Who Fears Erasure?

Yesterday Nnedi Okorafor announced HBO is developing her novel Who Fears Death as a series.

My World Fantasy Award winning novel WHO FEARS DEATH has been optioned by HBO and is now in early development as a TV series with George R. R. Martin as executive producer.

Note: This did not happen overnight. It’s been nearly 4 years coming.

The news received widespread attention in the media from those who rely on items with a GRRM connection to generate clicks. However, Okorafor pointed out Vice’s report “George R.R. Martin Is Adapting an African Sci-Fi Novel for TV” as being especially problematic:

Here’s a screenshot from the Vice website:

Lincoln Michel, the article’s author, hastened to assure Okorafor that the graphics weren’t his fault. Okorafor’s name is prominent in the actual text of his news item —

The ‘Game of Thrones’ creator has reportedly been tapped to executive produce Nnedi Okorafor’s ‘Who Fears Death’ for HBO.

When Game of Thrones ends, it will leave a smoldering dragon-sized hole in HBO’s lineup. To fix that, the prestige TV network has naturally turned to GOT creator George R.R. Martin to fill it with a slew of potential spinoffs. Additionally, it looks like Martin could be involved in bringing another show to the network that’s not based around his fantasy universe, but rather that of science-fiction writer Nnedi Okorafor’s apocalyptic Africa.

And George R.R. Martin has written a blog entry to make things clear about his role as an Executive Producer.

As usual, however, the internet is blowing this story all out of proportion, at least in regards to my own participation.

I will be an Executive Producer on WHO FEARS DEATH but I will not be the Executive Produce, i.e. the showrunner. That’s an important distinction. Should we move forward, there will be a number of Executive Producers, and probably some Co-Executive Producers and Supervising Producers and Producers as well. This is television.

I will not be writing the pilot script or adapting Nnedi’s novel, and it’s doubtful that I will write any episodes should we go to series. Look, I probably won’t be writing episodes of ANY television shows until WINDS OF WINTER is done and delivered, and that goes for the five GAME OF THRONES successor shows as well. Other writers will be scripting those pilots, and the same is true for WHO FEARS DEATH. Last week we spent most of an afternoon interviewing some great young talents, in hopes of finding the right person to script the pilot. I was part of that process, and Nnedi was too. No deal yet, but we may have an announcement soon.

[Thanks to James Davis Nicoll for the story.]

10 thoughts on “Who Fears Erasure?

  1. I will be interested in seeing this if it makes it to air. It’s the only thing of hers I’ve read that I actually think lives up to her reputation. (I don’t think any of her books are *bad*, I just think they don’t live up to they hype… except Who Fears Death.)

  2. If Vice wanted to really hide this story, they could have not reported on it at all. If they wanted to report on Martin’s new project but hide the African connection of the story, they could have left out “African” in the title and made less mention of it in the text.

    The Vice graphic uses an almost square version of the cover, next to a picture of Martin with the same size and proportions. The square cover have been created by cutting the bottom part – which happens to be where the author name is. Whoever made the graphic obviously didn’t think it was important to keep Okorafor’s name in, but I doubt they created the graphic this way in order to deliberately hide it.

    Which is to say that I understand that Okorafor is annoyed at being downplayed, but I think some of the reactions are a bit overblown. This is something that could happen to any midlist author regardless of skin colour.

  3. @Johan P. Whoever made that also didn’t think it was worth mentioning the author’s name or handle, despite having room within the Twitter 140-character limit.

    It’s easy to say that “could” happen to any midlist author, but it’s part of a pattern of erasure that happens to writers of color more often than to white writers, and to women more often than to men. That they “didn’t think it was important” to keep @nnedi’s name on the cover or include it in the headline is the point here.

