To bring you up to date, The Great Stupid mated with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion cult to bring forth the following casting rules for movies, theater, TV and commercials. Per Tom Hanks, only gays can play gay roles, but gay actors can play “cis” characters. It’s fine for Andy Garcia to play Sonny Corleone’s son in “Godfather 3,” but verboten for a non-Hispanic performer to play a Hispanic character. Presenting a real life “character of color” as white in a film is despicable whitewashing, but presenting Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as non-white in a hit Broadway musical is brilliant, and playing Joan of Arc as a nonbinary individual who goes by “they” is illuminating. Marilyn Monroe being played by a Hispanic actress is testimony to her versatility and range, but Natalie Wood playing Maria in “West Side Story” was a shameful relic of Hollywood racism. Changing the genders and races of popular comic book characters is social justice progress, unless they are changed to white or male.
All clear now?
The eagerly awaited Amazon spectacular “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is being skewered on social media and fan sites because the production, led by a creative team that is ostentatiously woke (Brain-melting quote by Executive Producer Lindsey Weber: “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like.”), has cast actors who do not resemble how Tolkien described their characters and has them doing things the characters in the books would never do. For example—The Horror!—there’s a black elf. “Rings” fanatics are screaming foul, so, naturally, Weber has called the casting critics racists.
Taking the side of the “racists,” fantasy blogger John Trent argues,
Let’s be clear here, it is not racist to want characters that are described by J.R.R. Tolkien in a certain way to look like those characters when his stories are being adapted to television.
As an example, no one wants Black Panther to be played by Ryan Gosling. They want Black Panther to be portrayed by a black man. No one would want Bruce Lee to be played by Chuck Norris. They want him to be portrayed by an Asian man.
Another social media pundit says,
“Middle-earth is basically northwestern Europe, mostly England. he native people of those areas are all white. So all the races of Middle-earth would be white. And we know that’s true because Tolkien described what they looked like. They are all white.”
“The actors can be non-white and if they can pass as European with or without makeup, they can play those characters,” he details. ” They just need to look the part. Casting non-white actors in a Middle-earth Show is like casting white actors in a Black Panther movie. It makes no sense.”
Uh, no, what makes no sense is comparing elves and other fantasy creatures in a world that never existed to real races and reality. Why couldn’t there be black elves? Eventually “Star Trek” had black Vulcans, and nobody freaked out. The Tolkien nerds are upset because the female character Galadriel will be portrayed in the production as a warrior. Tolkien’s Galadriel was not a warrior. How dare they?
In “Toy Story 4,” Barbie and Little Bo Beep were badass fighters. Yeah, it was pandering to feminists, but it worked, sort of. And that’s always what matters, as I have explained here many times, from my perspective of a director. If a twist on a character or non-traditional casting makes a production effective and interesting, the choice should be regarded as fine, and that includes casting a white, female amputee as “Black Panther.” Making casting choices based on non-artistic agendas, however, is a betrayal of professional ethics. At least staying true to the original creator’s vision shows respect for the work and the vision.
If woke casting doesn’t work, well, this month Warner Bros. announced that its 100 million dollar film “Batgirl” featuring such innovations as a race-flipped title character and two Batmans (Batmen?) was so reviled by preview audiences that it will never be released.
21 thoughts on “Believe It Or Not! The Incoherent Hollywood Casting Rules Get Even More Incoherent And Hypocritical In A “Lord Of The Rings” Controversy”
Dark elf? Such has been described.
Eol an his son, Maeglin.
Actually having a black elf, in fantasy worlds, puts the elf in a totally different, but related race. A black elf, or dark elf, is a Drow. With one exception in the generally agreed upon fantasy canon, Drow are evil, matriarchal worshippers of a spider goddess who delights in child sacrifices and torture, as well as about any kind of evil you can dream up. Black (more often called gray) dwarves (duergar) are also always evil (again with a couple of rare examples with extensive backstories). Dark-skinned humans can be good or evil and in most recent portrayals are almost exclusively good, but dark skin on dwarves and elves indicates one of the evil Underdark races. Remember that in a lot of fantasy world building, evil races like orcs, goblins, trolls, etc simplify the storytelling and allow for a simple nine grid of alignments to describe a character’s basic makeup that can then be used to build a full character.
Tolkien did not have Drow or duergar in his books, but the genre does. Indeed, Tolkien made elves into a nearly angelic race and their appearance is meant to suggest that, though the fantasy genre has changed then slightly over the years. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy with Elijah Wood represented the characters very well and for fans of Tolkien and the older fantasy genre, this was an excellent portrayal of the story in most cases. Of course there was plenty of debate regarding minutia, but generally speaking we nerds felt that this was true to the story.
