D&D General Al-Qadim, Campaign Guide: Zakhara, and Cultural Sensitivity

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Like removing out non-european characters like in the example Crimson Longinus mentioned.
My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right. But, again, accuracy is a tool, not an end-all be-all objective measure of quality or respect. It would be interesting to hear what the writers thought, because I doubt her exclusion was a trivial matter. Perhaps they considered it, and felt that they would not be able to do justice to the character; perhaps they tried, but executive meddling got in the way (as is the case with a great deal of big-budget stuff); perhaps, as I'm sure you and Crimson Longinus would immediately assert, they did so out of fear, though frankly I find that unlikely. Without hearing their own words on the subject, I've no idea, and I suspect if they had actually said "yeah we were afraid people would hate it if we included this character, so we just left her out to avoid offending anyone," you'd have led with that. (And I would, personally, think that they were being double-barrelled idiots, but that's a separate subject.)

But honestly? Yeah, I'm okay with being less faithful to source material and removing racist caricatures from classic media. That's fine by me. The best solution would be to actually rewrite the characters to be good, but sometimes that's beyond the scope of a project or unrealistic for any of a host of reasons. So you haven't really pointed at anything I consider to be an egregious harm; it's unfortunate to be sure, but yeah, I'd rather skip out on characters with nasty stereotype undertones than preserve them as-is with the fig-leaf excuse "well that's how Victorians thought things worked!" I don't care how Victorians thought things worked!

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)


Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai. What does not appear is the sati practice, because for exactly the same reasons as harems, sati is far from universal even in its native culture, has had a controversial or mixed record/perception even in its native culture, has been flagrantly abused by outsiders (particularly in the Anglosphere) to demonize that culture, and even its "benign" presentations have been absolutely loaded with crappy tropes and deep, deep cultural misunderstandings.

It's almost like, by not leaning on a singular, technically accurate but controversial (and almost always sensationalized), cultural practice, the work can be better at representing the whole of that culture, not crappy, tropey, reductivist caricatures of that culture! Imagine that!
 
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Ixal

Hero
My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right. But, again, accuracy is a tool, not an end-all be-all objective measure of quality or respect. It would be interesting to hear what the writers thought, because I doubt her exclusion was a trivial matter. Perhaps they considered it, and felt that they would not be able to do justice to the character; perhaps they tried, but executive meddling got in the way (as is the case with a great deal of big-budget stuff); perhaps, as I'm sure you and Crimson Longinus would immediately assert, they did so out of fear, though frankly I find that unlikely. Without hearing their own words on the subject, I've no idea, and I suspect if they had actually said "yeah we were afraid people would hate it if we included this character, so we just left her out to avoid offending anyone," you'd have led with that. (And I would, personally, think that they were being double-barrelled idiots, but that's a separate subject.)

But honestly? Yeah, I'm okay with being less faithful to source material and removing racist caricatures from classic media. That's fine by me. The best solution would be to actually rewrite the characters to be good, but sometimes that's beyond the scope of a project or unrealistic for any of a host of reasons. So you haven't really pointed at anything I consider to be an egregious harm; it's unfortunate to be sure, but yeah, I'd rather skip out on characters with nasty stereotype undertones than preserve them as-is with the fig-leaf excuse "well that's how Victorians thought things worked!" I don't care how Victorians thought things worked!

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)


Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai.
I doubt they feared that people would not like Aouda, they feared showing Sati.
The same pressure that Felice Kuan felt about not showing bad stuff about cultures, just this time without the support of several writes which lead to the inclusion of bad aspects in her work.
Who excerted the pressure? Thats a bit complicated. The producers and people with money of course, but they only listen to the marketing experts about what to show and what not and those experts look at twitter and social media.
Not sure when Sati started. I know that Mughal sources mention it (although not from when those sources were) and according to the British it was nearly exclusively a Bhramin thing. But there are apparently sources from way before the Mughals (around 6th century) and even some greek texts from the time of Alexander mention woman burning themselves, although that is sporadic and unclear if its (already) a established practice. And the Government made new anti-Sati laws in the 1980s. So its has been going on for a long time.

Not sure what the maternal status of Aouda was in the animation, but in the Jules Verne original she was a widow (married against her will), so Sati would apply to her.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I doubt they feared that people would not like Aouda, they feared showing Sati.
The same pressure that Felice Kuan felt about not showing bad stuff about cultures, just this time without the support of several writes which lead to the inclusion of bad aspects in her work.
Who excerted the pressure? Thats a bit complicated. The producers and people with money of course, but they only listen to the marketing experts about what to show and what not and those experts look at twitter and social media.
Not sure when Sati started. I know that Mughal sources mention it (although not from when those sources were) and according to the British it was nearly exclusively a Bhramin thing. And the Government made new anti-Sati laws in the 1980s. So its has been going on for a long time.
You are not doing your position many favors by not actually researching the practices you want to see depicted.

