Monday, 19 August 2013

Love has no boundaries. Discuss.

Apparently, the planned film on James Brooke's life may feature his romance to a Brunei princess. Of course, I'm sceptical about this 'romance' as I am firmly convinced he was gay, but there are stories that he married a local princess. (Not that the two possibilities are entirely mutually exclusive.)

The person who told me this wondered if the idea of an inter-racial romance would work in a Hollywood movie. That raised an interesting point.

In Cawnpore, John Williamson leaves Borneo and travels to India, where he falls in love with an Indian noble. Although reviews of Cawnpore have been very good (better than for TheWhite Rajah), sales have been disappointing. I asked my publisher if she had any idea why this might be and she came up with a few. For example, things like the cover design might have put Cawnpore at a disadvantage. I think her instincts are sound and her ideas made sense. Then she said that she had noticed that stories featuring inter-racial romance generally did not sell well.

I was shocked. Yet it fitted with stuff I remembered from years ago, when I worked on romance magazines for teenage girls. Studies have shown that romance magazines featuring mixed-race couples on the cover sold significantly less well than those where the couple were both of the same race.

I wonder if this is still true. I have a horrible feeling that it is. I am sure everyone can tell me about Hollywood movies that do star a mixed-race couple, but they seem to be a tiny minority of all the hit films that Hollywood turns out. In an attempt to see if I was imagining this, I checked out Sky Movies' "
Top 100 Rom-Coms at the box office" and didn't even see a black face until number 30, Coming to America. This starred Eddie Murphy. The love interest here was Shari Headley, who is also a person of colour. In fact, based on the top 30 films listed there, the love interest is as likely to be a different species (the mermaid in Splash) as a different race.

I know that, statistically, people are more likely to settle down with someone from their own racial group. But, living in multi-cultural London, I see mixed-race couples all the time. Only this morning, my Facebook feed was full of photos of friends of mine who married at the weekend and who are definitely not both the same skin colour. So why do we apparently struggle to accept in fiction what we see all around us in fact?

There is an obvious example of a successful movie featuring an inter-racial romance and that's Disney's hit, Pocahontas. But then, that's a cartoon.

Do we find it so difficult to accept that real-life people can love other real-life people with a different skin colour to their own? And, if this is the case, what does that say about us?


  1. thanks friend.

    i said that to you this morning.


  2. Yes, it was your comment that set me thinking. Thanks.

  3. It's tricky to say "this is a good post" when, sadly, it is so true and so sad. But: yes.

    "Studies say" these days that, at least in the States, acceptance of interracial and homosexual relationships is at an all time high, but you have me wondering now whether and how this translates into sales in our entertainment. As you point out, it's not overwhelming in movies - and just a few weeks ago, a Cheerios breakfast cereal ad featuring a mixed race family created the most embarrassing furor (and I haven't seen the ad in a while). It was a wonderful, ordinarily beautiful moment with a family, and stupid people went wild.

    You did, however, make a sale with me!