No matter whether or not you are a Tolkien purist or a fantasy nerd, a black elf is at least as jarring as a black Alexander Hamilton and unless the whole cast was black, somewhat like casting The Von Trapp Family from eight radically different appearing ethnicities. Sure, you can get over it, if it is done well, but it does jostle the audience from the story and disrupt the suspension of disbelief needed. I suppose a way to consider it is if Jurassic Park made a two foot tall spinosaurus. I assume that would be as grave a disappointment to dinosaur fans as a black elf is to a fantasy nerd.
As a fantasy nerd, I think movies are a poor substitute for the books and wish they were mostly eradicated, but if I’m going to watch them, I want them to capture the wonder and majesty of the books, which rely greatly on visual descriptions that should be kept uniform. Indeed, the deviation from the books is why the Harry Potter movies from the third on sucked so badly. They dropped over half the plot and radically so much about the story Rowling had presented. Foreshadowing was eradicated, ruining the greatest joy of figuring out what is going to happen before it does, which was broadly telegraphed in the books, but totally ignored in the movies. (Note: I don’t really like Harry Potter very much, so perhaps that biases my conclusions on those books and movies.)
In summary, perhaps a black elf can be pulled off well, but a black elf will be very jarring to audiences who generally like these kind of things.
Interesting comment, Sarah. You are correct that Tolkien’s elves are angelic figures. I had not considered the fantasy canon as a background/backdrop of casting actors to play those parts. I thoroughly loved Tolkien’s works and ventured further into the realm but, due to demands of law school, I drifted away from the genre, reading more of the dystopians than anyone, and along came a kiddo so we had to read “Thomas the Tank Engine”, “Winnie the Pooh”, “Aesop’s Fables”. “Percy Jackson” and a lot of Mark Twain (don’t ask . . . – our son really liked when Injun Joe got his head lopped off!). I liked Steven Donaldson and his “Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever” series, though.
I’ve got plenty more to say, but it’s going to have to wait till tonight.
Interesting. Sarah, you have some interesting thoughts, but you’re kind of mixing a few different fantasy worlds up together. The Drow (a Scottish cognate of troll), or black elves (literally black, with skin like obsidian and hair of silver), are actually a creation of Gary Gygax and the folks at TSR, and they were a truly evil and deadly foe of all that was good, sworn enemies of their woodland cousins. Originally they were also portrayed as decadent, into drug use, kinky sex, torture while deriving pleasure from the plain they inflict, and other deviant and disgusting practices. Needless to say, they are foreign to Tolkien’s world and nothing like his elves. The same is true of the other TSR elves, although a few Tolkien touches like the noble gray elves crept in. TSR elves were generally shorter and thinner than humans, with angular features including pointed ears. They were long-lived, but not immortal.
Tolkien’s elves are more like the Irish Tuatha de Danaan or the semi-divine Greek heroes. Believe it or not, they did not have pointed ears in the books, those were added for the movies. They were also not only not smaller than humans, they were often taller and stronger, with some of their kings and heroes reaching over seven and in one case eight feet in height. They were not subject to illness or aging (unless tortured or abused) and enjoyed a modified form of immortality – they could not age and die or sicken and die, but sword, fire and poison were as deadly to them as to men, and they could also die of great grief (making for many dramatic deaths).
Now, here’s where we get into color questions. The original elves, the first race to awaken in Middle Earth, broke down into about five ethnic groups. The highest and most honorable, who don’t play much part in the story, were the gold elves (Vanyar) who were all blonde and blue-eyed (Galadriel’s dad was half gold elf, hence her blonde hair). The next highest, who are the highest you would normally see in Middle Earth, were the deep elves (Noldor), who were typically gray or blue eyed, but usually dark-haired. After that come the silver-haired sea elves (Teleri, sailor elves, not sea-dwelling elves), the similar gray elves (Sindar), so called because they never went into the immortal land in the west but were taught by a king who did, and last of all the “dark elves” who had no contact of any kind with the immortal lands but were as fair as the rest (most of the wood elves fall under this category). Tolkien never envisioned any dark-skinned elves like dark-skinned humans or Vulcans. Actually African-complected Vulcans were not added to the Star Trek mythos with 1995’s Star Trek: Voyager when Tim Russ was cast as Tuvok. Vulcans were originally envisioned as being greenish in cast due to their copper-based green blood.
Tolkien did have dark-skinned humans in his world called Haradrim, but they lived far away to the south normally. They allied with Sauron, and are only seen in the final battle when the Rohirrim sweep them away (in the movies the Rohirrim charge the orcs and the Haradrim only enter the fight after that, mounted on mastodon-type beasts).
