One of them is not like the others (not the guy with no hat).
This trope comes into play when an actor is cast for a role in a historical setting who would appear to be of the wrong ethnicity to portray such a role, usually because the population of any given place (bar major trade hubs like Venice or Wuhan) tended to be rather ethnically homogenous (people tended to be born, live, and die in the same 100 Square-km area), but perhaps because of caste/class/ethnic/gender discrimination.
This is especially likely to happen when the writers don't know the actual ethnicities available, choose not to/don't care about ethnicity, have budget problems or a myriad other reasons.
Depending on the time and place, this can actually be realistic. Trade-cities have always been ethnic mash-ups, and soldiers and sailors have always been extraordinarily diverse lots. While other ethnicities were often rare and always a bit of a curiosity throughout history, racism as we know it only really caught on with the expansion of the slave trade—and even when racism became common, most people eventually developed the decency to allow people who looked different to move among them without rudely staring at them and the like, even though they still preferred to not have anything to do with them. You can see this in works such as Othello, where there is some discussion of Othello's race but for the most part he's one of the most respected men in Venice; you just wouldn't want your daughter to marry him.
In addition, some groups of people managed to travel quite far from home, despite it being the middle of the Medieval period. The Vikings, for example, created a series of "trade and raid" routes◊ that included areas now found in Northern Africa, Lebanon, Turkey, Russia, the Balkans, and of course, North America. They often recruited new soldiers from the regions they'd travel to, not to mention taking slaves and occasionally wives, all of which were brought back to Scandinavia. The trope also got inverted when Germanics and Scandinavians settled in North Africa and left behind enough mixed-race descendants to be found even nowadays, people much whiter than surrounding Arabs or Berbers.
In addition to human beings, this principle can apply to animals or even foods being found in geographic areas and/or eras where one would think they'd be nonexistent. You wouldn't believe there were ever jaguars along the Platte River in the American Midwest, but an explorer claimed to have spotted some there in 1843. Likewise, Thomas Jefferson famously served everything from macaroni and cheese to Middle Eastern dates and yogurt (for Ramadan, no less!) at his Monticello dinner parties.
It is possible that when a Black Viking appears in film or TV, the character is not intended to be seen as the same race as the actor. The actor used might have simply been the best available for the role, and the writers are merely asking us to use our imagination to make the actor's physical appearance fit the character's. (This is actually standard doctrine for modern theatrical productions.) Whiteface would of course be unthinkable (unless you're doing kabuki or mime).
The Other Wiki euphemistically calls this practice "colour-blind casting." They claim that a representative of Actors Equity strolled even further down the euphemism rabbit hole by calling it "non-traditional casting (which) is defined as the casting of ethnic minority and female actors in roles where race, ethnicity, or sex is not germane."
Named for 1978's The Norseman, starring Lee Majors, costarring the greatest pass rusher in NFL history, African-American Deacon Jones.
Subtrope of Politically Correct History. See also Not Even Bothering with the Accent, Race Lift.
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A 1995-200? multimedia ad campaign for Three Musketeers candy bars portrayed the Musketeers in claymation and comic book art. One of the Musketeers was black. Later commercials replaced the short white Musketeer with a short latino. Alexandre Dumas himself was actually 1/4 black, so maybe the commercial creators were paying him the ultimate tribute.
André 3000 in the 2012 Gillette commercials "Masters of Style". He describes how he feels about various forms of facial hair, near the end he mentions a long beard makes him feel like a Viking.
In a live-action commercial for ''Dragons: Defenders of Berk, one of the viking students in the dragon training academy is a black Viking with an afro.
One Capital One commercial features a black Visigoth. (Yes, they are supposed to be Visigoths, though they dress like stereotypical Horny Vikings.)
Anime & Manga
Sakura Taisen V features Sagiita Weinberg, an African-American female lawyer in the The Roaring Twenties; while college-educated black professionals were far from unheard of since the early 1900s, what's odd is that this character never has to fight prejudice or racism in the series (which instead would have been likely). Even for an Alternate History, this is just stretching it a bit.
In Fushigi Yuugi, Nakago is blonde-haired and blue-eyed, yet living in Ancient China. He's explicitly stated to be a foreigner, later revealed to be a member of a tribe that lived in the Kutou region that tended to have those traits. There may be some basis to this; see the Real Life section for details.
One of the supporting characters in The Mighty Thor is Hogun the Grim, a Mongolian-looking man amongst a Norse-inspired cast. This is intentional—from the beginning, Hogun was created as Asgardian, but one not of the Aesir. He's from a "foreign" realm not ruled by Odin.
The all-ages Thor: The Mighty Avengers series makes Heimdall black like in the movies.
Princess Adrienne, the main protagonist of Princeless, is a young black girl in a primarily-European fantasy setting. Though of course this can be justified/fanwanked because it is a fantasy world and not a historical retelling of medieval European history.
Subverted in an issue of The Sandman featuring the immortal Hob Gadling attending a Renaissance fair with his current girlfriend (and making a lot of cutting comments about it.) When Hob asks his girlfriend why she isn't the Queen of the Fair, she points out her ethnicity (she's black) and the fact that the fair is trying to be at least a little authentic (she specifically says "There were no black Queens of England.") To which Hob immediately replies "Catherine of Aragon. If she'd been living in Selma, Alabama in the early 60s, they'd have made her ride at the back of the bus." He might be referring to the "just one drop" rule since it has been claimed that Catherine of Aragon had a black (or Moorish) ancestor just a few generations back, and presumably Hob would know.
