We explain why hiring non-white actress Hannah John-Kamen to play Red Sonja isn't a betrayal of Howard's job.

A few days ago Hollywood Reporter announced the name of the actress chosen to play Red Sonja in the next Millennium film: Hannah John-Kamen.
Not even the time to say "Who the hell is Hannah John-Kamen?" HERE IS CANCEL CULTURE! 1! A bit like what happened in these days with the story of Snow White.
It must be hard to live in the perennial terror of ethnic substitution by the Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik-gender lobby through blockbusters. Which then seems to me the attempt to conquer the world of Tana delle Tigri starting from the Japanese wrestler. He always made me burst with laughter.
However, I admit that, at first glance, the announcement made me turn up my nose. I'll clarify what I think later, but let's proceed in order.

In this article we will talk about the recent casting choice of actress Hannah John-Kamen for the role of Red Sonja, in a project by Joey Soloway inspired by the works of Howard. We will first see some information about the actress and some opinions on the choice of using black actors or actresses to play originally white characters.
That said, it will an in-depth study on the literary and comic origins of the character of Red Sonja, focusing primarily on her identity as a Hyrkaniana.
After this study, we will draw some conclusions.

Hannah John-Kamen, the actress who will play Red Sonja. Photo by Jim Smeal / EIB / EIB / Shutterstock
Hannah John-Kamen, the actress who will play Red Sonja. Photo by Jim Smeal / EIB / EIB / Shutterstock

Who is Hannah John-Kamen, the Red Sonja actress?

For those who do not know it, Hannah John-Kamen is a British actress. She is known for playing the role of Dutch in the television series Killjoys, and that of villain in Ant-Man and the Wasp. He has also participated in films such as Star Wars: The awakening of the Force e Ready Player One, and in several series, from Misfits a The Throne of Swords.
She is the daughter of a Nigerian forensic psychologist and a Norwegian model and yes, she doesn't exactly look like a fawn-haired Irish woman with freckled white skin.
A shifting of a character born of the fashion of the time?

The Recchioni hypothesis

A few years ago, on the occasion of some case of this kind in which a character in some reboot / remake had gone from being white to being black, with the usual aftermath of controversy, Roberto Recchioni wrote a very interesting thing.
I can't find the post, so I go by heart.
But more or less the concept was this: if you want to create a character that represents a minority, it is easier and more effective to work on something already known, rather than creating something from scratch that must attract the attention of the public starting from scratch and in a much more crowded market than in the past.
In a nutshell: it is done sooner and better to make Superman black, rather than to create a black superhero. IS the moves of DC Comics they seem to agree with him.

The hypothesis of the last wheel of the wagon (which would then be me)

I believe that what Recchioni said makes perfect sense, but that it starts from false premises. (And I don't think he believes either.)
In other words, that the entertainment industry is interested in inclusiveness.
The thing of taking a character and giving him the traits of a minority because that audience has become a target of marketing, passing it off as openness and inclusion, always seems to me. a gesture of a Great White Master who throws leftovers at the black slaves. (But let's be clear: this also applies to women, homosexuals, all non-Caucasian ethnicities, and all categories that capitalism pretends to care for as it continues to treat as subhuman.)

Difference between tokenism and narratively coherent representation

In this sense, as a user, I am deeply shocked by all those shifts that I know as instrumental, that is, of performative progressivism and tokenism. On the contrary, they don't bother me or maybe even those who have a foundation and a narrative sense interest me.
I always give two examples.

  1. In the movie The Black Tower Gilead's Roland character is played by Idris Elba. Very good, for heaven's sake. But the gunslinger Stephen King imagined had the features of Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's films. Having a black actor play this character distorts his image without adding anything to the narrative;
  2. In D by Quentin Tarantino the protagonist is played by Jamie Foxx. In this case, the shift from white to black is functional to a shift of the issues dealt with towards the themes of racism, which in any case fits in a certain sense in the wake of the original film. Here, it makes perfect sense here.

There are also special cases such as, to say, the choice to impersonate Nick Fury in Avengers, by Samuel L. Jackson. On the surface, it may seem like a senseless choice. However, in reality the choice refers to the version of the character that appears in the series Ultimates, in which Nick Fury is practically modeled on the actor's features.
Returning to the Red Sonja case: controversy, scandal, cancelcultr?!? Nah. But I read these things right away, obviously by people who don't know a stone and understand less.
So let's do some clarity, and we see that things are never that simple.
Let's start from the beginning.

Red Sonya from Rogatino, in an image by Michael C. Hayes
Red Sonya from Rogatino, in an image by Michael C. Hayes

The principle: Red Sonya from Rogatino

In 1934, on the pages of The Magic Carpet Magazine, the short story is published for the first time The Shadow of the Vulture, written by Robert Ervin Howard, the father of Conan the Barbarian.
The Shadow of the Vulture is a strictly historical tale, set in the sixteenth century by Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. The protagonist is Sonya from Rogatino, a Polish-Ukrainian gunwoman, nicknamed "Red" for her hair and fiery temperament.
Red Sonya is actually red in hair and white in complexion and represents the prototype on which the Red Sonja we know will be modeled.

Oh God oh God then you see that the politically correct lobby wants to turn a red and white heroine into one…!

Shut up you! We said.
The Red Sonja we know is also red and white. But instead of guns he holds the sword. Instead of moving between Europe and sixteenth-century Turkey, he roams the imaginary lands of the Hyborian Era. And instead of a shirt, breeches and sash, he wears a skimpy one Chainmail-bikini.
But how did it get there?

