By: Caroline MacLellan
June 26th, 2023
Since “The Rings of Power” first began airing in September 2022, debates regarding the diverse cast have sprung up all over the Internet. “The Rings of Power” is a spin-off prequel series to the original “Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy. It follows royal elf Galadriel and many other characters, who come together to face a variety of challenges throughout the series, including the rise of the dark lord Sauron.
In comparison to the original trilogy, “The Rings of Power” features a diverse cast of actors from a variety of different racial backgrounds. In the “Lord of the Rings” movies, it’s almost impossible to spot a character of any other race than white. A similar issue can be observed in “The Hobbit” trilogy, despite being released over a decade after the first “Lord of the Rings” movie.
However, “The Rings of Power” tackles the diversity issues plaguing the original trilogy. A multitude of characters in “The Rings of Power” are non-white, including one of the main characters, an elf named Arondir. Arondir is an original character played by Puerto Rican actor Ismael Cruz Córdova and his character is just one of the many diverse casting decisions.
Other notable POC characters include the dwarf Princess Disa, played by UK-born African Iranian actress Sophia Nomvete, and a human warrior named Bronwyn, played by Iranian actress Nazanin Boniadi. Most viewers perceive this as a positive change, but a multitude of fans have lashed out at the news of a more diverse cast. The aforementioned three actors alone make for a more diverse cast than all other “Lord of the Rings” casts.
Many of those upset with the casting claim that it ruins Tolkien’s vision for Middle Earth and that the characters should be cast exactly as they’re written, or else the show is “disloyal” to the original creator. They also argue that since Middle Earth is based on Europe, it doesn’t make sense for there to be non-white characters in a series set there. However, Europe has never been a place filled only with white people, especially in the present day. It may in fact be more disingenuous to exclude non-white people from the series.
The same critics see the casting as a social justice statement, claiming Amazon Studios is trying to make “The Rings of Power” ‘woke’ by casting a diverse range of actors. To them, it doesn’t make sense that there could be people of color in Middle Earth, leading them to believe Amazon Studios is forcing diversity into the show to make it as ‘woke’ as possible.
“The Lord of the Rings” and “The Rings of Power” are fantasy series though—they aren’t historical, nor are they rooted in real world events. After all, dwarves and elves don’t really exist. So, having non-white characters in fantasy worlds should make perfect sense. Even if Middle Earth is based on Europe, the story in “The Rings of Power” doesn’t discuss the racial and social justice issues that occur in reality. It simply tells the story of different races of people, like elves, dwarves, and the harfoots, coming together in times of adversity.
It’s safe to say then, that most of the opposition towards the diverse characters of the story is simply rooted in racism. The skin color of these characters doesn’t affect the plot in any way whatsoever, leading many to believe that those crying loyalty to Tolkien or claiming the series is ‘woke’ are covering for their racism. Some of these people have even stooped so low as to harass and threaten the POC cast members.
Luckily, “The Rings of Power” cast and crew have stood with their fellow cast members. After the massive amount of backlash, the cast released a statement stating their solidarity with cast members of color. The first part reads, “We, the cast of Rings of Power, stand together in absolute solidarity and against the relentless racism, threats, harassment, and abuse some of our castmates of color are being subject to on a daily basis.” Read the rest of their powerful statement here.
The racists have certainly been the noisiest bunch in regards to the “The Rings of Power” casting. However, the casting has also resulted in a plentiful amount of positivity. Not only has the diverse casting resulted in a broader audience that appeals to more people around the world, it gives many POC fantasy fans the opportunity to see themselves in the characters they are seeing on screen. It’s difficult to relate to a character when they don’t look like you. “The Rings of Power” gives many fans that chance, while still allowing them to enjoy the fantasy world of Middle Earth.
Hopefully, other fantasy series will follow in “The Rings of Power”’s footsteps. There have already been shows released both before and after the series that are demonstrating how racial and ethnic diversity doesn’t take away from the story being told. “The Sandman” and the “Game of Thrones” prequel “House of the Dragon” are just some of the many fantasy series casting a diverse range of people in their shows. “The Rings of Power” and others may just be the gateway to more diverse high fantasy TV in the future.
Caroline MacLellan is a senior studying Professional and Public Writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.