Since the '80s, the Wonder Woman series has featured various non-white Amazons living on Themyscira, despite the island being based heavily on Greek myths and the women all having Greek names (such as Philippus, the black captain of the Royal Guard). This is explained by various retcons over the years, most recently: Lacking men, to make babies they have to leave the island and accost random sailors they stumble across, presumably not being overly picky over the race of their conquests. The girls they keep, the boys they give to Hephaestus to work in his forge in exchange for weapons. note At least during the time of Alexander the Great, "Greek" could be applied to an enormous, multiethnic, multiracial realm stretching from the Balkans nearly to India, and even gaining a foothold in North Africa. This was before differences in skin color or facial features became pronounced enough in the Western world to really matter; and the modern concept of "nation-state" didn't exist either, for Greece proper was actually an amalgamation of ethnically homogeneous "city-states." (Imagine if New York, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles were de facto foreign countries, and you'd get the idea.)
Also worth recalling: Although they figure in Greek myths, Amazons were described as "barbarians", i. e. peoples who did not speak Greek, rather like Persians, Trojans, Egyptians etc. The Amazons you hear about most are described as living in Asia or what is now the Ukraine and Southern Russia (the town of Themiscyra was located towards the Eastern end of the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey), but in Greek myth there also was a distinct Amazon people living in Libya.
On at least one occasion, the African-American Gabe Jones, of Nick Fury's Howling Commandos, impersonated a German soldier. He appeared to have no greater or lesser difficulty pulling this off than any of the white Howlers.
Gabe's presence in the Howling Commandos is itself an example, as the US Army was segregated during World War II. The same can be said of Jackie Johnson in Sgt. Rock's Easy Company.
In Truth: Red, White, and Black; a young black man tells a racist WWII veteran that his grandfather also fought in the war — for the Germans. He goes into some detail about Germany's black population, and how they'd been there for hundreds of years.
Films — Animation
The Irish monks in WesternAnimation.The Secret Of Kells, and the largest monk in particular is clearly African. Justified, however, in that it's actually a Genius Bonus; the whole film is based on How The Irish Saved Civilization, the theory that refugees from all over the Roman world went to Ireland fleeing The Barbarian Horde, so the monks of Ireland at the time would be quite cosmopolitan (in theory; see below). There are also Italian, British, and Chinese monks as well.
Films — Live-Action
The Norsemen features the late Deacon Jones as an African slave Thrall.
Moors in the Merry Men of Robin Hood, something introduced with the character of Nasir in ITV's Robin of Sherwood, and subsequently taken-up in the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Azeem, and the latest series from The BBC (not to mention Achoo in Men in Tights). The BBC version takes this trend a step further, as there is at least one black character working for the Sheriff, and a black thief is unquestioned when she claims to be the leader of an order of nuns; unlike the Arabic characters, the black characters are portrayed as fully accepted members of medieval English society.
In the feature film adaption of Wild Wild West, Will Smith, a black man, is cast as the protagonist, James West, a U.S. Army officer at the start of the film. While the U.S. Army had a large number of Black troopersnote By late 1864-early 1865 even the Confederate Army was so desperate for manpower that it recruited Black troops and 7,122 recorded Black junior officers during the The American Civil War, in the early post-war years this was highly unusual. (Wild Wild West is set in 1869; the first post-war black U.S. Army officer, Henry O. Flipper, was commissioned on his graduation from West Point in 1877). This is probably excusable, considering that the movie also features a giant mechanical tarantula.
Averted and played straight at the same time in Black Knight. When Martin Lawrence travels to medieval England and becomes a Fish Out of Temporal Water, he is called a "Moor" in a disrespectful tone and runs into conflict a few times because of his skin color. Yet when he arrives at the castle there is a black chambermaid there and nobody seem to care. Somewhat subverted at the end, as it is revealed it was All Just a Dream.
In the film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing, the character Don Pedro is the Prince of Aragon and played by Denzel Washington. While Spain was occupied for several centuries by the Moors, Medieval Spaniards were nearly obsessed with limpieza de sangre—purity of blood, and the aristocratic class was the worst. It might have been a stylish choice to make his illegitimate brother's deep hatred for him more obvious. Otherwise, this would have to get across by Keanu Reeves's acting ability.
Kenneth Branagh's version of Hamlet features a couple black people among the staff of the castle. Including one woman who was originally a "gentleman" in the play. In Denmark, in the 1600's. The film has a more 1800's style, but that doesn't change much.
Although it would have been slightly less likely in the 16th century, the Virgin Islands were a Danish Colony until the Great War.
Mash, set during the Korean War, featured a black surgeon (the TV show followed suit for a few episodes until the anachronism of the idea was pointed out to the producers). Ultimately M*A*S*H is pretty much a Vietnam War story backdated 20 years anyway. Presumably the producers never bothered to check any sources about the 8055th MASH, the real unit in Korea the movie was based on: they did have a black surgeon on staff. (The U.S. Army wasn't fully integrated until 1954—one year after the Korean conflict ended—but piecemeal integration had occurred in the 1940s and even earlier.)
