During an open-panel interview, Martin spoke candidly about his past struggles with novels that didn’t sell, the wild nights of sci-fi author conventions during the 1970’s, his love for H.P. Lovecraft, and more. Martin spoke in such an open, friendly, and conversational manner that it would’ve been impossible not to be completely charmed and feel as though you were listening to stories from a close friend in your living room, as opposed to listening to an insanely famous bestselling author inside of an audience-packed ballroom.
George R.R. Martin at Thrillerfest 2018
During the discussion, Martin also delved into some controversy from his past, speaking openly and honestly about the prejudices that took place surrounding his 1985 novella, Nightflyers (which is currently being adapted as a SyFy series).
According to Martin, he wrote protagonist Melantha Jhirl with a very specific image in mind; as the name Melantha directly translates to black flower, Martin had only ever envisioned her as African American woman. However, in the same vein of many Hollywood film directors, when Martin received the book back from his editor with the new cover in place, he discovered something more-than-unsettling:
via LW Currency
Clearly, the woman on the cover who is supposed to be portraying Melantha is nothing like the character herself; instead of acknowledging Martin’s descriptions of the protagonist he, himself, created in any way, the editor had decided to disregard Martin and choose a white female model to portray the lead. And, as if this total disregard for a character’s literal ethnicity wasn’t gross enough, when Martin pointed out how wrong it was to have a white woman on the cover, he was told
Well, you want your book to sell, don’t you? No one’s going to buy a book with a black woman on the cover.
Even Martin said that, although he protested, arguing with his editor and openly speaking about how wrong it was to white-wash Melantha, he was still a struggling writer who didn’t hold much power, and he wound up losing the fight. Still, he’s always wished that he could go back and protest even harder. Martin spoke of his regret at not pushing further for accurate representation:
I should have fought harder, I should have protested, but I didn’t… It’s bothered me ever since. I’ve been ashamed of it ever since.
So, the moment he got notice of the new SyFy adaptation currently in the works, he contacted the team behind it and said that they could take all the creative liberties they wanted with the story, his one and only requirement being: Melantha must be played by a woman of color. The team at SyFy agreed immediately, casting Jodie Turner-Smith in the lead role.
Martin commented, “I’m pleased that that injustice has been resolved.”
It’s so vitally important for more popular figureheads to keep pushing forward toward diversity; the more we stand up, the more we will progress.
You can check out Nightflyers in Fall 2018.
Featured Image via Variety