now though. but damn, white people never cease to amaze me. their specifically told a character is one race then get pissed when they find out what they should of already known? thats insane.

    • Andre

      Over the course of her first three books, written from 2007 to 2009, she mentions Magnus being of “Asian” decent only once, and it had no relevance to the plot, and that in a book that is so full of infodumping that its hard to keep track. For the rest of the three books she only describes him as tall, thin and with straight black hair, which is a description so generic that you would find someone like that in every country on this planet. Afterwards she mentions his background and looks, again with no actual plot relevance, in the fifth book of her Mortal Instruments series, in the first book of her Infernal Device series, in her first and second book of the Bane Chronicles book and in some short snippet called Magnus’ Vow.
      Now in addition to that she described her main character Jace so often it was nauseating and also that no one has problems with the character Raphael since he was also described several times in no uncertain terms regarding hair and skin, the problem in my mind is not the readers, it is her writing.
      PS. the guy on the Cover of Clockwork Prince is not Jem. Jem was described with bright silver hair like and untarnished shilling and eyes of the same color. Interestingly the guy on the cover matches the description of Will, apart from the eyecolor, and so many readers actually thought that this guy was supposed to be Will and not Jem and so far I never encountered a single person who could come with a better defense than “it is Jem because he has a cane”, “that is silver” or “who else it is supposed to be”.
      Giving Clare credit here is totally misplaced in my mind.

  • Eliot Schager

    Wow I am so happy! This has been a tough year for racial diversity in Hollywood, between Dark Knight Rises, Cloud Atlas, and Argo… but this news has my spirits up. We finally get a victory against whitewashing. Hopefully 2013 will be an improvement.

    • Unknown

      It won’t. We’ll be getting Oldboy, The Lone Ranger, Warm Bodies, and Iron Man 3.

      • Andre

        You say it. I stumbled upon Lone Range by chance in a movie magazine and just thought “I hope that custome of Depp is some way of satire” well looks like I was wrong. He is serious about it. He actually thinks that is native American. Not to forget that it is pretty unrealistic to have a Native (I forgot the nation) of that time looking like Johnny Depp. Maybe today but not back then.

  • “No one cares about your gay characters.” That’s the one I
    remember.” This is so out of touch with reality, Malec is one of the
    most popular couples in the TMI fandom.

  • Ben

    We need more writers like this one, I hope she if the first drop of a coming storm… a storm of egaltarianism!

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  • Old Fan Kid

    LOL this series is named after Clare’s Ron/Ginny Weasley fic she wrote in the early 2000’s and she is known in the Potter fandom for her plagiarism.

    • IKR? It’s great that she’s speaking up against racism in Hollywood and kudos to her for this but that doesn’t make her a great writer, just not a completely terrible person.
      Ps: Don’t forget laptopgate.

  • katar13

    I haven’t read these books before, but maybe I will if I ever have the time. Or at least see the movie. I think it’s cool how Cassandra Clare is aware of the problem of whitewashing and has been trying to do something about it. I also think that it’s great that she can recognize her own shortcomings at portraying PoC in her books and that she wants to improve. People who actually care about issues like whitewashing and also LGBTA issues and try to do something about it make me have a little bit of faith in humanity.

    Also, she mentioned that some of the different studios who wanted to pick up the film weren’t entirely happy with Magnus being bisexual. Is there a term for when a LGBTA person gets their sexuality re-written to be heterosexual in a film, or to be an ambiguous sexuality? Changing a LGBTA character to have an ambiguous sexuality might as well be the same as making them straight. Just as people assume a character to be white if their race is ambiguous people often assume a character is heterosexual if their sexuality is ambiguous.

    That’s why when JK Rowling outed Dumbledore, there well a ton of people complaining that there was no evidence he was gay, so that must mean he was straight. Oh really, because there was no evidence he was straight either. Dumbledore was never married; he was not currently in any sort of heterosexual relationship, and there was no information at all about any past romantic relationships, heterosexual or homosexual, that Dumbledore may have had. However, everyone assumed he was straight because heterosexuality is the “default” sexual orientation.

