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Black Vikings

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One of them is not like the others (no, not the guy without a helmet).

This trope comes into play when an actor is cast for a role in a historical setting who would appear to be of an unlikely ethnicity to portray such a role, usually because the population of the historical setting tended to be predominately inhabited by people of a different ethnicity.

This may occur because the creators were unaware of the actual ethnic composition of the historical setting, value diversity over historical accuracy, had budget problems, or a myriad of other reasons. If the work is a comedy, this may also be simply Rule of Funny.

Depending on the time and place, this can actually be surprisingly realistic, due to environments like trade cities and ports being conducive to ethnic mash-ups. For instance, Egypt, while having an ethnically distinct population of its own, has been a trade hub, tourist destination, and cultural melting pot for millennia. It's also important to note that "race" as it is seen today is largely a modern construct only appearing in the past few centuries.

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 stage theatrical productions as is called "non-traditional" or colour-blind casting, referring to "the casting of ethnic minority and female actors in roles where race, ethnicity, or sex is not germane", in other words, where it is not relevant to the plot; Othello can never be played by a white actor again, for instance, because his blackness (or Moorishness, in any case) is central to the plot, and blackface has understandably fallen out of vogue. (Aside from special productions like one with Patrick Stewart in the title role, with Othello being a white guy while every other character is black).

This trope can have a touchy relationship with tropes like Plays Great Ethnics; for instance, it's not uncommon (especially in US productions) to cast black actors to portray North African peoples such as the Berbers,note  to the objections of those who feel misrepresented as much as they would by having a European actor play the same role (with the additional irony that southern Europeans like Italians and Spaniards sometimes resemble Northern Africans enough to belivably pass as them).note 

A Sub-Trope of Politically Correct History and Colorblind Casting. Compare with Not Even Bothering with the Accent and Race Lift (and Divine Race Lift). Related to Western Samurai, when a non-Japanese character is a samurai right down to the armor and strict adherence to the code of bushido. Compare and Contrast Non-Specifically Foreign, when a character is from a different culture and/or ethnicity in an ambiguous but acknowledged manner.

No Real Life Examples, Please!. This is strictly a casting trope and not intended for use to describe historical figures.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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  • A late-1990s 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. Ironically, Alexandre Dumas was himself one-quarter black, as her grandmother was a black slave turned concubine, though he lived 200 years after the events of his story.
  • One Capital One commercial features a black Visigoth. (Yes, they are supposed to be Visigoths, though they dress like stereotypical Horny Vikings.)
  • An early 2000s commercial for Kim's potato crisps featured a black African as the cook of the Viking ship. Considering everything else historically inaccurate in the commercialTo whit... , it was very much Played for Laughs.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fushigi Yuugi, Nakago is blonde-haired and blue-eyed, yet lives in ancient China. He's explicitly stated to be a foreigner and later revealed to be a member of a tribe that lived in the Kutou region that tended to have those traits. There might be some factual basis to this.
  • Karin from UQ Holder! could easily pass as being Japanese, despite the fact though she's implied to be a Gender Flipped Judas Iscariot.
  • Lampshaded in Full Metal Panic! when Sousuke explains to Nami that he learned to pilot Arm Slaves in the mujahideen when he was a preteen. Nami buys the age much more readily than the faction.
    Nami: Oh, I see–wait, a mujahid?! How does a Japanese kid become an Afghani guerrilla?

