RACISM HAS BECOME SO UNIVERSAL, IT HAS BECOME NORMAL

RACE, REPRESENTATION, AND ACCURACY IN WORKS OF POPULAR MEDIA

Our collective idea of what history was "like’" owes a great deal to visual media, with even fictional portrayals offering a visceral point of reference that the written word can rarely hope to match. The decision of how to portray the past in popular media can therefore take on a profound social and political importance, and history-based media often risks becoming a flashpoint in contemporary cultural debates. Different portrayals become highly praised or contested based on how far they conform to or challenge our pre-existing ideas about the past, particularly surrounding contentious contemporary issues such as race and national identity. This panel explores the tensions surrounding portrayals of the past in popular culture, and the power of ingrained assumptions about ‘accuracy’ to distort and even erase particular historical narratives

MODERATOR

AVAN FATA (/u/Starwarsnerd222)

PANEL MODERATOR

AVAN FATA (HE/HIM) is a first-year undergraduate student reading History at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Since January of 2021 he has been a flaired user on the AskHistorians subreddit, where he specialises in the Diplomatic History of the World Wars as well as the Origins of World War I. Outside of those topics, his historical areas of interest include nineteenth-century European geopolitics, the British Empire, and interwar Japan.

SPEAKERS AND PAPERS

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CLAUDIA BONILLO (/u/Claudia_Bonillo)

AT THE MERCY OF THE TIDE. THE HISTORY OF THE CHŌSOKABE CLAN ACCORDING TO NOBUNAGA’S AMBITION: SPHERE OF INFLUENCE (KOEI, 2013)

The attractiveness and spectacular development of audiovisual manifestations in Japan today, such as manga, anime, and video games, have led to their rapid expansion in the West. In particular, video games, due to the interactive relationship they establish with the player and their novel and versatile language, are not only highly valued artistic expressions but also learning tools and vehicles for cultural transmission. A significant number of these products are set in the turbulent Sengoku period (1467/1477–1603), a time of civil wars characterised by the absence of centralized power. The feudal lords who fought for supremacy became the heroes of the ages to come thanks to the mass culture of the Edo period (1603–1868), an influence that has survived to the present day as part of popular culture. However, how much of the vision that has come down to us is true to the historical facts and how much is it a social construct?

 

This presentation is aimed to analyze the representation of the Chōsokabe clan, rulers of Shikoku island, considered one of the most influential clans of the middle years of this period, in the video game Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence developed by the Japanese company Koei in 2013, a game that has been praised for its historical accuracy in the international market. Following an iconographic–iconological methodology, I will examine its historical events, scenes unlocked by the player which include content that is considered “historical” by the game’s developers. Specifically, we will study those between the one-hundred-and-ninety-fourth and two hundred, as well as a few isolated scenes of special relevance, which reflect the vision of the video game on the exploits of the Chōsokabe clan to determine if this case study perpetuates to the world an idealized view of medieval Japan.

 

CLAUDIA BONILLO (SHE/HER) is a PhD student at the University of Zaragoza and a researcher at Kyoto University with the Japanese Government (MEXT) Scholarship. Her research focuses on the transmission of the Sengoku period in Japanese popular culture, paying special attention to video games. A member of the Research Groups Japan and Spain: Relations through Art at the University of Zaragoza and Digital Humanities: History and Video Games at the University of Murcia, she has published in the journals Mirai, Neuróptica, Con A de Animación, Ecos de Asia and e-tramas, being a member of the editorial board of the last two.

 

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STEFAN AGUIRRE QUIROGA (/u/bernardito)

COUNTING BLACK FACES: THE MARGINALIZATION OF BLACK BRITISH SOLDIERS IN RESPONSE TO 1917

Following the release of the First World War film 1917 (2019), directed by Sam Mendes, a racist backlash ensued among some of its viewers as a result of the film’s depiction of non-white soldiers serving in otherwise all-white British regiments. Critical voices argued that the inclusion of soldiers of color was a historical inaccuracy that ruined their immersion into the historical setting, further arguing that the inclusion was driven by a nefarious political agenda. In early 2020, these arguments were brought into the limelight when British actor Laurence Fox during a podcast appearance complained about the presence of a Sikh soldier in the film, arguing that the film was “forcing diversity” on its viewers. While Fox’s racist comments were rightfully condemned in the media, widespread arguments marginalizing black British soldiers online were not acknowledged. Fox appeared as an aberration, not as part of a larger pattern of denial of space for soldiers of color in depictions of the First World War. By examining born-digital sources, this paper seeks to provide an analysis of the racist discourse of rejection towards black British soldiers in response to 1917. This paper will specifically address one of the most commonly used exclusionary arguments — the notion that the historical numerical presence of a certain race determines if they deserve to be represented or not. Was the historical presence of British soldiers of African descent truly as negligible as we are led to believe by these arguments? In considering 1917 and the discourse surrounding the film as a contested space over the historical memory of the First World War, we are able to tie the film’s depiction into larger discussions surrounding popular representations of the First World War, their impact on historical consciousness, as well as connections between war remembrance and race.

STEFAN AGUIRRE QUIROGA (HE/HIM) is a historian based in Borås, Sweden. His research focuses on the presence and experiences of marginalized groups as combatants in nineteenth- and twentieth-century military history. As part of that research, he has investigated historical memory and how it is used to exclude people of color from popular culture representations of history. His first book, White Mythic Space – Racism, the First World War, and Battlefield 1, is set to be published by De Gruyter in May 2022.