Force 10 From Navarone does its best to avert this trope and use it too. Carl "Apollo Creed" Weathers unknowingly forces his way into the middle of a plane full of commandos flying to Yugoslavia to fight the Nazis. The frustrated commandos immediately point out how much Weathers will stick out in Yugoslavia, complete with a snide comment about a Zulu invasion. When they land, the leader of the native force they join up with is bemused by his appearance to the point of pretending to wipe the blackness off of Weathers' face.
Thor, based on the comic book mentioned above, has two examples of non-whites among Norse Gods. In the movie, the idea is put forth that the Asgardians aren't really gods but extradimensional beings that the Scandanavians mistook for deities after seeing them battle Frost Giants on Earth. It's also a manner of the Asgardians in the Marvel universe not actually being exactly the same as real-world Aesir mythology.
First, Hogun is played by Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano, though as noted under Comics above the character was visually-Asian to begin with.
The other one is Idris Elbaas Heimdall. So pretty much literal there. For extra irony points, Heimdall is often referred to as "White-god" and "Whitest of the Aesir". Kenneth Branagh specifically said that Elba got the part simply because he's a great actor - as Movie Bob said, "To everyone who pitched a fit about Idris Elba playing Heimdall; Every scene he's in may as well be subtitled THAT'S WHY."
The Julia Roberts film Mona Lisa Smile was criticized for not having a token black among the cast, despite the film being set in a New England College in the 1950's. Part of the problem was a bad line in the auditioning papers, where they wanted girls who were not too tan, to portray the time period accurately. Seeing as it was a real women's college that did have black women in the time period, the supposed ratio would have had about 3 tokens in a crowd of 200.
German actor Günther Kaufmann, whose father was an African-American GI, plays one of the Vikings in Wickie und die starken Männer (Wickie and the strong Men), thus making this a very literal example of this trope. Due to heavy Viking make up, Kaufmann's actual ethnicity is hard to tell, though.
In one DVD version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, two of the brothers (Judah and Benjamin) are played by black actors. This is something of a characterization problem, since the two were born to different mothers, according to Genesis. The other ten brothers are pretty much all over the apparent ethnicity map (the twelve had the same father, who had four wives). And Joseph's father Jacob did have concubines who may have been of different ethnicities than his two wives (who were sisters). Jacob having had black sons is not impossible. On the other hand, Benjamin is supposed to be full brother of Joseph. In any case, that particular version is a comedy.
In Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas (the Villain Protagonist) is black, while Jesus and the rest of the disciples are white. Some critics saw the casting as racist, but the filmmakers insisted that Carl Anderson was simply the best man for the role.
In Hoosiers, the state championship game features the Hickory Huskers playing the "David" role to the "Goliath" South Bend Central Bears. However, South Bend apparently toppled a few giants as well. Look at the South Bend bench and their section of the stands. Racially integrated basketball team, racially integrated cheerleader squad, black head coach(!), and all this happening not in 1960s New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, but in Indiana, in 1952.
Played for laughs again in Woody Allen's Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were too Afraid to Ask, with a black sperm standing among all the white sperm about to be ejaculated.
Black Sperm: What am I doing here?
In Kingdom of Heaven, Liam Neeson's character leads a small rainbow coalition of warriors back from the Crusades, one of whom is a black man. It's supposed to indicate how so many different cultures have been drawn to the fight over the Holy Land.
Invoked in-universe in Captain America: The First Avenger when Dugan notices that a fellow POW is Asian. Dugan asks "Are we taking everyone now?" The Asian man, Jim Morita, flashes his dogtags and says "I'm from Fresno, ace." Japanese-Americans who were born in the USA were allowed to fight and did so in Italy, where the POW camp is located, though they did so in segregated units. His presence in the Howling Commandos is justified by the HC's unique nature.
Queen Latifah as Mama Morton in the movie Chicago. An African-American jail warden in charge of white prisoners in 1920s America? That wouldn't happen.
In Christopher And His Kind, there is at least one Black man in the gay club Isherwood frequents. Given that this happened in early 1930's Berlin, it is a little jarring, though possible.
This was explained in supplementary materials by virtue of Laketown being a trading hub, similar to Venice. And there are darker-skinned races in Middle-Earth (the Haradrim for one), so this is not too much of a disastrous shoe-horning.
An urban legend claims that a black man is depicted at the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the back of the American $2 bill. It turns out that the man is Robert Morris, a white financier who later became a Pennsylvania senator. His face appears dark because it is overly shadowed in the bill's picture, which is an engraved copy of a famous painting. In the painting, Morris is unmistakably white.
Arthurian literature has featured Moorish knights since Sir Morien in the 13th Century.
And since Wolfram von Eschenbach introduced Percivale's half-brother Feirefiz (son of the Moorish queen Belacane, ancestor of Prester John) in Parzival (written in the first decade of the 13th century according to most scholars).
In the medieval romance King Horn, Saracens invade Suddene (a mythical kingdom in the British Isles). This is probably a Race Lift as the villains act just like Viking conquerors, but by the time the story was written down Vikings had become passe and the Crusades were the new hot topic.