I literally have only done some shallow Google searching and Wikipedia reading, and I can already say you have an extremely weak understanding of what sati is, why it occurred, when it occurred, and why choosing not to talk about it is probably a wise choice.

But, again, as I have said before. You aren't interested in actually critiquing whether accuracy über alles is the appropriate stance. You have taken it as your dogma, and anything which contradicts it is corrosive to everything good and right and proper. If you feel like actually talking about the place and value of accuracy in fiction, I'm quite ready to actually engage. But you're going to have to accept that in at least some cases, more accuracy isn't the right choice.
 

Ixal

Hero
You are not doing your position many favors by not actually researching the practices you want to see depicted.

I literally have only done some shallow Google searching and Wikipedia reading, and I can already say you have an extremely weak understanding of what sati is, why it occurred, when it occurred, and why choosing not to talk about it is probably a wise choice.

But, again, as I have said before. You aren't interested in actually critiquing whether accuracy über alles is the appropriate stance. You have taken it as your dogma, and anything which contradicts it is corrosive to everything good and right and proper. If you feel like actually talking about the place and value of accuracy in fiction, I'm quite ready to actually engage. But you're going to have to accept that in at least some cases, more accuracy isn't the right choice.
Your understanding of culture seems not to be "what happened and was practiced" but "what I want to be seen as proper". Or basically rewriting cultures to fit your liking (how respectful...).

Sati has been practiced for centuries and probably a millenium. It is definitely part of the culture of parts of India so there is no (cultural) problem mentioning it. The only real question here would be if it would apply to Aouda based on her status and caste and would be forced on her.
 
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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Your understanding of culture seems not to be "what happened and was practiced" but "what I want to be seen as correct". Or basically rewriting cultures to fit your liking.
You have repeatedly insulted me with this phrase, and I'm rather sick of it. If you're going to discuss this with me, actually go off what I say, rather than this. You are, in fact, making this extremely personal. If you have a problem with concepts like "accuracy is a tool," then attack those concepts, rather than casting aspersions on my character.

I have done as I ask of you with your positions. I have, consistently, held that the issue here is your advocacy of a standard I consider both facile and impossible, which I have given real-world examples for multiple times over. You have ignored every single effort I have made to discuss that concept--the idea of only using "objective" history, "objective" culture--and instead insulted me, talking about how I must love cutting up others' cultures, how I must be dead-set on eviscerating the lived cultural experiences of outside groups. Please don't do that.

Sati has been practiced for centuries and probably a millenium. It is definitely part of the culture of parts of India so there is no (cultural) problem mentioning it. The only real question here would be if it would apply to Aouda based on her status and caste and would be forced on her.
I can tell you, right now, that it has been practiced at least since the mid-300s AD. Because I have actually done some research. Not much, mind; there's much I don't know, and I would very much want academic experts in the field (preferably ones with personal experience!) to advise me, were I to be undertaking anything that might reference it.

There are many, many, many more questions than that. Enormously more. You are outright trivializing an extremely complex and, as I have said several times, CONTROVERSIAL subject even in India. It is absolutely NOT the case that "the only real question" is whether sati would in fact be forced on Aouda in India under the British Raj (the colonial government nominally under Queen Victoria in her role as Empress of India.) Several other questions include:
Would the British authorities have permitted it, even if it were expected of her? If not, could she have appealed to them instead of Fogg?
Would it actually include the burning of her relatives, something not actually associated with the sati practice but referenced in the book?
Does it actually make for a more interesting story to center her life around this practice, which was controversial even in pre-Raj India?
Does the emphasis on this cultural practice actually give an effective and respectful communication of the culture of India, or is it a sensationalization of relatively minor details until they obscure rather than edify?

Or, if you wish to summarize it with a single question: Is it actually WISE to include this cultural practice affecting this character in this story?