Simply put, there were no black elves in Tolkien’s mythos, nor black dwarves. The halflings WERE actually supposed to be darker than humans, especially the most numerous Harfoots, who had “nut-brown” skin and hair. Obviously that’s gone by the boards.
Oh, by the way, Galadriel was supposed to have been a warrior in the First Age, the time of all the epic elven stories, but it isn’t clear whether she continued to be one into the Second Age, which is the most undeveloped of Tolkien’s three ages of Middle-Earth (the Hobbit and LOTR take place at the close of the Third Age). It looks like the Second Age is going to be very compressed. In the books it actually runs four millennia, and the majority of the heroic men live not in Middle-Earth, but in the Atlantis-like land of Numenor, while the elves have several realms in Middle-Earth, Lindon chief among them, ruled by the High King Gil-Galad, who rules for all this time. The Numenoreans go through 22 kings in the same time (although they are mortal men they live centuries). Most of the events revolve around their desire for immortality and how they are never allowed to come to the land of immortality, which finally results in the divine destruction of the place. A few escape, including Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil, who is the king you see in the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring, who perishes shortly before the defeat of Sauron, closing the Second Age.
We’ll just see have to see how the series comes off. I’ll give it a chance, but if I don’t like it, I won’t try to force myself to like it.
You are absolutely correct that I am mixing Tolkien with Forgotten Realms. Everyone I know who likes LOTR is a Forgotten Realms devotee too. I can guarantee you that my old group of friends would watch this and say, “When did Tolkien have drow? Why the heck are their drow here?” until our woke friends called the group racist. We’d have toned it down while they were in the room, except R1 who would push it harder to piss off M and R2. This would mar our watching the movie and it’d take a superb avtor to get us away from the distraction. Again, this is not to say that a black playing an elf can’t happen, but that it will be jarring. Jarring the audience isn’t always bad, but it’s a major risk. When you have a nearly cult following like the fantasy freaks (I’m one) for Tolkien, I think you had better deliver a stellar project or that risk will be a death knell to the whole mess. So many people I know gave up on Star Wars completely after the risks taken there. I fear that too woke of casting and you’d raise the risk of alienating fans too high. Honestly, I hope it works. I’d love more good LOTR.
Actually I am more of a Greyhawk fan, since I think that world is closer to the original idea behind the game. FR was only declared the “home base” of the game there the power struggle which pushed the original creators out. Not that FR doesn’t have some interesting things going, but I’m an “epic hero” traditionalist and I think a lot of FR tries to consciously reject that (although the Bloodstone campaign and the war with the Tuigan were very traditional). I also think that it let wokeness seep in. The idea of one of the world’s heroes being a Drow who defected from decadence and in fact there being a whole movement of Drow who are trying to move away from that decadence is kind of ridiculous. They are a straight up villainous race who just happened to look more attractive than goblins or orcs. I don’t know if you ever played in the so-called Shining South, but, at least for a while, there was a nation there called Dambrath, originally ruled by horsemen sort of like the Rohirrim, who were later tricked into relying on traitorous evil priestesses in a fight against the Drow, resulting in a sexist and racist evil nation ruled by half-Drow aristocrats where men could have no authority except over other men. Not to worry, some of the original barbarians managed to escape and rebuild in the nearby steppes. Eventually, I think the plan was that they were going to rise up and try to take their nation back. I once penned an adventure that posited just that, but where some of the evil rulers had fled in three groups, one overseas, one in an attempt to reach the Drow underground city still ruled by their distant relatives, yet another (this mostly comprised of those who had the least Drow blood and we’re therefore the lightest skinned) east to try to disperse in the wizard-ruled land of Halruaa, where the aloof wizards might leave them alone. Well, the new rulers were busy consolidating their reign and destroying the remnants of the old order, they wanted these other groups stopped, lest they become a problem later on. That’s where the adventurers come in. Their mission was to pursue these groups of evil refugees and ah, neutralize them. For doing so they would be rewarded from the treasury that was now in the hands of the new rulers and they could also keep whatever else they might pick up along the way. None of the players felt even the slightest qualm about wiping out these evil individuals. They only took out the two groups moving over land, initially nailing the east moving group then getting some help from the wizards catching up with the group trying to get underground resulting in a fight I dubbed “the battle at the gates of the underworld.” Not to worry about the group that tried to flee overseas, their ships later drifted into view of the shore of the Shining Sea smoking, with not a mast standing, and with no one alive aboard. It’s thought the Nimbralese flying hunt decided to eliminate them, but no one lived to tell the tale, and the near legendary glass-armored knights, even if someone could catch up to them, aren’t talking.