    Similarly, it sounds like even though Magnus’ ethnicity was made explicit in the books, there were a lot of people who were surprised that he was Asian, just because we’ve all been subconsciously brainwashed to believe that being white is the “default”.

    Oh yeah, I’ve been trying to teach my parents about the whitewashing issue and so I think I’ll tell them to come over to this website and get themselves educated.

  • Diane

    I am shocked to find out that this is such an issue in the world of today! I thought we had outgrown the issue of different races. I am really sad to see that we have really not grown so much at all. What difference is it if the character is Asian, African, Black, White, Catholic, Protestant, etc. We are all still people. It would be a pretty boring world if we were all the same.Way to go Cassie for not giving up on Magnus. I can’t even imagine him as being white!!!

  • Alohomora

    This writer once said she wanted Magnus to be played by Darren Criss, so I’m on the verge of thinking she’s full of shit.

    • As she mentions above, Darren Criss, like Magnus, is half Filipino and half white.

    • Andre

      Technically speaking that might have been the better choice. I am currently reading “The Social World of Batavia” 2nd edition, so the place where Magnus is from and there they have a mixed Dutch Ambonese family of the 1st generation and the kids do not look “Asian”, actually only one of the four had his mother’s brown skin, the other three looked white. And it was clear that they were related since the three boys had, apart from the color, very similar faces.

  • Pandora

    Nevermind my comment about Darren Criss it’s already mentioned in this and I was unaware.

  • I thought Clare wanted Darren Criss to play Magnus. I am happy she fought for some diversity in the movie. But this book (and subsequent movies) are truly just plagarized “works of art” it is said when authors make money biting off of other’s people work. Yes there are elements that you will see repeated in diffrent generes but fanfiction takes thing to a whole other level.

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  • Anonymous

    Kudos to Miss Clare for upholding diversity. She is still a sucky writer, though.

  • Andre

    I for one am a person that usually wants to see actors that look like the people in a book. When they are described that is. So when I read the Never Ending Story for the first time and compared it with the movies I must say that the girls they had for Moonchild didn’t fit at all. Atreju fit (except for the green skin of course) but not her.

    However I must say for this character I wouldn’t have approved of Darren Chris. Because he can identify himself as half-fillipino as much as a he wants he simply doesn’t fit Magnus’ description. And actually this of him not fitting the image of an Asian. Well what is “Asian” then? Sorry but for me that does sound a bit too similar to the concept of the one drop rule. Because I do wonder how many would agree if someone lets say half vietnamese and half german would ever call himself white I bet they would be fine with him identifying as Asian or Half-Asian but never as white no matter how he looks (and I know from experience that half-german half-vietnamese can easily look like an indigenous European). On the other hand perhaps Chris is not talking about race but culture, than “half-fillipino” fits, possibly better because as far as I understand it fillipino is rather a cultural term instead of a racial term.

    I am also not that happy with Gao… looks a bit too buff in my eyes. But who knows what he can do. Wouldn’t be the first time I came around after dissaproving of an actor.

  • Brianna Walker

    I think I just fell in love with reading again. If you’re not writing a story that causes an uproar or teaches some kind of social or moral lesson, you’re not doing your job right.

  • Kate Rose Avery

    Godfrey Gao is an awesome pic!!! I don’t see why ppl are getting Annoyed over that. It’s sad that ppl are so white focused on book covers!

    • Andre

      Clare barely described Magnus’s facial features and skin tone, no wonder people don’t remember him being “Asian”, which he isn’t either since he is Indonesian-Dutch mix. You notice that no one is complaining about Rafael since he was described several times. But except for the scene when Clary meets Magnus before the party all that was described of Magnus in terms of physical looks where hair, height, body form, eyes and clothes, nothing else about his face whatsoever. Now consider that his background has no plot relevance and that his name is fully European and you get why people thought he is white.

