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?