Because that's my core assertion here. That some forms of so-called "accuracy," even if they really did reflect some inarguable and objective component of history or culture, are NOT wise to include. Now, that determination must be made with exceeding care. We are always, and necessarily, picking out only some things to talk about and, as a consequence, always and necessarily picking out some things to ignore. Some of the time, that "picking out" is chosen for us (as with my Norse example above; we simply do not have unbiased sources, they literally do not exist, the Norse, for whatever reason, simply didn't choose to write down their traditions), and we must make do with what we have. In many other cases, however, that "picking out" is purely our own choice. What do we include, and what do we ignore? What do we emphasize, and what do we downplay? What do we describe in unvarnished (and perhaps uncompromising) truth, and what do we invent, whether because it suits us (as with adding magic to a setting inspired by our world, or inserting gender equality when and where there demonstrably wasn't any) or because it suits the tale we intend to tell (e.g. trimming down the cast of characters for a film adaptation because a large cast is much less manageable in film than it is in a book)?
 

Ixal

Hero
There are many, many, many more questions than that. Enormously more. You are outright trivializing an extremely complex and, as I have said several times, CONTROVERSIAL subject even in India. It is absolutely NOT the case that "the only real question" is whether sati would in fact be forced on Aouda in India under the British Raj (the colonial government nominally under Queen Victoria in her role as Empress of India.) Several other questions include:
Would the British authorities have permitted it, even if it were expected of her? If not, could she have appealed to them instead of Fogg?
Would it actually include the burning of her relatives, something not actually associated with the sati practice but referenced in the book?
Does it actually make for a more interesting story to center her life around this practice, which was controversial even in pre-Raj India?
Does the emphasis on this cultural practice actually give an effective and respectful communication of the culture of India, or is it a sensationalization of relatively minor details until they obscure rather than edify?
It would certainly not allowed by the British as the practice was banned in 1829 and the storie plays out in 1872.
But the control of the British was not absolute and thus it still happened. If it were so easy the practice would have already ended under Mughal rule, yet it endured.
It would not include burning the relatives, just the wive(s). That should be changed, but Aouda would still be effected.
Fearing for her life gives Aouda a reason to leave her home and country and to travel with a complete stranger. So there is some story reason why it was added. That it was controversial in the countries of India does not change that it was practiced for a long time and even persisted when several foreign governments tried to root it out. So as much controversy there would have been, there was also support for it.
And why should this cultural custom not be shown? India is more than Diwali and happy spiritual people everywhere (aka the Disney version of India).

Or, if you wish to summarize it with a single question: Is it actually WISE to include this cultural practice affecting this character in this story?

Because that's my core assertion here. That some forms of so-called "accuracy," even if they really did reflect some inarguable and objective component of history or culture, are NOT wise to include. Now, that determination must be made with exceeding care. We are always, and necessarily, picking out only some things to talk about and, as a consequence, always and necessarily picking out some things to ignore. Some of the time, that "picking out" is chosen for us (as with my Norse example above; we simply do not have unbiased sources, they literally do not exist, the Norse, for whatever reason, simply didn't choose to write down their traditions), and we must make do with what we have. In many other cases, however, that "picking out" is purely our own choice. What do we include, and what do we ignore? What do we emphasize, and what do we downplay? What do we describe in unvarnished (and perhaps uncompromising) truth, and what do we invent, whether because it suits us (as with adding magic to a setting inspired by our world, or inserting gender equality when and where there demonstrably wasn't any) or because it suits the tale we intend to tell (e.g. trimming down the cast of characters for a film adaptation because a large cast is much less manageable in film than it is in a book)?
Is it wise? Its certainly not foolish at least. It does not have to be added, but it should also not be hidden. Its simply a fact that it happened and was part of several cultures in India. We do not even have to interpret evidence about that as we even have modern sources for it and do not need to rely on speculation like with the Norse (which doesn't mean we don't know anything about them either).
By hiding and removing to dark parts of culture you are in the end falsifying. And if you think globally and long term, when everyone is doing that, you in the end take a culture and replace it with a Disney version of it in the minds of the people, shaping it to conform to your vision and moral standard. So basically exactly the thing people who warn about cultural appropriation want to prevent.
 
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Let's remember D&D wasn't designed to be true adaptation of the past. The female PCs couldn't enjoy enough freedom to be adventurers. And even in 5ed there are canon marriages of same gender. There are good reasons to explain because some things are totally omited or altered.

If you want a dog as a ranger companion or a wizard's familiar, you can do it in your al-Qadim even when in the Muslim culture the dogs as pets aren't wellcome.

To avoid potential troubles my advice is antagonist factions to be linked with monsters and supernatural factions. For example the extarminaars, a PC race from "Forgotten Realms: Champions of Ruins". They are perfect as an atagonist faction of a "bloodline of a Lovecraftian secret cult of a serpent deity". But accidentally they could be promoting the xenophobic trope of "an alien infiltrator among us wants to destroy us by means of actions of sabotage".