  • Andre

    I personally consider this casting a problem. Since it basically says that a full Asian actor can play a half-Asian character. Had they cast Mario Maurer who is of German-Chinese descent and grew up in Thailand I would have accepted it since its at least the right general direction, but someone like Gao? Why? Why did she not ask for an actual half-Asian actor? Are they telling us they would not have been able to find one?

    And I wonder why there is such a double standard, because when Gao can play Bane although being of full East Asian descent as opposed to Indonesian Dutch descent, why is it wrong for Sean Faris or Keanu Reeves to play half-Asians although neither has that background? But no casting Gao as Magnus is ok, but casting the other two is not.

    Also Clare seems to see Magnus as Asian first and biracial later. And Clare’s portrayal of him severely lacking. With the 5th book of the Bane Chronicles coming out this month we would have the 13th book of hers he is in and the 5th where he is the protagonist but still we are nowhere closer to his origin then we where in City of Lost Souls, her last book in the Mortal Instruments series. She never went back further han 1791 and even so far her protrayal of him is horrible in terms of race. Not only has she Magnus being friends with practically everybody in 1791 Parisean high society, remember at a time when xenophobia was widespread, she also has him without his glamour so people clearly see his cat eyes and she excuses that with them thinking it is a fashion trick. Which is ridiculous for several reasons.

    And not only does Magnus seem unbelievable and poorly scatched, so does Jem. First that boy on the cover is a bad representation since that boy has dark hair and slightly tanned skin and looks very healthy. Jem however was described as very pale with bright silver hair, so apparently the book does not show his representation in the book and his hair was mentioned several times by the way. Actually this cover does not match Jem but it matches Will very much. He was described with black hair and high cheekbones and if the comments and discussions on goodreads are any indication then many readers thought the guy on the cover was Will and I can clearly understand this. The only thing this cover model has in common with Jem is that he looks very European, but that was it. And Jem does not seem to fit someone from his time period either.

    Both Magnus and Jem seem to be rather from a modern Japanese anime than actual people that could have arisen in the time periods that they were claimed to be from.
    And as for her going on about her non-white characters and the surprise about people thinking Magnus is white:
    1) All of her “non-whites” that have more than extra status in her books are at least half white.
    2) I am halfway through City of Glass because I searched for descriptions of Magnus and I did a quick search for the words “Asian” and “East”, even “Orient” and the only time any of these were mentioned was in reference to Aline Penhallow, apart from that nothing. The only time up til then when Mganus was referred to be of Asian descent and having tanned skin was in City of Bones when Clary met him before the party. That was the only time and it had no relevance for the character or the plot from that moment on. So I do not see that Clare has any reason to be surprised in that regard since it is her own fault.

    • Venom

      Oh and I suppose the industry discriminating against Gao for his race but not Faris ISN’T a double standard?

      BTW Kyo Kusanagi is FULL Japanese. The movie only changed it as an excuse for their racist casting.

      Also, of course, race is social construct based completely on appearance. People like Russell Wong and Devon Aoki are technically biracial but only seen as Asian because that’s what they look like. Whatever white blood they have does not make them any less discriminated against.

      • Andre

        And what you just said was relevant to my comment in what way?
        A reminder:
        In my eyes when it’s ok for someone like Gao to play a Dutch-Indonesian mix than it must also be ok for someone like Faris to play a Half-Japanese. Actually Faris probably looks closer to a general half-Japanese half-whatever white ethnicity than Gao looks to an actual Dutch-“Indonesian” mix (of course Clare hasn’t bothered so far what “Indonesian” means here).
        So either both Faris and Gao are allowed for their roles or neither are. Clear and simple.
        And just for check:
        Where was Gao discriminated in Taiwan? Because that is the other part of the problem. If they wanted to change the situation in “Hollywood” they should have cast an American of mixed background who tries to make it in America and not some guy who already has a career in Taiwan.

