The White-Washing of Dark Academia

Recently, the Dark Academia aesthetic has resurfaced and has become popularised in the reading lists of many. It seems the global pandemic has urged people into feeling a sense of nostalgia, driving them to romanticise and imagine a world free from COVID-19. However, Dark Academia seems to prioritise literary works that manifest non-realistic representations, often expressing idealism and white privilege. In some ways, they “implicitly [fetishize] whiteness, assimilation, and rigid gender norms”, says Amy Gentry.

The danger in consuming Dark Academia falls in its elitist forum, which features works from the literature canon including the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘Little Women’, and even Shakespeare. These pieces are led by white characters and often exclude people of colour. The Eurocentrism apparent in Dark Academia makes it problematic in the context of the contemporary. In this time for equality, where Black Lives Matter and Asian Hate Crimes are at the forefront of our consciousness, Dark Academia fails to compromise these changes and express diversity.

This issue is exacerbated by film castings of Dark Academia books. For example, the ‘Harry Potter’ film adaptation cast Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson as its main characters, who are all white. The only person of colour was Alfred Enoch cast as Dean Thomas, who is a side character. Perhaps Warner Brothers did not intentionally exclude people of colour but tried to cast people who fit closely with the book characters’ descriptions. However, this should not be the case, because directors can improvise and cast members based on the likeness in personality rather than race.

In one of Shakespeare’s plays that fit the Dark Academia description, ‘Hamlet’, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre cast Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet, a Black male figure to play the Danish prince. The Guardian critic, Michael Billington, wrote “Paapa Essiedu leads a predominantly black ensemble”, making the play “spiritually refreshing”. This could be the start in reforming the old Dark Academia and make it anew.

With the increase of digital usage and technological consumerism, virtual spaces provided by social media like TikTok have combated the white-washed nature of Dark Academia. By breaking conventional stereotypes, TikTok users implement the Dark Academia hashtag to pronounce individualistic representations. These digital platforms have created potential debates about the appropriation in decolonising the aesthetic and reducing its Eurocentric content.

It is also important to realise that Dark Academia lovers are able to reform Dark Academia and create new discourse around it. Summaiya, a writer and Instagram blogger believes “there is potential for Dark Academia lovers like myself to insert our own cultural contexts. That’s why it’s a great subculture; anyone can contribute.”

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Melody Chan

May 2021
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