I suggest as antagonist faction a dragon cults whose members are spellcasters who want to "digievolution" to become "cobra dragons" (They appeared in Dragon magazine #146., and if somebody asks, we say it is an easter eggs honoring the archenemies of G.I.Joe).

28124b630187f98b1b06257c5f74e7b9.jpg


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Please, I don't want stupid jokes about womanizer bards, female island giants (with shapesifting powers) and "How I met your mother".

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* The lore of the updated al-Qadim should be ready for a possible future version of the sha'ir class (maybe designed to be a mixture of elementalist and summoner).

* In my land "mameluco" can be used as an insult, even when today nobody remembers who were the mamluks, but maybe the mercenaries hired by Napoleon.

* Once I read the literature nobel V. S. Naipaul's book "India, a wounded civilitation". It was interesting.

* Almost off-topic but I have seen a comingsoon title "Aztec Batman. Clash of Empire" and this is one of the best examples of the type controversies we should avoid, because they promote tropes based in historical prejudices and they reanimate the propaganda war from previous ages.
 

My preference would, of course, be to rewrite her character such that it was not a rather bad (even by the standards of the day!) Victorian caricature of Indian culture,* and instead make her an interesting, nuanced, and worthwhile character in her own right.
Yes. And this was not about the "sanctity of the source material." I don't mind that they changed things, I just feel this particular change was poorly handled.

*From what information is available to me: the practice of sati (killing the wife specifically--not the "family members" as described in the story--of a deceased man as a sacrifice, thought to be based on a mistranslation of Vedic texts describing the appropriate ceremonial behaviors for a married woman at her husband's funeral) was continuously controversial for essentially its entire existence. It was not practiced in early Hindu India, came into being after a possibly-intentional mistranslation of religious texts, was ruthlessly exploited by men trying to prevent widows from inheriting the property of their husbands, and was suppressed by both the medieval Islamic conquerors of India and by the subsequent British conquerors (who even engaged in theological debate--sometimes with creative interpretations of text--to argue that so-called "wife burning" was not actually supported by the Vedic texts.)
Right. We know this. It was a real thing. The story is not particularly inaccurate. It still might be unwise to have the story's India episode to focus on this one very specific negative thing about the Indian culture of the time (especially as it is one of the things Raj apologists often bring up.)

Or, rather, that's what I would say.

If @Crimson Longinus were not incorrect. (Though I would still say the more genericized things about other works.)
Sigh.

Aouda does appear in the Tennant adaptation. Her role in the story is significantly reduced, so there is still some bite to the criticism, but she is still present and is, in fact, played by a British-Indian actress, Shivaani Ghai. What does not appear is the sati practice, because for exactly the same reasons as harems, sati is far from universal even in its native culture, has had a controversial or mixed record/perception even in its native culture, has been flagrantly abused by outsiders (particularly in the Anglosphere) to demonize that culture, and even its "benign" presentations have been absolutely loaded with crappy tropes and deep, deep cultural misunderstandings.

It's almost like, by not leaning on a singular, technically accurate but controversial (and almost always sensationalized), cultural practice, the work can be better at representing the whole of that culture, not crappy, tropey, reductivist caricatures of that culture! Imagine that!

I had a longer explanation in my original post, but deleted it as I felt the detail was unnecessary for the overall point. Yes, there is character named Aouda in the TV show. She appears in one episode, is a completely different character aside the name, she never leaves India. The role which she play in the book is mostly taken by Abigail Fix in the TV show, a new female character invented for the show. (Though she is not Fogg's love interest.) Se is an English white woman. And the show is progressive in other regards. Passepartout is black, and he has a romance with Abigail Fix. And the show addresses racism and sexism of the era. But in this light side-lining Aouda and replacing her with a western white woman seems jarring. There is one scene where miss Fix wears a traditional Indian attire to a Governor's party at Hong Kong (gifted to her by Aouda when they were in India) and it really underscores that this English woman has taken this Indian woman's place in the story.

Of course Verne's books have Victorian misconceptions and Eurocentric viewpoint. But this book published in 1872 had an Indian woman as a main character who had an interracial romance with an English gentleman (they eventually marry.) And somehow this modern adaptation from 2021 manages to make it in certain ways more Eurocentric. (All main characters are now Europeans travelling to "exotic" foreign places.) One would wish that they could have managed to keep Auda's significant role even though they didn't want to depict sati. It would have allowed to present more varied viewpoints. It would have required coming up with another reason for her to leave India, but certainly professional writers would be capable of that?

ATWIED_EP5_1-730x487.jpg
 
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