Actual Racist Trolls Real Mad About Fictional Black Elves, Hobbits
“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power,” a new TV series based on the work of J.R. R. Tolkien, debuted this month on Amazon Prime Video, and there are some Black elves. What’s important to remember is that Black people are real and elves are not. However, racists are predictably furious over the casting, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with racists and their obsession with Black people existing.
CNN explored their wounded feelings in a feature titled "When 'wokeness' comes to Middle-earth: Why some say diverse casting ruins the new 'Lord of the Rings’ series.” Here, “wokeness” clearly means Black people. It’s like a headline about the Montgomery bus boycott that read “When ‘wokeness’ comes to public transportation.”
Writer John Blake interviews RedState deputy managing editor Brandon Morse, who claims he’s read the Tolkien books and watched the Peter Jackson movies so often he "can almost quote them all line for line.” Morse is dreading the Amazon series because he thinks it "perverts and corrupts” Tolkien’s "mythical medieval universe.” We guess Black elves and Hobbits will bring down Middle-earth’s property values or something.
[Morse] says "The Rings of Power" producers have cast non-White actors in a story based on European culture and who look wildly different from how Tolkien originally described them. He says it's an attempt to embed "social justice politics" into Tolkien's world.
This is an overtly racist sentiment. First place, when translating literature into TV or film, creators often make drastic changes to how characters were described in the book. No one ever correctly casts my beloved Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby, but that’s showbiz, kid, not “social justice politics.”
"If you focus on introducing modern political sentiments, such as the leftist obsession with identity issues that only go skin deep, then you're no longer focusing on building a good story," says Morse, who wrote an impassioned essay about his misgivings. "You're effectively making propaganda, or art meant to fit a message, not a message to fit the art.”
Oh, sounds like the racist nerd wrote an “impassioned” essay about why Black people don’t belong in his whites-only fantasy world. This doesn’t mean we should take him seriously. Morse is the one obsessed with “identity issues that go skin deep.” He’s literally prejudging the show’s content based on the color of the actors’ skin.
For those of you not wearing white hoods, "The Rings of Power" is not based on “European culture,” because actual European culture has no elves and Hobbits. Also, people of color existed in medieval Europe.
Middle-earth fans and scholars like Morse have clashed in online forums and dueling op-eds over this question: Does casting non-White actors enhance the new series, or is it a betrayal of Tolkien's original vision?
Morse is a “scholar” now? CNN treats this as a good-faith “debate” rather than a racist diatribe.
Casting brown people in a fantasy series could only betray Tolkien’s vision if his work was a white supremacist tract. It wasn’t. Tolkien was hardly “woke” and was probably as fucked up in his way as most white men of his time, but he didn’t set out to create a mythical Jim Crow reality. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson didn’t hire real elves and hobbits, either. They were all actors playing make-believe, as Ian McKellen helpfully explained.
An exclusively white fantasy world is a political statement. When Richard Pryor saw Logan’s Run, which was set in the future but had no Black characters, he said, “White folks ain’t planning for us to be here.”
Netflix’s "Bridgerton" has demonstrated that most fans of Regency romance aren’t interested in historically precise examinations of class and race. They want lovely women in gowns and dreamy men in tights. Black folks can bring the looks.
The racist babies insist they aren’t racist, though, because "they have also condemned the portrayals of White characters in the show, such as the elf Galadriel, who has been criticized for being not feminine enough.” The misogynistic criticism is hardly exculpatory. It’s all part of the same fetid stew.
Louis Markos, author of "From A to Z to Middle Earth with J.R.R. Tolkien," says casting Black and brown actors in "The Rings of Power" threatens story believability. He said Tolkien described elves, for example, as "fair-faced."
OK, that’s both racist and hilarious.
Elves aren’t real, so if Tolkien wanted exclusively pasty elves, we are free to ignore him. Besides, while “fair-faced” can mean having a light complexion, it’s also defined as simply “beautiful of countenance.” This is an example of how whiteness is often conflated with beauty, as if they’re synonymous. They’re not.
Author Neil Gaiman noted that Tolkien himself described the Harfoot Hobbits from “Rings of Power” as "browner of skin” than other Hobbits, so anyone whining about casting Black actors “is either racist or hasn't read their Tolkien.” The racist trolls took it well.
\u201cTolkien didn't say "The Harfoots spent longer in the sun than any of the other hobbits and were a lot more tanned". He said they were "browner of skin".\u201d— Neil Gaiman (@Neil Gaiman) 1662302057
Markos argues that audiences can’t maintain their “willing suspension of disbelief” if elves aren’t white. He is clearly deranged. He continues to humiliate himself:
"This is not something organic that's coming out of Middle-earth," Markos says of casting brown and Black actors in the show. "This is really an agenda that is being imposed upon it."
No, diverse casting is a reasonable business decision. Minorities watch television and movies and appreciate seeing themselves represented on screen. Racists had no problem suspending disbelief and accepting that there were literally no Black people in 1970s New York stand-in Metropolis other than the literal pimp who complimented Superman’s “bad outfit.”
Gaiman wrote that “a world in which there are monsters, and ghosts, and things that want to steal your heart is a world in which there are angels, and dreams and a world in which there is hope.”
Racists can no longer exclude people of color from their own imaginations, and that frightens them. Tough.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."