    Comic Books 
  • Subverted in an issue of The Sandman (1989) 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." Presumably, he would have to have been referring to the "just one drop" rule since it has been claimed, although not substantiated, that Catherine of Aragon had a black (or Moorish) ancestor just a few generations back, considering that Catherine had red hair, blue eyes, and very fair skin.
  • At least once, the African-American soldier Gabe Jones, of Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, impersonated a German soldier. He appeared to have no greater or lesser difficulty pulling this off than any of the white Howlers, which is actually a case of Reality Is Unrealistic. Gabe's presence in the Howling Commandos is itself an example, though, as the US Army was segregated during World War II. The same can be said of Jackie Johnson in Sgt. Rock's Easy Company.
    • Although as noted on other pages, the Commandos and Easy Company were select units so their commanders had discretion over personnel decisions.
  • In Frank Miller's 300, King Xerxes of Persia looks more black than Persian. Less so in the movie.
  • In Truth: Red, White, and Black, a Nazi sympathizer WWII vet lectures a black man about Germany's political motivations for war. The black man knows all about it — his family is German going back generations, ever since Germany colonized what is now Namibia in the 1800s. His grandfather fought on their side in WWI and wasn't interned in the camps because of his veteran status.
  • Wonder Woman: The first example of this trope in the series was the Silver Age character Nubia who was Diana's long lost, black sister who was also made of clay but was kidnapped by Ares. Since the Perez run from the 1980s, the Amazons of Themyscira have been shown as being a multi-racial society with Amazons from Europe, East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. There is also a separate tribe of mostly black and Arab Amazons called the Bana-Mighdall which Artemis comes from.
  • In Lucifer (2000 series), an immortal woman currently going by "Paulina" was once Erishad, a priestess in ancient Chaldea (a kingdom in first-millenium B.C.E. Mesopotamia, now Iraq). A flashback depicts her as a natural blonde even then. This would've been near impossible within a region where everyone was dark-haired, and which as far as we know wouldn't have had any contact with northern Europeans until over two thousand years later.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The Secret of Kells has Italian, British, Chinese, and African monks living in the monastery in Ireland. As recounted in How The Irish Saved Civilization, though, refugees from all over the Roman world went to Ireland fleeing the barbarian horde, so the monks of Ireland at the time would, in theory, be cosmopolitan, although Chinese would be pushing it a bit even then.
  • Frozen II has Captain Mattias, a black soldier in a 19th-century Scandinavian kingdom. The fact that he's black is less jarring than the fact that he and his soldiers still use medieval swords and shields. Mathias implies that his father moved to Arendelle, making him a first-generation immigrant, which could possibly avert this trope.

  • 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.
  • There is a long-standing Christian tradition that the Three Kings are of multiple ethnicities, although there is no consensus as to which, with a legend proposing that is because they were from each continent. It is very common in Latin America and Spain to represent one of the Three Wise Men, generally Balthazar, as an African black (another is generally represented as blonde or redhead, thus Europe, the third as Middle Eastern, thus Asia). Traditions vary, one claiming Caspar is from Anatolia, Melchior is from Arabia, and Balthazar is from Yemen, or alternatively Melchior is Persian, Caspar is Indian and Balthazar is Ethiopian. In the actual New Testament account, they aren't kings (they are Magi, translated as wise men, but originally meant to be probably Zoroastrian priests), they come together from the East (generally thought to be Persia), and there aren't necessarily three of them (no specific number is given).

  • The Updated Re Release of Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds gives Parson Nathaniel what sounds like a Jamaican accent. Not by any means impossible for Victorian England, but the odds of a (presumably) black man becoming a parish priest in a place and time where he'd attract rude stares for merely walking down the high street are not terribly high.note 
  • Michael Jackson's music video "Remember the Time" has a cast made mostly of black actors as Ancient Egyptians, as explained before although some people may associated Egyptians with black people due to being both of African origin, however most scholars believe that native Egyptians were a distinct ethnic group (and not white either, of course).

    Myths and Religion 
  • According to the Prose Edda, which turned the Norse Pantheon into humans in order to comply with Christian rule, Thor himself qualifies. The Edda describes Thor as being the son of Memnon, a hero from the Trojan cycle (specifically the lost epic known as the Aethiopsis) who was from Aethiopia. At the time, Aethiopia referred to the land south of Egypt, making Thor half-Nubian.
  • 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 
  • Depiction of Jesus tend to make him resemble the artist's local population more than would be historically accurate. As a Galilean Jew, and one whose appearance is described in The Bible only as being completely ordinary (to the point people who didn't already know him couldn't pick him out of a crowd), Jesus would most likely have a darker olive complexion similar to that of other Middle Eastern peoples.
  • It also happens with other major figures of The Bible, such as Abraham, Moses, David, etc, who look almost exclusively pale in European artistic depictions (because of local models being used).
  • 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 white, like Mademoiselle Charlotte and Mama Brigette, who's a foul-mouthed Irish redhead. Others are shown as Native American like the Agua Dulce family of loa adopted from the Taino Indians.
  • Gautama Buddha is often depicted with East Asian physical traits in countries such as China and Japan, despite the fact that the Buddha was born in Nepal and therefore probably looked South Asian.