The later Sven Hassel novels introduced Stabsgefreiter Albert Mumbuto, a black soldier in the German army of WW2. However the website Porta's Kitchen mentioned a documentary where several black Germans were interviewed, including at least one soldier.
Germany had had an African colonial empire until 1919 so there were a number of African-Germans long after that. This matter surfaces in Istvan Szabo's movie Mephisto, taking place in the 1930s, in which the protagonist, a famous theatre director, has an African-German mistress and therefore gets chastised by an angry Hermann Göring.
There are Vikings of all different races because Everworld's Fantasy Counterpart Cultures have a vastly different geography from our world, so that Everworld-Vikings regularly raid Everworld-Aztecs, Everworld-Africans, and apparently Everworld-Asians; this results in many new people entering the Viking society as slaves (who may gain freedom and work their way up) or from mixed marriages between Vikings and captured women. Their king, Olaf Ironfoot, is actually black.
The Amazons are described as similarly having children with whatever males they happen to conquer, with the queen, Pretty Little Flower, being notably mixed-race.
Inheritance Cycle has two black characters living in a Fantasy Counterpart Culture that's loosely based on medieval Europe, specifically Norse culture. It's eventually explained that "dark-skinned tribes" live in the desert to the southeast, and possibly the neighboring country—some of these join with the Varden in the third book. Before that, characters do sometimes consider them unusual for the colour of their skin, but they do not act as if it was completely unheard of.
Day Watch, the second book in Sergey Lukyanenko's Night Watch trilogy (of four), has a group of Viking Others- blonde-haired, blue-eyed Teutonic types. Turns out that's just their Twilight forms- they're members of an old Norse cult, but ethnically there's quite a mix. Turns out the fact that there's a black one, a white one, an Asian one and the other one fits some Ragnarok prophecies quite well... Did someone just say "Horsemen of the Apocalypse"? Note though, these are people in modern times who are members of such a cult (Neo Vikings?) rather than Norse people in Dark Ages Europe.
A Black Moorish woman prosecuting attorney named Brunhild (!) appears in the eponymous Die Morin, written by German poet Hermann von Sachsenheim in the year 1453. She is supposed to prosecute love cases for the goddess Venus and her lover, King Tannhäuser (!!), who, according to legend, lived in a subterranean kingdom under some mountain in Germany. Probably Sachsenheim assumed that a servant of Venus was a pagan, and a pagan was a Muslim, and a Muslim was a Moor, and that "Brun-hild" meant "brown-maiden" (instead of "byrnie (=mail-coat)-warrior").
Averted in The Warlord Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. One of Arthur's lieutenants, Sagramor, is a black Numidian, in stark contrast to the Britons, Gaels and Saxons around him, but this is both acknowledged and justified — he was a former Roman auxiliary who joined Arthur's band after his own unit was dissolved.
A Peter David novel about King Arthur in modern times, Knight Life, casts Percival, the Grail Knight, as a Moor. Everyone is totally surprised by this in the novel (and a scholar or two "refutes" it in front of him).
Ranec, from Jean M. Auel's The Mammoth Hunters, is a black Cro-Magnon living in Ancient Russia north of the Caspian Sea. Justified by the fact that, in his youth, Ranec's father made a long journey to the region that is now Ethiopia, married a woman there, and returned to Russia with his son after his wife's death.
Both played straight and inverted in Michael Chabon's Gentlemen Of The Road, whose protagonists are a black African (probably from Ethiopia or thereabout, where there is a tribe of African Jews called Beth Israel) and a very white Eastern Frank, both Jewish, who traveled the world as bandits and mercenaries and ended up in the Caucasus. Both of them draw comments because of their exotic appearance, but mostly because they form an odd, contrasting couple. A band of Russo-Scandinavian raiders are also involved in the story.
Sanya, one of the knights of the Cross in The Dresden Files, is a black Russian. He himself notes that his color would turn heads in Moscow, and that he couldn't go to rural villages without causing traffic accidents.
Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella has some very exceptional color-blind casting; Cinderella is black, her stepmother white, one wicked stepsister black, the other white, and the prince is Filipino with a white father and black mother.
Black Italian-Americans show up in Homicide Lifeonthe Street in the person of the police lieutenant Al Giardello and his family, who are both black and very stereotypically Italian-American. In fact, a case of Reality Is Unrealistic because there are in fact pockets of such mixed race people in parts of US.
"The Girl in the Fireplace" has a black noblewoman in the Court of Louis XVI. Some fans have attempted to explain this by pointing out the existence of the Chevalier de Saint Georges, a real eighteenth-century composer and musician known as "the black Mozart", who did in fact perform at Versailles. It's especially jarring considering there is an Orientalist portrait of Madame de Pompadour dressed like a Turkish sultana and being served by a black slave girl — an exotic possession, for crying out loud.◊ Angel Coulby, the actress who played the black noblewoman, also played Gwen on Merlin.
The episode "Human Nature", set in England just before World War One, averts this trope, as one of the students starts saying offensive things to Martha, and John Smith seems to find it utterly believable that Martha might not understand the concept of fiction. Smith's love interest understandably is rather incredulous when Martha claims to be a doctor, remarking that a woman doctor was conceivable but not "one of your colour" as said to Martha's face.
