Beloved YA author Rick Riordan has had a massive success this month in his campaign to stop publishers whitewashing the Kane Chronicles book covers. The YA series is about the adventures of siblings Carter and Sadie Kane; the siblings are mixed race, but while Sadie is portrayed as lighter-skinned than her brother, Carter is very much described as having “dark brown” skin. So it was a bit of a shock to Riordan when he took his first look at some of the foreign editions of the Kane Chronicles — and found that Carter had been drawn as a white boy.
Riordan was, quite rightly, very upset by this. “Pretty art but I’m not amused by how they whitewash Carter,” was his response to the Italian jacket — and on seeing the Dutch jacket, his feelings were expressed pretty well in a simple “Ugh.” He also shut down the defensive responses given by many publishers in cases like these, by writing on his Myth & Mystery Tumblr, “I’m sorry: ‘People in our country will only buy books with white people on the cover’ is not an excuse.” Well said.
For someone with a platform as big as Riordan’s to speak out on this issues is fantastic — and it worked. First the Dutch and then the Russian editions of the Kane Chronicles have updated their covers to accurately represent Carter as the “African American man” he is said to be in the books.
Here are some of the original covers:
Some of the covers have been re-released accurately depicting Carter as black, including (most recently) all of the Russian covers:
This particular campaign is just one part, however, of a much wider problem. Even in the U.S. edition, although Carter is depicted as black, he is shown with his face turned away — as if publishers are still too afraid to show a POC too prominently on the cover. There is a ridiculous idea in the literature and film world that the representation of minorities will make films or books appear too niche. If a POC, disabled person, woman, etc., is portrayed on a book cover or film poster, then producers worry that audiences and readers won’t see it as universal.
Aziz Ansari addressed this in his hugely popular Netflix series Master of None , pointing out the absurdity that a TV show would refuse to cast him alongside another equally talented Indian actor, because there “can’t be two.”
The problem is this is a self-perpetuating circle. If publishers continue to refuse to show POC on book covers, then the public will continue to view those books where they are shown as niche. As readers, we can do our bit to purposely buy books where we see accurate representation on the covers, but unfortunately, that leaves us with rather limited options. So for authors like Riordan to speak out and ask for change is exactly what’s needed.