        • Venom

          First of all, once again Faris’s character (in the original games) is FULL Japanese. That’s the main issue. He was not playing a character who was meant to be a hapa.

          And who said anything about Taiwan. This is about the US and in the US, people of color like Gao face discrimination and whites like Faris do not. So no it’s not a “both or neither, clear and simple” situation because they are not on equal footing.

          • Andre

            Yes they are, because you seem to ignore the fact that Gao has a career in Taiwan and not the US, so actually Faris and Gao are on equal footing since both work in a society where they ethnicity and looks are not a hindrance to their career.
            This “they are not on equal footing” is a weak excuse that ignores the facts. Also even if both were in the US it doesn’t matter. Saying that a full Asian can play a Hapa is wrong because then you can say a hapa can be played by a full white as well.
            Interestingly a hapa, Shannon Kook, did audition for the role and was denied because he looked too Korean for them. And if Clare could make demands why didn’t she demand at least a Hapa? There must be plenty in the US alone.
            So letting a character that is Dutch-Indonesian mix (what Indonesian Clare never bothered to clarifiy) being played by a full ethnic Chinese is plain and simple wrong, last but not least because it once again equalizes “Asian” with Chinese.

          • Venom

            I didn’t ignore it. I said, and I’ll say again, that has no relevance to this discussion. This is about the US and the US only. And what you keep ignoring is that actors of color face discrimination and lack of opportunities. You’re like the people who think whiteface is equal to colorface.

          • Gao was born in Taiwan but moved to Canada as a child and grew up in Canada. Like many diasporic Asian Americans and Canadians he had more work waiting for him in Asia than in the country he was raised in.

          • Andre

            How do you know this was the case for him?

          • Annie Lin

            As someone who lived and grew up in Taiwan, I’d like to add some insights on this. (And Godfrey Gao’s mother is actually Malaysian, in that case she may or may not be of Chinese ancestry)
            Most of my cousins started their education in US, one remained and while the rest of them came back to Taiwan for fourth grade(elementary), it was a hard time for them.
            They had a LOT to catch up with, different educational systems and all that stuff, let’s not forget that at that time their Chinese were only good enough for basic conversations. One of them went back to the States for college after years of struggling.
            And these are kids who were at a supposedly impressionable age, but the cultural shock still proved to be a tough challenge.
            I’m not saying that’s impossible, but if you grew up in a foreign country(with people of different ethnics), it’s actually not that easy to start a career in your hometown, the most likely case being: you’re at a disadvantage in both countries.

          • Andre

            I guessed that much already, but that doesn’t answer the question regarding on why Marissa knows this. Also, allegedly Gao’s mother is Peranakan and so far I have mostly seen that word used for a chinese ethnicity in Malaysia. Sometimes there is a difference between Peranakan-Baba (those Peranakan with part Malay ancestry) from Peranakan (those without any Malay ancestry). So either way his Malayan ancestry must have been quite some time ago. And even is his Malay ancestry was recent (meaning no further back than a grandparent) this would only be called ethnic mix and not racial mix, and even if you would call him racially mixed it would be nowhere near the mix Magnus allegedly represents. He supposedly represents a first generation Dutch-Indonesian mix. And here is the other problem with this character. Clare never stated what “Indonesian” means here, Indonesia has about 300 native ethnicities but we know nothing. So Magnus is allegdly half-white but Gao is nothing of that sort. Apparently Shannon Kook auditioned for the role and was rejected because he looked too Korean for them, luckily he stared in The Conjuring and not City of Bones, a bad movie based on a bad book, but still the movie was better.
            And the worst is that I could look like someone from Batavia, where Magnus is allegedly from, so could Gao, or you, or anyone reading this. So far I read two books on that city and the names alone that are recorded speak of people from all over western and central Europe, South Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, China, Japan, and all over Indonesia. But we are never even told what Magnus’s original name was, nor of his parents, and despite the Bane Chronicles now releasing the 9th book we barely now anything more about his background than we already knew in City of Lost Souls. The author only added a tiny few tidbits towards his stepfather’s behavior, mostly having him pray, but that is it. No origin, no names, no customs nothing. We do not even know for sure his native tongue, only the acknowledgement section of Lost Souls lets you guess that its “Indonesian,” whatever that means. The Chronicles never went back further than 1791, only mentioning the 1720s, and according to them Magnus constantly lies about his age. Not to mention his physical description doesn’t fit the other books, and Clare only has racism and homophobia when it suits her, but otherwise totally ignores it. She had Magnus run around in 1791 Paris in the high society, not disguised or anything, wide open “Asian” features and cat eyes all and even kissed a guy in front of the royal family, and he faces no problems from the mundanes regarding this, neither in 1857 London, nor 1903 London, nor 1929 New York, nor 1950s New York, nor 1970s New York nor in Peru or anything. And I am supposed to believe that…
            Ok, I better stop now or I never will.

