Fantasy author Saladin Ahmed wrote an article for salon.com titled "Is “Game of Thrones” too white?" And let's just say that it has created quite a stir...
Here's an extract:
But now, as our beloved genre finds its way into “normal” people’s hearts and minds, fantasy fans are increasingly confronted with an inversion of this notion – a question that I, as an Arab-American fantasy fanatic, have been wrangling with for years: If the mainstream doesn’t get fantasy, just how well does epic fantasy, with its lily-white heroes, get the multicultural real world of 21st-century America? As some of the most popular works in the genre’s history – works that shed any pretension of being children’s fare – A Song of Ice and Fire and its wonderful TV spawn are particularly useful springboards for this question.
When it comes to inherited conventions regarding race in epic fantasy, “Game of Thrones” is, in a sense, standing on the shoulders of dwarfs. The Lord of the Rings is the most obvious predecessor to Martin’s work, and it’s not hard to find subtle rhetorical responses to Tolkien in his books. When Time magazine dubbed Martin “the American Tolkien,” it highlighted not only Martin’s rather astonishing genius in world-building and narrative scope, but also the ideological baggage that all of us writing in the genre have inherited from our shared progenitor.
The HBO production – which has been so remarkable on so many fronts — has exacerbated this hard-R-rated cartoonishness, bringing out some of the novel’s more unfortunate tendencies. The show’s depiction of the Dothraki has been positively cringe-inducing. In the novels, Martin’s quasi-Mongol warrior culture is depicted in a problematically essentialist, but still complex fashion. But HBO has nudged Martin’s creation fully into racial caricature by casting a seemingly random variety of colored people, and apparently raiding productions of both “Hair” and “Braveheart” to clothe them.
Even so, by skillfully replicating the juxtapositions posed by Martin’s back-and-forth POV, the show has managed also to replicate his ultimate, rather un-Tolkienish subtext: There is nothing unique about the savage horde’s savagery. If Dothraki society is depicted as violently perverse, so is Westerosi (i.e., quasi-European) society, which bows to the whims of the Aryan-featured boy-monster King Joffrey, and which has knighted mass murderers and rapists like Ser Gregor Clegane, one of the most horrifying minor characters in all of fantasy. Every culture is savage in “Game of Thrones,” and that’s a very different view of the world than what Tolkien gave us.
Of necessity, turning 1,000 pages of prose into a relatively few hours of screen time involves dropping, combining and retooling elements of a novel. “Game of Thrones” has already taken a few liberties with Martin’s books – cutting minor scenes, combining some characters and eliminating others, and (most notoriously) signposting plot points and character motivations through clumsy new “sexposition” scenes. It would be nice if, moving forward, the writers and producers chose as well to keep an eye on these sorts of promising moments of cultural variety and — dare I say it? — color in Westeros. But, given the contempt our culture currently holds for anything smacking of the much maligned (if chimerical) “political correctness,” I’m not holding my breath.
Ultimately, A Song of Ice and Fire, like the Lord of the Rings, is the work of a brilliant and conscientious writer who is nonetheless writing in his own time and place. The United States in 2012 is, far too often, and even with a black president, still a culture rich in racist stereotypes and xenophobic fear-mongering. Expecting a writer to remain entirely unstained by this is expecting a person to live underwater without getting wet. If we still find troubling racial assumptions and caricatures in fantasy – whether on the page, or on the big or small screen — this probably tells us more about our culture-wide problems than it does about a single writer’s, or a single show’s issues. A Song of Ice and Fire is indeed our American Lord of the Rings, and if Westeros has its race problems, they are simply a powerful reflection of America’s.
It's hard to argue with Saladin Ahmed's piece, though you'll find numerous trolls throwing mud his way in the comment section. It has gotten to the point where Ahmed had to come out and say that he isn't calling George R. R. Martin a racist, and that GRRM was in fact very encouraging toward Ahmed's Arab/Muslim-inspired fantasy debut.