The 2008 Christmas special had the Next Doctor have a black female companion, Rosita, in 1851. She gets treated like anyone else in the story except for two brief, almost missable, moments. The first is when the villainess asks whether the Doctor "paid [her] to speak," which could be either a servitude reference or merely an implied suggestion that she thinks Rosita is a prostitute. The second is at the end when they live happily ever after and Jackson Lake makes a comment about her being his son's nursemaid.
Averted with Martha's presence in "The Shakespeare Code": Martha initially worries that being black in 1600s London will cause trouble, but the Doctor laughs it off, assuring her that London has all types of people. In this case he's right. Elizabethan London had a significant African population—large enough that Elizabeth complained about it on multiple occasions.
Isabella and her father from "The Vampires of Venice" are an exception: As a nexus of trade all across the Mediterranean, Venice would have been home to all sorts.
Several viewers considered the black Secret Service agent in Richard Nixon's security detail to be this trope. In reality, Nixon really did have at least one black agent.
This is all over Mortal Kombat: Conquest. While the series is set in ancient China, Kung Lao is the only one of the protagonists who is actually Asian. The rest of the cast is suspiciously multicultural—the only justified one is Raiden, who as a god could conceivably take any form he wished. But then why is he a white guy?
In the 2006 series of Robin Hood, one early episode feature Guy of Gisbourne's political scheming against the Sheriff's current Master at Arms. The fact that the Master at Arms is black in 12th century England is never mentioned nor influence the plot. The producers have mentioned that originally there was no intention for the character to be black, but that the actor gave such a damned fine audition and performance that they felt he could pull it off regardless of the fact that that he would seem out of place, and gave him the part as-written, without any changes to make reference to his color. In Season 3, Friar Tuck is black.
Merlin has been accused of this; Guinevere is black, as are several courtiers and some of the royal knights. The production team has hand waved this, and apparent anachronisms, by stating in interviews that the show is set in a mythical land that's not intended to be historically accurate. The Arthurian myths are already pretty anachronistic. French chivalry in dark age Britain? Come on... In any case, the production team also said that while they auditioned hundreds of potential Guineveres, Angel Coulby was the only one who could not only nail the quirky servant girl, but also "bring the queen" when it was needed.
The start of season 2 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World has an episode where several modern people are transported to the plateau. Even though the main characters are from the start of the 20th century, they don't seem to notice that the helicopter pilot is black and treat him like anyone else.
NBC's Gullivers Travels miniseries: In contrast to the lily-white Lilliputians, Brobdingnag is home to many black giants (including Alfre Woodard as the Queen) looking a little out-of-place in 18th century powdered wigs. This is actually consistent with the Utopian nature of the island and probably a way of playing up its superiority to both Lilliput and Gulliver's England.
The Suite Life of Zack and Cody had Brenda Song playing an ancestor of London Tipton... during the American Revolutionary War. Hilariously but subtly lampshaded in that she seems to be (or believe that she is) French. Whether it was intentional and she really was supposed to be London's French paternal ancestor, it was intentional and she was absurdly somewhere in London's Thai ancestry, or it was completely unintended, it was completely Handwaved by being All Just a Dream had by Zack. Also, Mr.Mosby, who is black, is seen as a rich man. Most blacks in the revolutionary war were slaves, but it is possible he was a freeman.
In The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nóg, set in pre-Christian Ireland, one of the heroes is black — but it's justified by having him come from Atlantis, which, being mythical, can have any ethnic mix it wants.
Like The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, the short-lived Roar—which starred Heath Ledger—is also set in pre-Christian Ireland, and also features a black character, Tully, amid Ledger's band of Celtic chieftains. Unlike The Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, there's no justification given.
The viking helmet Flava Flav wore became grist for the mill in his Comedy Central roast.
Both Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess showed black Greeks wandering about their various cities/towns/villages/what-have-you. Knowing the extent of the Mediterranean trade in the Antiquity, there was a slight possibility for Ethiopian, Nubian, or darker-skinned Egyptian people to settle in Greek lands, even more so in port cities, as traders, sailors, mercenaries or former slaves. However, their numbers could not be great. Given that both shows are filmed in New Zealand, whenever they needed "ethnic" mooks (for example, to represent Egyptians), they would usually cast Maori or other Pacific Islanders and hope that audiences perceived them as just being Ambiguously Brown.
Suggested but not confirmed in Power Rangers Samurai, as out of five descendants of Japanese samurai, only one is Asian. It's either this trope, or the equally unlikely scenario that the families mingled with other races in just the right way to make a Five-Token Band. Don't bother thinking about it too hard; history has never been the franchise's strong suit.
A sketch on the CBBC show Horrible Histories about Vikings actually featured a Black Viking as an extra.
Rome shows Egyptians to be Black. Although the matter is still subject of debate and Egyptians were obviously not White European, few scholars think they were pure Africans. Probably a mixed race which (for the time of the series) already have a lot of Nubian blood (Nubians themselves have very often lighter skin, blue eyes and different facial traits than other Africans). On the other hand Cleopatra (a woman of Macedonian descent in real life) is played by English actress Lyndsay Marshall.
