John Cole at Balloon Juice started up a lively discussion on a recent kerfuffle over ethnic diversity in the casting of “The Hobbit.” The post brought me back to 2005, when MPomy, then at Blogerantz, contemplated whether “The Lord of the Rings” was racist. His short response: I don’t think so.
I think this criticism of racial myopia (though perhaps accurate) is a cheap shot. I think it’s something you say if you don’t want to like these movies. Does Samuel L. Jackson save the Star Wars prequels from their obvious failings in the realm of dialog and character? Are the (wonderful) films of Curtis Hanson – LA Confidential and Wonder Boys – diminished by his failure to feature characters of color in leading roles?
One must also be aware that another major theme of Tolkien, which is played out fairly well in the film versions, is relations and relationships between characters and racial groups that have hated one another for centuries – see dwarves v. elves. This is resolved in favor of a recognition that, while celebrating their diversity, these groups can look beyond their differences, particularly those which are merely skin deep.
Garcia then chimed in.
If you read the Lord of the Rings trilogy carefully, though, and then look at the map, the whole thing is a LOT like WWI, and even pre-WWI, Europe. Is it not odd that Hobbiton is in the NW? Is it not odd that the blonde elves are from the area that is placed geographically a lot like where Scandinavia and Germany would be? And isn’t it ODD that the rogue forces from the South are dark-skinned, and their territory is not even shown on the Middle Earth map? For me, it’s like a combination of the legendary fear of the Mongol Hordes (something that comes up again and again in Icelandic sagas, which were based on Nordic sagas, but hey, i’m no Comp. Lit. expert, o.k.?) and Tolkien’s own experiences in WWI.
I then added the longest comment I’ve put on any blog anywhere.
I haven’t read the Tolkien books, so I have no idea whether his works are racist or not. I’m only talking about the movies (all of which I’ve seen), and specifically, the director’s choice of exclusively casting actors of European descent (at least among the principals).
It had to have been a conscious choice, in my view. No way could the all white cast been an oversight on Jackson’s part, especially given the diversity flap that Star Wars provoked.
My question is, why would Jackson make that choice of an all-white cast? Maybe to try and stay faithful to Tolkien’s vision, descriptions of the characters, etc.? But that doesn’t wash. Shakespeare probably never thought of Hamlet as anything but white, but that doesn’t stop the RSC from casting Hamlets of different ethnic backgrounds.