Assassin’s Creed’s New Black Heroine Could Represent A New Kind Of Liberation

Aveline -- heroine of Assassin's Creed Liberation -- isn't that different from the other characters of Ubisoft's historical action series . Like Altair and Ezio, she's an Assassin, a near-mystical stealth warrior with abilities that let her be unseen whenever she wants. But one thing about her stands out compared to those two.

The idea of Aveline intrigues me because she's a black woman, one who happens in the leading role of a major video game. During previews of two upcoming Assassin's Creed games last week, I saw glimpses of black people in Ubisoft Montreal's fictional vision of the American past. When you take the grand sweep of American history into account, it's only relative recently that people of African descent could walk where they pleased. Slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed made it so that entire zones of society were off-limits to black people. What you have, then, in Aveline is a character that would stand out in the extreme in 1786.

But I like that. I'm glad Ubisoft are putting black people in their made-up past. Race, gender and historical circumstances aside, Aveline isn't any more preposterous than Altair or Ezio. Signor Auditore came from money, became a member of a secret society, rubbed elbows with Da Vinci and invaded the Vatican. Things like that weren't exactly everyday occurrences in Renaissance Italy.

The Assassin's Creed games have always been interested in the intersections of peoples from centuries past. You got the sense that sense that rich and poor, foreign and native were all walking down the streets of Jerusalem in Assassin's Creed 1 and in the various Italian cities in the three games featuring Ezio Auditore. travellers from far-off lands can be quest-givers, sending you to exotic locales in search of forbidden knowledge. These are games that have felt cosmopolitan and the setting of colonial America gives them new populations to explore. The North American continent was a new world compared to the centuries-old histories of France, Germany and other European countries. Part of that newness came in the form of African slaves and the customs they brought with them. If the subtext to Assassin's Creed franchise is that amazing things happen when cultures combine, then Aveline's very existence is in line with that theme.

According to the Ubisoft Montreal developer showing Liberation, the game's bi-racial heroine has a father who was a French merchant and a mother who was a freed slave. When I asked whether Aveline's father had owned her mother, the developer demurred at answering the question. He made it seems like he might be giving away a plot point if he told me what I wanted to know. I had two reactions to that. The first was to respect the sanctity of whatever mandates he might be working under, with regards to revealing details about the game.

The second was more complicated. In a game set in an era where chattel slavery was still happening, such a thing would be commonplace. You need look no further than Thomas Jefferson's relationship with Sally Hemmings for a model of such a dynamic.

I also wondered if Aveline's wanton killing of her mostly male enemies could be rexplained away by her role-playing as a man. Her breeches and tricorner outfit could certainly imply that. Nope was the answer to that question. In fact, she's also going to be walking New Orleans in ladies' fashion of the time, seen in the screen captures above.

After I'd asked these questions, I sat with my thoughts for a while and remembered that what it meant to be a black person in 1786 was radically different than what it means to be one now. It's easy to project my previously documented desires onto Aveline and the other black characters that might show up in Liberation. That's because characters like Aveline are diamond-rare in video games. No matter how the finished Assassin's Creed Liberation turns out, she's already valuable.


Comments

    I wish this was the game being released on consols, Assasins Creed 3 just dosent interest me with all its flag waving bullshit, but this is game and this protagonist in this time period is really something differant . Too bad I will never play it, I dont really buy hand helds.

      That's a notion that's frustrating the developers. It's not MEANT to be flag-waving bullshit, Connor isn't meant to be supporting blue over red especially, he's just meant to be killing Templars. But Ubisoft marketing (probably correctly) assumes that Americans can't stomach watching their founding fathers get the chop.

    Really i thought the one thing that stood out between her and the other assasisns is she has breasts!!! (truthfully that she is black didnt even come to mind)

      I guess that's a step in the right direction .... ?

    "she’s also going to be walking New Orleans in ladies’ fashion of the time, seen in the screen captures above."

    Am I missing something? Only picture that is showing for me is the top one of her in a hat (which looks like her usual outfit).

      The original posting on Kotaku US has screengrabs of Aveline in various period fashion. Not sure why Kotaku au dont have them. Confusing for sure.

    I'm sure the Internet feminazi's will find some fault to rage about.

      Your comment, most likely.
      You're displaying hostility towards a hypothetical situation. You're silly.

      Arse isn't big enough, she may have another character be attracted to her implying sexual assault, etc.

    Finally, a character archetype that's IMPOSSIBLE to be voiced by Nolah North!

      If he can play The Penguin in Arkham City...

    I respectfully disagree with the author's statement about Aveline not being any more preposterous than the other stars of Assassin's Creed. It's too much of a stretch to believe that a black or mixed-race woman in 1786 could possibly be such a character. You're talking about a race of people who at the time were still living in mud and grass huts or enslaved. The women were still being sold off to other tribes like cattle.

    To put in even more perspective, African women today are only just really beginning to break into high calibre professions. (which you would have to say an Assassin in these games would be one of the highest calibre ones) For example I recently read the US Coast Guard has ONE black female helicopter pilot, out of over 1000 pilots. Sorry, but the whole animus thing is almost less of a stretch than this character, and you don't even have to be a racist to see it.

    Sure I can appreciate the author wanting more good black characters in video games, but I think they'd be better served with a much more believable one than this.

    And yes, it is just a video game, and games are fantasy. The author chose to discuss the game at a deeper level, so that invites a deeper response.

    Waiting for the banhammer to fall on my "racist" and "hateful" comment.

    Another portable title that will be meh, not really going to bother to be honest. Just going to buy ac3.

    It feels as if they're trying to be too forward thinking with the protagonist choice. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

      Yes this. In the simplest of explanations that won't get moderated out of existence.

      Looking forward to the game and excited for a new/female protagonist, but at the same time I have to agree. It does seem kind of silly for the time frame.

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