Inverted in one History Channel documentary about the US Civil War. While discussing "the men whose money allowed the Confederacy to survive as long as it did", Virginia patriot Alfred Samson Bell is mentioned and profiled. In the documentary, he is depicted briefly by a white actor. Problem is, the real Alfred Samson Bell was a black man, a plantation owner, and a slave owner who threw his entire fortune behind the war because he was "a true son of Virginia". Apparently Bell's ethnicity was never mentioned in the documentary so as to avoid any adverse reaction from viewers.
In The Musketeers, Porthos is black. According to Word of God, this is a tribute to Alexandre Dumas's actual black ancestry (his paternal grandmother was a black slave in Haiti). It isn't a case of colour-blind casting, as in at least one episode his race is a plot point.
Andromeda, the Damsel in Distress in the myth about Perseus, is the daughter of the Ethiopian king Cepheus. But in most illustrations◊, her skin colour◊ is decidedly◊ very un-Ethiopian◊. (NSFW, if your boss doesn't like nipples!) Although: According to the Tangled Family Tree of the Greek mythological characters, she wasn't ethnically Ethiopian anyway, at least not 100 %. (Her father's ancestry can be traced back to Poseidon, but there is no information about where her mother Cassiopeia comes from.) Also, some people speculate that Cepheus' kingdom wasn't that Ethiopia.note At several times throughout history, "Ethiopia" meant literally any place in Africa, so it's entirely possible she came from a northern pre-Muslim African nation — the people there would have had skin and hair colors much closer to ancient Greeks, and when one factors in how many mixed marriages there were between the various cultures, it makes more sense. The problem is that there were text describing Andromeda's dark skin. Possibly not black, but not actually until later artists decided not to depict her as such.
Any depiction of Jesus that makes him look northwestern European. Or black. As the central figure in a religion spanning culture and geography, Jesus is often depicted with more resemblance to the local population than to any historical accuracy. As a Galilean Jew, and one whose appearance is described in the The Bible only as being completely ordinary, Jesus mostly likely had a darker olive complexion similar to that of modern Middle East peoples.
This also happens with other major figures of The Bible, such as Abraham, Moses, David, etc, who look almost exclusively pale in European artistic depictions.
Due to its syncretic nature and the loas' ability to change shape, the Vodou pantheon is filled with Black Vikings. Some loa like Ogoun and Erzulie Dantor appear as black Africans. Others are caucasian, like Mademoiselle Charlotte and Mama Brigette (who's a foul-mouthed Irish redhead). While others are Native American like the Agua Dulce family of loa adopted from the Taino Indians.
Buddha is also often represented with Asian traits in many Far East countries like China and Japan, even when Buddha was born in Nepal and probably had a more Caucasian look.
The Get of Fenris from Werewolf: The Apocalypse tend to be of Nordic descent (as implied by the name). However, the less Nazi-esque of them will breed with physically superior specimens of humanity from almost any background. Black/African-descended Get are not quite uncommon enough to be Special Snowflakes, but they do get the All of the Other Reindeer treatment a bit.
The viking-themed planet Fenris, home of the Space Wolves, has a race of dark-skinned islanders in its southern seas. Because they have a mercantile culture unlike the warlike North Fenrisians, not many of them are up to the challenge of becoming a Space Marine but a precious few have managed it anyway.
In the 1999 Broadway revival of The Lion in Winter, African-American actors Laurence Fishburne and Chuma Hunter-Gault were cast as (British) King Henry II and his son Richard Lionheart, respectively. The actors who played Henry's two other sons and his wife were white.
Judge Brack in Hedda Gabler is often played by a black actor, as James Earl Jones did in one otherwise all-white production.
Broadway's colorblind casting frequently results in this. Case in point, Norm Lewis as Les Misérables' Javert. While it's far from impossible that there were black people in France during that time period—indeed, a black actor will be playing Enjolras in the upcoming Broadway revival—it's not likely that one could have risen to Javert's rank in the police department. And like the film, the Broadway production of Chicago has often cast an African-American actress as Mama Morton, and a few black actors have played Billy Flynn as well.
The Nazi GGG Ghostapo organization in BloodRayne has an Asian woman as one of its leaders. Vaguely semi-justified in that she's Tibetan, and the Nazi racial science considered Tibetans to be an Aryan race. Oh, and she's also half vampire, which the GGG seems to consider a plus.
Averted and lampshaded: The Mole, while discussing her background, mentions that her Japanese-American grandfather was an FBI agent under Hoover. Although he doesn't say anything about it for several scenes, Master Miller immediately knows she's lying, realizing that the notoriously prejudiced J. Edgar Hoover would never have allowed a man of Japanese descent as an agent.
In Metal Gear Solid 3, a Black man named Sigint was recruited by Zero in 1960s America for his skill and not because of his color. Notable in that Sigint was recruited during the final year of Jim Crow Laws, which barred Blacks from using the same facilities as Whites in America.
Enforced in Resident Evil 5: there are an awful lot of white people in Africa because people complained about Unfortunate Implications with all the Majini being black. Then again, there are an awful lot of white people in Africa if you know where to look.
