House of the Dragon’s Black Stars on the Importance of Diversity in Fantasy

Sci-fi and fantasy entertainment has finally seen a shift toward more diverse casting—a move that not only better reflects our world, but also brings joy to fans who’ve longed to see people who look like them represented onscreen. (It can also, as we’ve seen especially with Star Wars, bring out toxic fans.) In a press conference for House of the Dragon season two, two Black stars of the HBO and Max series reflected on what it’s meant to step into Westeros in that context.

“It was so important to me to to be in a franchise of this scale, because I didn’t get to see that when I was younger,” Bethany Antonia, who plays Lady Baela Targaryen, told the assembled press. “Not that only young people watch these kinds of shows—not at all—but when you’re that age, that’s when you start to develop what your dreams are going to be and what your aspirations are going to be. And if you [don’t] see it, you can’t believe it.” What’s more, Antonia added, “I really wanted to be in something like this, so that there were people who had somebody to dress up like … I know that might sound really basic, but those are the things that you get to enjoy when you’re in these kinds of fandoms, and it’s one privilege that we just didn’t have. We didn’t have anybody to dress up like! It’s a thing of joy that you get to do, when you go to these conventions and things. Even if just one person gets to see it and go, ‘Wow, that’s somebody who’s like me,’ it was worth it.”

Baela Targaryen (Bethany Antonia) and her sister Rhaena (Phoebe Campbell).
Photo: Ollie Upton/HBO

Steve Toussaint, who plays Lord Corlys Velaryon—aka the Sea Snake—agreed. “I think people, if you’re used to being represented, representation doesn’t mean as much because you’re used to it. When I was a kid there would be science fiction programs, and there were very few, if any, people who look like me, look like us. Me and my friends used to joke about it: ‘This thing’s set in the future and we’re not there! What are they going to do to us?’” he said.

“But I can’t tell you the amount of people who have contacted me—not just people of color—through social media or through letters and said how pleased they are to see this representation in this world, because exactly what Bethany said: it is important for you to feel like you are something, that you are part of it, that you have a contribution to make,” Touissaint continued. “So I think it’s vital, and certainly some of you may be aware that there was some negative response when I was first announced [to be playing a character who was white in the source material]. I have since then had people say, ‘Yeah, I was a bit dubious about you, but actually, you did a great job and well done.’ But I think we are living in a world in which everybody’s here, and I think everybody has a right to be represented. People of different races, people of different genders, gender [identities], and so forth. That is the world I think we should be striving for. There are voices out there that would argue against that, but I think those of us who want to see that world, I think history is on our side.”

House of the Dragon season two begins June 16 on HBO and Max.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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