  • Increasingly common in theater nowadays, in America and the UK. Many productions of Shakespeare in the UK are colorblind, which aside from historical accuracy sometimes results in some unlikely familial relations (cousins or even siblings being different races, etc).
  • Hamilton: Major productions of the musical usually cast the US Founding Fathers and associates with people of color. This is done for strictly stylistic reasons, however, and the play itself treats the characters as white men who own black slaves, etc., with the jarring contrast this creates being part of the point.
  • 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 played the part in otherwise all-white production.
  • Toni Braxton played Belle in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway from September 1998 to February 1999.
  • Broadway's colorblind casting frequently results in this. Case in point, Norm Lewis as Les Misérables' Javert in the 2006 Broadway revival as well as the 2010 25th Anniversary Concert. While it's entirely possible that there were black people in France during that time period (indeed, a black actor played Enjolras in the most recent Broadway revival), it's not likely that one could have risen to Javert's rank in the police departmentnote .
  • As in the film, the Broadway production of Chicago has often cast an African-American actress as Mama Morton. A few black actors have played Billy Flynn as well.
  • Famous playwright August Wilson openly defied this trope in his life and writings. Specifically, Wilson was against the idea of colorblind casting and stated that to deny the reality of race when writing or planning a show was to (pun intended) whitewash history. He refused to allow white actors to play any part he had written for African-Americans (although he did allow a Chinese production of his play Fences).
  • In Frozen (2018), black actors commonly play King Agnarr (making him a literal example), Kristoff, and the Hidden Folk.

    Web Original 
  • A Scotsman in Egypt has repeated mentions of Middle Easterners with red hair caused to Scotland's World Domination starting in Egypt and spreading from there. Of course, as one Scot proudly proclaims, the Scots are good at two things: fighting and making more Scots.
    • A similar joke is made of the Irish.
  • Parodied in Diamanda Hagan's review of "Vikingdom" when they talk about how historically inaccurate the film is and Malcolm shows up in Viking costume. Happy Viking, Malcolm, and Diamanda get so caught up in the argument that it takes them a while to realize they're all completely aware that black Vikings did in fact exist.
  • In Epic Rap Battles of History, Snoop Dogg is casted to play the role of Moses. Probably due to Rule of Cool.

    Western Animation 
  • The Ambiguously Brown Sir Bryant in The Legend of Prince Valiant looks like an example, 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.
  • In the Looney Tunes animated short Jungle Jitters, the queen of an African tribe is revealed to be an elderly white woman.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Carl portrays explorer William Clark (of course, Lenny is Meriwether Lewis). Homer, who, in an inversion, plays the father of Sacajawea (Lisa), lampshades this at one point, welcoming "the white man... and Carl."
    • Carl is canonically from Iceland, and the episode "The Saga of Carl" centers around his Icelandic family. His parents are both white and a possible adoption is never brought up. The later episode "Carl Carlson Rides Again" confirms that he was, indeed, adopted, and his birth parents were African-American (with his dad being a famous bull-riding cowboy).
    • The Simpsons does "color blind" casting quite often, in fact. Whenever the episode takes place in a historical or fantastical setting (e.g. Treehouse of Horror stories), it seems that the main criterion is which established characters fit the role best personality- and relationship-wise. Dr. Hibbert and Apu, for instance, have played all sorts of characters in all sorts of contexts where an African-American or Indian might not ordinarily be found.
  • Inverted with Francis X. Bushlad and his tribe in Tazmania, who are, inexplicably, white Indigenous Australians.
  • Gargoyles features one, not in its many historical flashbacks, but in modern-day New York — a recurring antagonist there is Mafia don Tony Dracon. While his organization consists almost entirely of Mooks who don't diverge in the slightest from a stereotypical template of a suit-wearing, slick-haired Italian-American, the role of The Consigliere is held by a slightly less sharp-dressed black man known only as "Glasses", even though the Mafia is usually very selective about the ethnicity of its membership and the consigliere is almost always a full-blooded Sicilian. Word of God vaguely implies there's some sort of personal history between Dracon and Glasses which allowed the pair of them to circumvent the Mafia's usual restrictions.

Alternative Title(s): Black Viking, Black Irish, Black Russian, Norse Of A Different Color