  4. @Vicki Rosenzweig: Their graphics person is the same person as the person sending out their Tweets? 😉

    As usual, the Tweet’s just a copy of the headline (perhaps automated or just done via the link on the site). That’s how it’s done where I work; to push a story, they click the link on our site, which uses the headline + (usually) first image.*

    But the headline had infinite room and should’ve included Okorafor’s name. I agree with Mike; people just want clicks based on Martin’s name. That’s no excuse for leaving out the name of the author without whom there’d be no project, though. 🙁 Her name is very prominent in the story itself, at least, e.g., it’s in the large bold caption for the photo at the top of the story.

    * BTW the cover isn’t just set to the same height as the Martin pic; they’re actually incorporated into one graphic. Probably so that it works well for their Tweets or Tweet links, but I see this in other places (including where I work, occasionally) – graphic design sizing/cropping for the graphic designers asthetics on size and ratios and lining things up, making the crop do something that’s a bad idea.

    Anyway, I understand the reactions, but if it’s erasure, it’s a pathetic attempt.

    BTW I did a double-take when I clicked through to Okorafor’s Facebook page, the “you should sign in garbage” (after I clicked “Not Now”) covered . . . her byline on the cover image! It’s just my window size + the image size + Facebook’s “no really you should sign in” annoy-box that covers a chunk of the screen. But coming from this blog post, it gave me a start.

  5. Erasure doesn’t need to be deliberate or with malice aforethought. Sometimes erasure is considering the white male executive producer newsworthy and the actual black female content creator to be below-the-fold. Erasure is an effect. A pattern of effects. And part of erasure is telling people, “Why are you being so sensitive and making a big deal out of nothing?”

  6. According to Martin, his role in the production is relatively minor. There are multiple people involved who aren’t mentioned at all – never mind named or named in the title. Yes, there’s a heavy dose of “big name guy gets all the attention” here. But to make that out to be about the one person besides Martin who is named seems strange to me.

  7. @Heather Rose Jones: I realized later I was implying it had to be malicious and intentional, which I know isn’t correct, but haven’t been back here till now. That’s not really what I was thinking, but it’s what I said, sorry.

    Since I didn’t say anyone was being overly sensitive etc., I presume that part’s aimed at @Johan P, not me.

    – – – – –

    Vice.com (the type of site I only click through occasionally via Mike’s links) has a crappy site. I went there this morning to see what the site’s even for. Big photo with a headline about a queer black actor (their words). Interested, I clicked the headline, and got a page with a couple of nav widgets, the page background a giant photo of the guy, and nothing else. No headline, no article text. I tried several times, tried reloading, etc. – same thing. WTH. I just tried again – new story, this time the link works. I would’ve liked to read the other story, not something about Ivanka Trump! (I won’t be returning there. Er, unless Mike links to another article, probably, LOL.)

  8. Johan P: According to Martin, his role in the production is relatively minor. There are multiple people involved who aren’t mentioned at all – never mind named or named in the title. Yes, there’s a heavy dose of “big name guy gets all the attention” here. But to make that out to be about the one person besides Martin who is named seems strange to me.

    Okorafor isn’t one of the “multiple people involved”. She is THE AUTHOR of the property. The property could still exist with other people taking the place of the ones who are currently involved, including GRRM (although his name, support, and financial backing are no doubt a huge help). It would not exist if it weren’t for the author having created the work.

    Do I think that the egregious omission of her name in the headline and the image was deliberately malicious? No.

    But I think it’s part of a centuries-long tradition of women and minorities being omitted from credits, where their significance on events is frequently erased — one that is so deeply ingrained into our culture that the people who do it (including the person who did the page design for the VOX article) frequently don’t even realize that they’re doing it.

    This reminds me of the infamous news article last year which trumpeted “Tom Waits, his wife, and John Prine receive songwriting awards”.

    “His wife” is Kathleen Brennan, a musician, songwriter, record producer and artist in her own right.

    And every time something like this happens, it’s not happening in a vacuum. It’s not a discrete, encapsulated event which stands on its own. As Pink Floyd put it, “it’s just another brick” in a VERY large wall.

    And that is why people are making such an issue out of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *