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Why Shadow And Bone's Choice To Use A Stunt Double In 'Brownface' Is More Problematic Than You Might Think

Photo: Netflix
Amita Suman, Shadow and Bone

Netflix's new series "Shadow And Bone" was recently released to great fan acclaim.

But with great acclaim comes great responsibility — and sometimes, when you're seen as not upholding your end of that bargain, that means controversy.

Like the series of books by Leigh Barduga the show is based on, Netflix's version has been praised for its diversity, something showrunner Eric Heisserer, author Bardugo, and the show's cast have all spoken of with great celebration.

But a recent discovery has fans wondering if the onscreen diversity is enough if the same standard doesn't apply behind the scenes as well.

Why are people saying a stunt double on Netflix's "Shadow And Bone" is problematic?

In the latest controvery to hit the brand new show just as it's getting going, people are raising questions about the producers' choice in stunt doubles.

Amita Suman plays Inej Ghafa, a character of Suli descent who is described as having brown skin and dark brown eyes. The Nepali-born Suman not only plays the part but looks the part as it was originally written.

Suman's stunt double, however, is white and was filmed in "brownface" — meaning they used makeup to make her skin appear darker and dressed her in a brown bodysuit to match Suman’s skin tone.

For a show praising diversity, this is a huge blow.

Why go to such great lengths when they could have simply cast a Brown stunt double?

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Some are wondering if the decision was made because there aren't many stunt doubles who are Brown.

But given that Bollywood is one of the world’s largest industries and it is rich in action and stunt performers, t’s hard to believe casting someone would be difficult.

In Reddit's r/Grishaverse, one fan wrote, "@es.mie on tiktok is an amazing brown aerialist (give her a follow!!) ... I, as somone with no connections or casting knowledge, was able to find somone pretty easily. Now imagine how many more South Asian aerialists are out there that could be found with professional experience."

In fact, a quick look at the TikTok account mentioned above revealed a video in which the TikToker said of her excitement about the series:

"One of the main characters is a Brown girl, her name is Inej, and I think she is the representation that I have been asking for all this time. In the show ... she is trained in the circus and acrobatics which if you know me, you know I'm absolutely crazy about because I do aerial silks and some circus arts, so that's, like, a Brown girl who does aerial... that's me!"

And in response to the mention on Reddit, she added:

"Hey!!! I’m Esmie, the brown aerialist you mentioned, thank you! I’ve seen people say that it’s hard to find stunt doubles of the same stature in general, which may be true but most brown girls have some history in dance. Also, the routines that Amita performed are not insanely hard, anyone with a background in dance or gymnastics would probably be able to pick it up with a bit of practice."

So there you go Netflix. Give Esmie a call. #fixeditforyou

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The stunt double brownface controversy isn't the first to plague the show.

Despite it's recent release, "Shadow and Bone" has already been mired in controversy that has led to debate among fans online.

Mid-Size Nina vs Plus-Size Nina

Nina Zenik is one of the most beloved characters of the book series. She is what is known as a Heartrender from Ravka who joined the Dregs (aka the Six of Crows).

Not only do fans love her because she is sassy and confident, but because she is a strong role model for the plus-size community.

The author herself has spoken out about how Nina Zenik is "a beautiful fat girl."

Yet fans were quick to question her casting, asking if Danielle Galligan, the actress who plays Nina, is big enough to play a character who is canonically plus-size.

A confident, fat, female character who isn't there to be a sidekick or the butt of the joke is rarely seen in books and film.

The actress herself has spoken out on the issue, stating to Evoke, "We live in a society where the female experience, and the length and breadth and width of all the different women, aren’t fully represented on screen yet. I have felt restricted in my career and my life, and when I saw Nina I thought, 'Oh my God, I feel some representation.'"

Light-skinned gambler Jesper was described as having dark skin in the books.

Another controversy centers around the character of Jesper Fahey, a gunslinger master gambler described in the books as gangly-limbed with dark brown skin.

Many people were upset when the show cast light-skinned actor Kit Young in the role.

As most of us, know colorism in Hollywood is a major issue.

There have been many instances of characters who described as dark-skinned in books are then light-washed on film.

Despite all of that, many fans believe Young’s portrayal of Jesper is right on the mark, and that his embodiment of the character showcases why he was cast for the role.

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Race in Grisha

In the Grishaverse, different countries take inspiration from real cultures.

Ravka has Russian influence, Shu Han has Asian influence, Suli is inspired by South Asian culture, Fjerda is based on Scandinavia and Novyi Zem was inspired by the American colonies and Australia, with some other influences thrown in.

Because of this, much like in the real world today, people from specific countries have a specific look.

Alina, the main character, is described in the book as being pale with dull brown hair, but her ethnicity isn’t specifically mentioned. All we know is that she is an orphan from Ravaka.

In the show, however, thanks to a collaborative decision between Bardugo and Heisserer, Alina was made part-Shu.

Many fans, particularly those of Asian descent, have issues with what they see as microaggressions towards Alina throughout the series. As racism against Alina isn't part of the book, they're asking, why must it be onscreen?

Jessie Mei Li, who plays Alina in the series, shared her thoughts with The Beat.

“So I was so thrilled that they made this decision, and yeah, I was able to bring my own experiences," she said. "I think, for lots of people [who are] mixed-race or first-generation immigrants, you spend so much of your life not feeling like you belong anywhere.”

Despite all of these controversies, as a fan of the book series, this is one of the closest adaptations I have ever seen.

The actors are doing a tremendous job portraying the characters, and many, like me, are hoping for a second season.

Come on, Netflix. Do better.

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Isabel Barreiro is a writer living in Miami, Florida.