Cover of Kull and the Barbarians, where we discover the origins of Red Sonja
Cover of Kull and the Barbarians, where we discover the origins of Red Sonja

Evolution: Red Sonja the Hyrkaniana

Known to most for being a companion in the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian, our redhead heroine is NOT, precisely, a character from the short stories of Robert E. Howard.

The genesis of Red Sonja in the Marvel Comics

In fact, Red Sonja was born in 1973 from the pen of R and from the pencil of Barry Windsor Smith.
The two authors work on the series Conan The Barbarian of Marvel. Here, among other things, several Howard stories that have completely different settings and protagonists are adapted to make them become adventures of the Barbarian.
It may seem strange but, in reality, it was nothing new. In fact, it had already happened with some pastiche signed by Lyon Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. Thus, Thomas and Windsor-Smith decide to readjust Shadow of the Vulture to the Hyborian era and to give Conan an ad hoc female shoulder.
And here comes Red Sonja.

Visual representation of Red Sonja and geographical origins

Initially, Windsor-Smith draws the character with vaguely oriental features. It is not even immediate the outfit with a useless two pieces of metal mesh, even if in truth our darling is always quite open.
Over time, however, the figure of Red Sonja becomes more and more "Frazettiana" in some ways. For others it comes assimilated to superheroines assuming the standardized characteristics: western features, procacious shapes, wasp waist, kilometric legs etc, etc. In some illustrations there is practically no difference between our redhead and, say, Jean Gray, the Phoenix of the X-Men.

But let's go back to the origins of the character.
A character design with a broadsword and a shod costume is not enough. We also need a background which, of course, cannot be that of the original Red Sonja.
The origins of Red Sonja are told in 1975 by Thomas and Doug Moench in the story The Day Of The Sword, in the third issue of the series Kull and the Barbarians.
In this version, Red Sonja lives with her family in the western Hyrkanian steppes and here it gets complicated.

Representation of a Hirkanian (Source)
Representation of a Hirkanian (Source)

50 shades of skin: a reflection on the setting and consistency of Red Sonja

In 1930, Howard wrote an essay titling The Hyborian Era in which he describes the world in which his Conan moves, with particular attention to its populations, migratory movements and ethnic "mixes". You can read it at this link.
For Howard this is particularly important, because in his vision the phenotype is identifying ethnicity. Therefore the color of the skin, eyes and hair are deeply significant in its setting.
Of the Hyrkanians, who would later be descendants of the inhabitants of lost Lemuria, he says:

The Hyrkanians are dark and generally tall and slender.

The consistency of a red Sonja in a simi-Turkish people

So, in theory, by transforming the Polish-Ukrainian Sonya into the Hyrkanian Sonja, ours should have darkened. But this did not happen.
He points out to me Francesco Lanza:

By superimposing Hyrkania on the terrestrial map, it is located precisely in the Tarim Basin. This is a very complex place where there is a clear Indo-European presence mixed strongly with the Mongolians and the Han, and which today is populated by the very unfortunate Uyghurs.

Red Sonia, therefore… has nothing to do with the Scots, as you rightly point out. To the point that, if she is red-haired and they call her "Red", there will be a reason, because it's not very common, but not absurd either.
All the populations that travel from Iran along the valleys of Afghanistan and slip like confetti among the ethnic groups of the -stans, of India, up the Hymalaya, into China, all those there EVEN have dudes with eyes blue or a shocking yellow-orange very light brown, ice or green and blond and red hair that, if not frequent, there are indeed.

It also says a similar thing Giorgio Smojver

A detail.
If the story is set in the Hyborian age, the Hyrkania (in Roman times a region of Iran on the coast of the Caspian Sea, famous for its tigers) in Howard's stories corresponds to Turkestan. All Hyrkan characters have Turkish names, and fight with the Aesir and Cimmerian who raid from the northern shore of the Vilayet Inland Sea (referring to the historic raids of the Rus variagians across the Caspian Sea).

Of verisimilitude and betrayals

Absolutely sensible observations. In fact, from a point of view of verisimilitude, the possibility of a redhead in the midst of a Middle Eastern population cannot be excluded. However, the problem remains that Howard is quite rigid about certain things, so he defines the physical characteristics of the various peoples who inhabit his setting in a stringent way: the Aesir are blond, the Vanir are red, the Cimmerians have black hair with blue or gray eyes etc etc.
Sure, one could speculate that Sonja's hair represented a reasonable mutation within a context of "dark" people. It would be a bit tight, for Howardian parameters, but it could be there.
But one could hardly imagine a Hyrkanian woman with the features of a proud daughter of Ireland

So, apart from some people's hysterical reactions (really, guys, take something: a chamomile, some valerian, some bromide), I can also understand the first perplexed reaction to the presentation of the protagonist of the film.
But actually, if there was a "betrayal", this was already at the origin of the character as we imagine him today.

Classic cartoon representation of Red Sonja
Classic cartoon representation of Red Sonja

Conclusion: a personal consideration on Red Sonja

I admit that I too would have preferred a Red Sonja closer to the imaginary that has been consolidated over time.
Also because, from a certain point of view, people with red hair don't have many references in strong and positive characters. And if having particular physical characteristics can also become cool with age, I would have liked that the girls who may grow up being called "carrot peel" or who are told that they have "fly shit on their face" or who feel avoided because they are "bad" to Rosso Malpelo, they could have an icon of reference.
Maybe really red, not like Brigitte Nielsen in the 1985 film (in Italy known as “Yado”), or like Scarlett Johansson when she plays Black Widow, but a real redhead.

But bon, peace. There will be a heroine with red hair (because I imagine she will have red hair, otherwise it's like making Elric light brown) and dark skin.
At the end, it could be a nice way to really reconcile Sonya and Sonja.