          • Andre

            It has every relevance since Gao did not need any chance. He had his already and was doing well. If they wanted to improve chances for what you call “actors of color” they should have cast someone working and trying to built a career in the US and not Taiwan, this way Gao is in the same line as Jet Li and Jackie Chan, they were already stars and that is why they made it in Hollywood, not like Asian American actors who rarely even get the chance.
            Not to mention if Magnus’ “racial identity” was so important they should have cast an actual first generation Dutch Indonesian mix or generally Indonesian Western-Central European mix, but maybe many of them would not be “Asian” enough for them. But instead they chose Gao, someone most likely of full Chinese ancestry, thereby doing a total miscast and once again equalizing “Asian” with Chinese.
            Although the way Magnus is described in the books it iss very likely in my mind that Clare had nothing else but a Chinese person in her mind when writing him, and maybe even that only as an afterthought since City of Bones described his skin as golden respectively maple syrupe but his hand suddenly as white, and there was no hint that he was wearing gloves or anything. As a matter of fact alot of the characters that Clare considers “non-white” are inconsistently described throughout the books, changing skin tone, age and hair color.
            PS. The world is more than the US, as the casting of this film alone proves.

          • Venom

            On his IMDB page I see only 3 other works, none of which had any international fame. Yeah, that’s some great career. And as just pointed out, he was only working there because he couldn’t get work here. See also Daniel Wu, Maggie Q…

  • Andre

    This article was written in Oct2012 and so far I am still waiting for the improvements Clare was talking about. She is so bad at it she had Magnus change color several times (as well as Raphael) and even messed up his backstory. Well the little there is since despite having published 9 Bane Chronicles books now we still barely no anything more about than what was stated in The Mortal Instruments. Actually its nearly identical, except that according to TMI and TID he was a child when his mother killed herself (he still remembers her) but in TBC he was still in the cradle.
    That people may not get that Jem and Magnus are “Asian” (which they aren’t, they are half-whites) is due to Clare’s incompetence and nothing else in my mind.
    Heck she is so bad when she changed Magnus’s description in the movie tie-in version of City of Bones she didn’t care one bit that his hands are still white, that it opens alot of plotholes in TBC (despite living in New York for decades and apparently looking like a chinese person he never encountered any racism) and that Raphael still looks older than Jace (while all other books stated him to be younger looking) and suddenly had a skin-color change from honey to brown (actually his skin color had changed 3 times over the course of the books). Not to mention that he and Magnus have gay and latino stereotype written all over themselves.
    But apparently she “means well.” So did lots of other writers but they get maligned. Clare’s “non-white” characters are a giant screw up and I do not just blame her, I also blame the people who think they have to support this stuff because of this inclusion. This is post Avatar, I don’t need to support crap like the stuff Clare spewed out.

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