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Cassandra Clare talks about diversity in the book industry

We know that Godfrey Gao's casting as Magnus Bane in the upcoming THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES movie got very mixed reactions because a lot of fans were surprised that Magnus is Asian. Cassie addressed this "whitewashing" problem in a tumblr post and now an interview has surfaced in which Cassie talks about diversity, Magnus, Jem and book covers. Here are the most important parts and you can find the whole – very interesting - interview on About Magnus's casting

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.”
It’s heartbreaking to see people angered or upset that Magnus is being played by an Asian actor when Magnus is Asian.

About the CLOCKWORK PRINCE 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.

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.

Whiteness in literature

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.

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.

White middle-class Americans are not the only people who read and I believe publishing is starting to understand that, too.

SOUND OFF in the comments. What do you think of racebending and would you wish to have more diversity in (YA) novels?

About Cathrin (827 Articles)
Writer for TMI Source and 'The Shadowhunter Chronicles' lover extraordinaire. Fangirls over books, history, German football, movies and fictional characters.

16 Comments on Cassandra Clare talks about diversity in the book industry

  1. godfrey’s beautiful and hes asian so im not complaining!

  2. It’s clearly stated in the books that Magnus has an Indonesian parent and that Jem is from Asia! How can any real fans be shocked by the casting?? Besides that, have they actually looked at GodfreyGao?? He is stunning. I can’t believe there could even be a question, he looks even better than Cassies descriptions of him! I’m sorry to say but all those complaining need to be honest and admit that it’s a touch of racism that is their problem

    • Totaly agree godfrey is hot I think he is perfect magnus cant wait to see how they style him for the movie 🙂

    • I also think that the books are clear that both Magnus and Jem are Asian and I’m glad that’s they way they have been cast since that’s what I pictured when I read them. So, readers should not have been surprised and frankly need to pay better attention. On the other hand, I think people should also understand that the written word and cinema are two distinct art forms and when novels are adapted to the screen, there are bound to be differences due to the different demands, constraints and opportunities of the medium. I think people need to be more flexible. Personally, I think that the perfect physical match to the descriptions in the book are less important to casting that the acting ability, charisma, and commitment level of the chosen actors. For example, to get upset over hair color changes seems too inflexible. Also, sometimes I have seen plot/story order/character changes made to films in adaptions to the screen, that for me, dramatically improved the film story compared to the book- so if that happens for City of Bones, I will keep an open mind.

  3. I loooove that Jem and Magnus are Asian because it does add diversity. In most books you get just white people. It is absolutely CRAZY how people are still so racist. I thought that time was over and it REALLY annoys me how people still crack that “funny” Asian or black joke. Also you know that MOST of the worlds population IS NOT white?

  4. I don’t understand why in this day and age there even has to be an explanation as to why an Asian actor has been cast. Those questioning this should be ashamed of themselves. @Ollie agreed Godfrey is beautiful and I can’t wait to see him portray Magnus Bane

  5. This reminds me of all the comments said about one of the hunger games casting. So what? Race should NOT be a set back for readers and fans. If they are Asian, African American, Bisexual, Gay, ect. Then that is what either the author or possible film adaption have interpreted for that specific character. People in general are all to quick to judge about what they think is right and how it should always be like. We need to have more open minds on things like this, and except others points of views.

  6. I think sometimes reader accidentally skim over descriptions. I can almost understand if someone missed the part in which Magnus is first introduced and it says clearly that Clary could tell that he was part Asian, but the fact that some of these fans refuse to admit that they were wrong and repeatedly insist that Magnus is white is disturbing.

    Maybe I’m too emotional, but it hurts to a certain degree when these kinds of descriptions are completely ignored. Like Cassandra said, not all YA readers are middle class white people. I, myself, have been reading these books since I was eighteen years old, and I am half black. I was excited to see a strong Asian character in the first book, and because I’m a strong supporter of the LGTB community I was just as excited that he was gay (or bisexual as we learn more about him in TID). You can imagine my excitement when Maia was introduced in the second book, because she was a character that resembled me. She is half black and half white. It’s not something I like to dwell on, but it kind of hurts when I see fancasts for the movie (or movies if the first one does well 😉 ) and there is a reader that either completely missed or completely ignored that Maia is half black. I know it’s not always the reader’s fault and it’s not so bad when a fan acknowledges that they missed the description, but when one of these readers is corrected and they refuse to believe that the character is at least partly of color and keeps insisting on a white actor or actress. It hurts because it’s like they are saying, ‘There is no such thing as a strong character that looks like you. Characters that look like you are and will always be the token sidekick.’

    I’m glad Cassandra has made strong characters of different ethnicity. It’s really nice to see a writer take a stand and say heroes and heroines come in all different colors, shapes, sizes, and sexual orientations. Hopefully, this will become a big step towards erasing whitewashing in novels or all sorts and Hollywood as well, and it will teach people that not all good characters have to be white.

    • I totally agree! I love reading about characters with diversity, and those people who whitewash everything have no respect for other people.

  7. I was so happy when they didn’t choose a white guy for magnus! 🙂
    Like in dragon ball!
    Cassie write an Indian character 🙂

  8. i mean dragon ball in the terms where they chose a white guy for an asian character

  9. I honestly love Godfrey and I am so happy that he is Magnus Bane. I watch a lot of Korean and Taiwanese dramas. When I saw him in one of the dramas, I kept tabs. Godfrey is Magnus Bane!

  10. I was so ecstatic when they casted Godfrey Gao! With my parents from Taiwan, I knew all about Godfrey and watched a few of the dramas he was in before making it in the Mortal Instruments. And my, when I found out he was being casted as Magnus, I lost my marbles. Never in my life have I seen someone who was a perfectly casted as him. TAIWANESE PRIDE ❤

  11. What’s wrong with asians???

  12. Like nelliedot says, Cassie clearly mentions Magnus’ and Jem’s Asian descent. I always pictured them that way, and I think that Godfrey Gao is the perfect Magnus (he’s really handsome too).

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