In the Soul Calibur games, Zasalamel is black, and while his country of origin is never directly stated, it's implied that he's supposed to be Sumerian, as many of his moves have names that reference the Sumerian gods. Granted, since he's an immortal who reincarnates every time he's killed, it's entirely possible that the body he appears with is not his original. Although in his ending, where he is in the modern era, several hundred years after the game's events, he is still in the same body. Which implies that he merely comes back to life each time he dies, and doesn't body hop when he reincarnates.
Lothar, echidna from Exterminatus Nowtried to get a role in a video game. Then tried a scandal when reminded that their notice specifically said a hedgehog is needed. He discovered that video games and martial arts communities do intersect.
The Ambiguously Brown Sir Bryant in The Legend of Prince Valiant looks like an example of this at first, until it is explained in a centric episode that he is an exiled Moorish prince that joined King Arthur's knights after arriving in England and suffering quite a few misfortunes there too—among them the assassination of his wife and son by thieves.
Carl portrays explorer William Clark (of course, Lenny is Meriwether Lewis). As an inversion, Lisa portrays Sacajawea.
It also turns out that Carl is Icelandic.
In fact, The Simpsons do something like this quite often, when the story takes place in a historical setting (e.g. Treehouse of Horror stories). It seems that the main criterion is, which of the established characters fits the role best personality- and relationship-wise.
While there may not have been many documented Black Vikings in real life, there were Mongolian Vikings.
In the Icelandic Eddas, there are references to a red-skinned people called skraelings. This was a derogatory word used to denote a weaker, primitive, people with no courage who were self-evidently less than Norsemen in the eyes of the gods. It is believed this word was used to denote the first Native Americans encountered by the Icelanders: Inuit and native Greenlanders. It may also have applied to "Indians" encountered in Vinland, in North America proper.
Something else to consider when it comes to this sort of thing is the fact that, at its height, the Roman Empire spanned from the southern borders of Caledonia to Nubia and from Hispania to Mesopotamia, and had mercantile connections with lands even further spread than that. Given that Roman soldiers were recruited from the local populace, and were sent where they were needed, it is entirely possible for a dark-skinned soldier to have been recruited in (for example) Egypt and then shipped off to Britain. Or for a citizen born in Britain to up and move to (for example), Judea. In fact, over time it became official policy that auxiliary armies recruited from the provinces would be deployed far from home, so that if the locals rebelled they wouldn't have the potential support of Roman-trained warriors. After completing their term of military service, the auxiliaries would become Roman citizens, and many would stay in the land they had been deployed to. Both because of the expense of returning home and because after 25 years of service they might well see the province they'd deployed to as being home.
Some recent research on a BBC documentary suggested that one of the regiments deployed in what's now Northumberland was recruited from Egypt and Syria and may have included black African legionaries as well as those with Mediterranean skin tone. This leads to the slight Mind Screw of "ethnic minorities" having lived in England before the Anglo-Saxons arrived. Not only that, but they stayed. That means that the Black British population is actually a real-life example of this trope. Could've been that there were black monks at Lindisfarne. We don't know, but it's possible.
One claim holds that, for example, the legend of King Arthur was partly inspired by Persian mercenaries serving with the Roman army in Britain, as the contemporary Persian cavalrymen (and cavalry horses) wore full chainmail armor.
"Black Irish" and "Black Russians" are famously attested in Real Life. However, there is some argument that they are actually People of Hair Color, since it's claimed that Black Irish are either (a) descended from Moors, or (b) descended from the same stock as Basques. There are Sephardic Irish Jews, but they aren't usually identified as Black Irish.
The current scientific theory is the Black Irish are the only (racially) Celtic Irishmen. Other hair colors? Scandinavian—genetically, the Irish are Germanic (and the English are Celtic). One theory holds that the "Tuatha de Danaan" were actually proto-Danes who'd settled in Ireland, and were later conquered by Celts (called "Milesians" in the legends) from Iberia.
As for the Black Russians, the word "black" is actually used in Russian to refer to dark-haired and tannish peoples such as the Chechens or the Armenians (both Caucasian) as opposed to Africans like in English, so this may be the case of Lost in Translation.
8 Two Irish names reinforce the idea that the "Black Irish" distinction relates to hair colour and complexion. "Dougal" comes from Gaelic elements meaning "Black Stranger" and was used for Latin or Norman-French incomers with dark hair and darker skin. "Fingal" derives from elements meaning "pale stranger" - ie, blonde Scandinavians with paler dkins.
Archaeologists have discovered that wealthy black Africans lived in Roman Britain in one of the country's earliest examples of multiculturalism. "Analysis... contradicts assumptions about the make-up of Roman-British populations as well as the view that African immigrants were of low status... The link between slavery and Africans is an early modern one. In the Roman world this simply was not the case. Slaves in Roman times could come from any area." ... African men had immigrated to Britain, invariably with the Roman Army, and had brought their wives and children. "We're looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected. In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now."
On Haiti, there's quite a number of people who consider themselves... Poles. See, to crush the Haitian rebellion, Napoleon Bonaparte sent there his Polish allied troops, some of whom switched sides and settled down on the island. Theirdescendants are more like Ambiguously Brown nowadays. The depictions of Voodoo goddess Erzulie seem to be based on the effigies of Virgin Mary those soldiers brought with them.
