Middle-earth is back on our screens, and it looks a little different this time. Some have responded with hate.
The large cast of Amazon’s heavily hyped “Lord of the Rings” prequel series, “The Rings of Power,” includes a group of actors from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Last week’s premiere has been accompanied by a small but vocal backlash online from viewers angry that the elves, dwarves, harfoots and humans of the series include people of color. Actors on the show have been subjected to harassment and threats.
The racism has been denounced by a top Amazon executive, the entire “Rings of Power” cast and stars of the “Rings” films, including Elijah Wood. Here are the major developments.
What is ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’?
“Rings” is a new series on Amazon Prime Video (streaming Fridays) based on a small amount of appendix material written by author J.R.R. Tolkien, detailing Middle Earth’s “Second Age.” It takes place thousands of years before the Peter Jackson films of the early 2000s, and features elves, humans, dwarves and Harfoots (ancestors of the film’s beloved hobbit) fighting against the gathering forces of the evil Sauron.
The series took years and a reported half a billion dollars to bring to life, and Amazon claims that more than 25 million people around the world tuned in to the series on its premiere day.
Why is there racist backlash to ‘Rings of Power’?
Previous adaptations of Tolkien’s work have included mostly white, mostly male casts, including the films by director Peter Jackson, which made billions at the box office and won dozens of Academy Awards.
Amazon’s series imagines a world in which people of color and women are central figures. Characters of color include a queen regent (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), an elf warrior (Ismael Cruz Córdova), dwarf royalty (Sophia Nomvete) and the leader of the Harfoots (Lenny Henry).
According to the “Rings” Twitter account, some actors of color have experienced “relentless racism, threats, harassment and abuse.” The series has been subject to the online trolling practice of “review bombing,” in which a minority group of displeased viewers tanks audience reviews on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb. On Rotten Tomatoes, the critic score sits at 85% but the audience score is a low 39%. On Prime Video itself, reviews have been suspended.
This is not the first instance in which actors of color cast in traditionally white roles in genre TV and film has resulted in harassment and racism. Just recently, Black actor Steve Toussaint has been subjected to hateful comments for his role in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” spinoff “House of the Dragon.” John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran have experienced harassment for their roles in the newer “Star Wars” films.
What does Amazon say?
Amazon stands firmly behind its cast and the decision to include more diversity, which was blessed by the Tolkien estate, producer Lindsay Weber told the Los Angeles Times.
“We’re really proud of the cast that we have in the show. We welcome discussion and even criticism around the series; however, we will not condone racism of any kind,” Amazon Studios chief Jennifer Salke told the Times.
The show’s stars released a statement to the official “Rings” Twitter account Wednesday, strongly denouncing the racism and harassment.
The cast stands “together in absolute solidarity and agains the relentless racism, threats, harassment and abuse some of our castmates of color are being subjected to on a daily basis. We refuse to ignore it or tolerate it.”
“Our world has never been all white, fantasy has never been all white, Middle-earth is not all white,” the statement says. Black people, Indigenous people and people of color “belong in Middle-earth and they are here to stay.”
What about the stars of the original ‘Lord of the Rings’ films?
Stars of the original films Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd, who played hobbits, all took to social media to show support for the cast of “Rings of Power.” Wood, Monaghan and Boyd posted pictures wearing T-shirts with elf ears of different skin tones and the hashtag “#YouAreAllWelcomeHere.” Astin posted a picture in a hat with the same illustration.