It wasn’t the black elf and other firms of woke-pandering that offended me, it was the wholesale departure from canon, in ways that went way beyond necessity or artistic license. I think maybe if I wasn’t such a Tolkien fanatic, I’d have enjoyd it much more.
One day, someone’s going to invest even more money into the events of the First Age, and if they mutilate The Silmarillion in like fashion, people are going to be PISSED.
I bought the Audible versions of The Silmarillion, Beren & Luthien, and The Children of Hurin, for when I’m driving. Martin Shaw is a phenomenal reader.
By those rules, dogs should be cast as dogs, elves as elves, and birds as birds.
Rather than saying only elves must be cast as elves since makeup can do a lot, perhaps instead a better example is that one should avoid casting a Great Dane as a dachshund, though Dean Jones may disagree.
The Tolkien nerds are upset because the female character Galadriel will be portrayed in the production as a warrior. Tolkien’s Galadriel was not a warrior. How dare they?
Here is the thing about Hollywood gender trait swaps: Hollywood likes to take all the female characters written with nuance and complexity in novels and turn them in to men with boobs without updating any of the nuance or complexity to account for the switches. The switches, therefore, often make the story incoherent. Men and women are not the same, and they have different strengths and weaknesses. In novels, especially older novels, many authors already portrayed the female characters as strong female characters, but they did it in ways that the woke do not approve of. It is no longer acceptable for a female character to be a believable woman, have any feminine traits, or for female characters to think or behave the way that actual females think and behave.
Take the character of Naomi Nagata in The Expanse, for example. In the books, Naomi was the glue that made the crew of the Rocinante work. She was calm, level headed, maternal, and the only female on the crew. Yet she easily corralled all the rash, temperamental men she lived and worked with by being the character they all relied on for emotional support. When they wanted to do something crazy, she just told them no, and they listened to her because of who she was to them on a personal level.
In the television show, they turned Naomi into a rash, impulsive, temperamental terrorist with violent tendencies and zero common sense. Ok, fine you changed the character. Whatever. But then they left all the quotes from the book in the story for the situations where the rash, temperamental men are turning to her for guidance on whether or not they should follow their rash, temperamental impulses. They still have the sociopath Amos following her around looking to her to be his conscience since he doesn’t have one of his own. Well now, neither does she, so how does that make sense? They have the ever tilting at windmills James Holden looking to her to stop him from doing crazy things at points in the new, improved woke story where Naomi is no longer behaving rationally, but is instead starting riots and instigating violence for no apparent reason other than she felt like it. Why does Holden think she has a better grasp on ethics than he does at this point? It makes the story incoherent.
In the books, the character who held all the power was already Naomi, and she held it because she had feminine traits that filled in the gaps of the male personalities. The men actually needed her. In the television show, she holds all the power because…women better than men. There really isn’t any other reason. All the maternal feminine traits have been stripped out, along with the common sense and calm rational personality. Those traits were replaced by a one dimensional BLM style terrorist persona that only an idiot would rely on for ethical guidance or good advice.
In the books, Naomi was already a brilliant engineer, smarter than just about everyone else. She already held sway over all the men, but she did so in a believable way. She was already a strong female character. Why mess with that? Wokeness. Wokeness demands that all feminine traits be removed, and apparently demands that all depth of character be removed along with it to be replaced by irritating stereotypes of grating narcissists.
People get sick of that crap. If they want to watch annoying people pretend to be warriors, they can just watch the news. They turn to fantasy to escape the political propaganda, only to find that the political propaganda has infiltrated absolutely everything and ruined everything. It makes people feel like they are under attack from all angles, with no escape. It should not be surprising to anyone when people get angry about it, and justifiably so in my opinion. If you cannot respect the spirit of the source material, then leave the source material alone.
Shouldn’t the marketplace gradually sort things out?
The recent “adaptation” (more “inspired by”than a real adaptation) of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time had ample opportunities for a diverse cast. The story ranges across several nations, and features an international organization of sorceresses. But rather than use diversity in the service of the story, they decided to make every remote mountain village and isolated mining town look like a Bennetton ad. That isn’t diversity, it’s homogeneity. Ever part of the world looks exactly like every other part of the world, and all look like the world as a whole.
I haven’t read Wheel of Time, but simulwatched it with a friend who loved the books. Her comments have not been approving of the adaptation. Giving a chance to Season 2, but I don’t think we’ll make it past that.