The thing is, back in those days, travellers from far-off lands were assumed to be exotic. So they'd be just as fascinated by one foreigner as another, regardless of where they're from; see City of Weirdos.
This effect is certainly older than the past two millennia, it's just hard to see clear examples after that long. When the armies of Alexander the Great marched across Central Asia, they buggered everything in sight and left garrisons and deserters in their wake, drawn from every corner of the conquest, but most have disappeared into the population at large since then. But high in the Hindu Kush mountains, there still exist tiny villages of almost pure-ethnic Greeks in isolated valleys, wholly integrated with local culture but still instantly recognizable. Journalists who've encountered them remark that, even 2300 years on, they look like Europeans doing a poor imitation of Afghans.
DNA analysis has recently suggested that not one but four or five African and Indian groups may be (as they claim) Lost Tribes of Israel. Besides the famous Ethiopian and Ugandan Jews who got airlifted by Israel in the 70s, a full-blown tribe in Tanzania recently got themselves tested to prove their claim that the tribe itself were a lost tribe of Hebrews, since the Roman era. (Being cut off, they didn't know any other Jews existed, so they adopted local language and customs.) And the Indian group had become a caste claiming Hebrew descent, although they had more contact with the west.
DNA analysis of Icelandic people has recently revealed that the Norse may have brought back a native American woman with them to Iceland, well before Columbus. Native American Viking indeed.
In a more recent example, Victorian Britain is portrayed as being completly white, yet Carribean people have been living in Britain since slavery was abolished. They are possibly overlooked because many people in power preferred not to mention them at all.
There was also a sizable Indian community already present within Victorian society as well. In fact, the first Indian restaurant in Britain was set up even earlier, in 1810. It's no wonder then why later on, South Asians found the UK a preferable place to immigrate to.
The Chinese minority also tends to be forgotten, despite their prevalence in the Limehouse district. Compare the fairly popular knowledge of Chinese immigrants in the Wild West; watch any five Western movies and you'll see more Chinese than in 100 Victorian films or books.
African German Hans Hauck was a soldier in the German Wehrmacht during World War II. There were quite a few African Germans in Nazi Germany, either descended from people from the colonies or the children of black French soldiers from the 1923-25 Occupation of the Ruhr, so called Rhineland bastards. Indeed, as they were considered inferior and not fit for military service, but not a threat like Jews and Slavs, black Germans were more likely to survive the war than ethnic Germans.
Due to ancient migrations of Indo-Europeans throughout Eurasia, people with "European" traits can be found in some quite surprising places. Green eyes are very common among some tribes in Afghanistan, the most famous example being Sharbat Gula, the Afghan girl on the cover of the June 1985 issue of National Geographic. Blue eyes can be found in India. There are blond Iranians◊, blond Pakistanis◊, and even blond Mongols◊ (Genghis Khan himself was said to be green-eyed and red-haired).
This is also borne out by traditional Chinese depictions of the Central Asians. See below.
Further west, auburn (brown-red) hair is known to exist among Levantine Arabs (Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and Palestinians). Since they live in the lands closest to ancient Israel/Judaea and are partly descended from the ancient peoples of that region, it's fairly likely that red hair is probably an occasional ancestral trait among Jews (so depicting Jesus with auburn hair wouldn't be entirely wrong).
Also, light-skinned, light-eyed Caucasians (as in, from the Caucasus) settled in Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq en masse after the Russian Empire kicked them out of their native lands in the 19th century (they were accused of helping the Ottomans). They intermarried with the locals, and as a result it's not uncommon to find Levantine Arabs, Iraqis, and Egyptians with lighter skin and blue or green eyes and occasionally even blond hair. They're particularly prevalent in Syria and Jordan; the Circassians of Jordan are a very prominent and wealthy community and are an important part of the Hashemite kings' power base.
The Black Seminoles are a controversial section of the Seminole tribe who are descended from escaped American slaves who sought refuge with the Seminoles in Spanish Florida. Many interbred with the Creek descended natives, while others remain genetically separate. The debate continues today as to whether they count as a true part of the tribe as they have little or no genetic connection, but upwards of two hundred years of cultural connection.
It gets weirder. The Trail of Tears sent many of these Black Seminoles to Oklahoma and Texas where, being seen as black, they were not free of being kidnapped and Made a Slave by slave catchers. So in 1850 about 200 Black Seminoles fled and settled in northern Mexico, where their descendants are still known as "Mascogos" (from Muskogee, the name the Creek give themselves).
The famous mummies found along the Silk Road in Western China often have blonde or red hair and other Caucasian features and artifacts found with them suggest blue or green eyes as well. Incidentally, as late as the Tang Dynasty (8th or 9th century CE) the Chinese often described the alien peoples along their Northwestern frontier as "red haired, green-eyed barbarians" and such descriptions may be justified given these archeological findings. Since many of these people, along with those from further west, (including the first Christians in China) often settled in Chinese heartland, blond, blue-eyed people may have been not a completely unfamiliar sight in medieval China.
Amusingly, these "Caucasian" Chinese have Chinese surnames like everyone else, because the Chinese language is extremely limited phonetically and therefore not good at rendering foreign names unless they're drastically Sinified.