Why they ever decided to make it a question that the Dragon Reborn might be one of the women from Two Rivers is mind-boggling to me. It makes absolutely no sense within the lore that the TV show itself still espouses (people are afraid of the Dragon Reborn because he’s male and hence will go crazy and destroy everything around him. If the Dragon Reborn is a woman, no one needs to worry about her!).
Other changes were stupid but more forgivable. But the wokeness is like an annoying little brother poking you every chance he gets.
How do you screw up TWO Batmans? That should be like doubly awesome.
Oh man – a topic that twists me up and makes me question whether I know anything. I hate that Hollywood movies are such “high stakes”. You get 1 chance to make your vision for $200M. It screws with every bit of calculus.
Anecdote: Maybe a decade ago when Dark Knight Rises came out, my friends and I knew Christian Bale was done as Batman. We were just spit-balling who we think would make a good Batman/Bruce Wayne. Someone said Idris Elba and there was a strong consensus that, indeed, that would be amazing to see. That dude is awesome in everything he does. A couple years after that, we had the public uproar over Idris Elba potentially playing James Bond and someone saying he’s “too street”. I mean, when that happened, I was like “WTF. I already had him fan-cast as Billionaire Bruce Wayne.”… but maybe Bruce and James Bond are different enough where one needs to be strong and gritty in how he gets things done, and the other suave and gentle. So perhaps there isn’t a disconnect?
Anyway, back on track. I loved the LotR movies just fantastic in my view of things. I think everyone should love them. I think everyone should love middle age fantasy epics the way I do. Comic books, Superheroes, etc.
With that in mind, diversity representation is clearly important in allowing people to grow with a genre. Execution, however, is critical to success or failure.
Failure: Fant4stic – Here we had Michael B. Jordan cast as Human Torch Johnny Storm.
That wasn’t the failure. The failure came in execution when they cast Kate Mara as his biological sister and decided they had to change the backstory and relationship dynamic to accommodate the actor’s skin colors. Like, at that point, cast a black actress and don’t jack up the characters.
Success: Spider-Man – The most recent trilogy of Spider-Man films cast Zendaya as MJ. There’s nothing to dislike with this casting. Is she a red-head bombshell of the comics? Nope. Did she need to be? Nope. This trilogy also gives us the fantastic Jacob Batalon as Ned Leeds. Not entirely a new character, but so unknown that no one has pre-conceptions of how he’ll be used. Flash Thompson played by Tony Revolori was last played by Joe Manganiello but is quite white in the comics. Maybe I’m missing the outcry but all of these actors have been killing it in their respective roles.
Point…. point… I’m supposed to have a point….
Hollywood is too high stakes to allow creative artistic expression to try new things. How amazing would it have been if Peter Jackson had seamlessly integrated a diverse cast into LotR all those years ago? I suppose he just didn’t have the foresight or talent to pull it off. How amazing would it be to see Idris Elba as Bruce Wayne? The truth of the matter – with Hollywood, everyone’s fighting for every scrap they can get and trying not to misstep. Owing to this lack of adventure, genuine bold choices, and the accompanying financial risk, the only way change seems to be coming is by some type of edict.
Quite frankly, Hollywood’s foray’s with their tentpole intellectual property is too expensive and too protected – to the point that Warner Bros. can’t quite figure out their DC Comics universe. They continually give us 3 hour $300M epics every 3 years. If it were me? Give a director $40M to make two batman movies that are 70% dialogue. Give another director $40M to make two superman movies that are like The Paper and Spotlight. Then, and only then, bring those two properties together for a tentpole movie event. If Hollywood could step back and de-escalate this “arms race”, it would open the door for a lot more experimentation and artistic freedom. At that point, I bet we wouldn’t see casting edicts like we’re seeing from the Academy for award movies.
I dunno. Just my thoughts. Superman: The Movie made me believe a man could fly. Idris Elba makes me believe Batman can be black.
Just when you think that things can’t get any wackier…
My pathological psychology teacher warned us “Not to play in anyone’s fantasy.” In other words, keep your therapeutic approach reality-based. This situation deserves a corollary, “Don’t play WITH other’s fantasies.” In other words, stay with the intent of the author.
Fanfiction is ok, if done just for fun, but devoting too much time or effort to it is probably not healthy, A few writers, particularly currently active ones, don’t like it and will take steps to prevent its publication. Anne Rice was one of them, but now that she’s dead I’m not sure her estate will care as much. Still, there’s a difference between say, picking up where the Emergency! series ends (the two primary characters are promoted to captain) and telling the story of one of these newly minted captains taking command of his new company, or filling in some gaps in the Narnia serias (CSL drops a few “hooks” he never follows up on), and doing a One Chicago fanfic in which you turn old-school Hank Voight woke. That’s just aelf-indulgence.