Production for The Lord of the Rings TV series has been underway for a few years, and now the Peter Jackson-directed films that inspired it have been caught up in controversy. Almost two weeks ago, Elijah Wood sold the NFTs he purchased from cartoonist George Trosley and donated the money to Black Lives Matter and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund after finding out that his cartoons depicted people of color in what some viewed as an extremely racist light. However, new accusers have surfaced to claim the film franchise’s troubles go much deeper than Wood’s NFT episode.
Bessie Devlin wrote in an essay on Film Updates claiming that Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings cast and creative team never reckoned with the racism they enabled within the fanbase because the films had an all-white cast. According to Devlin when the casting of Black actors was announced for the Amazon Prime prequel series in January 2020, those actors paid the price for the film production team’s decades of alleged racial ignorance on social media.
Devlin further claims that the announcement of the black actors’ casting on social media, especially on the show’s official Instagram page, triggered a flood of degrading racist comments. When the headshots of 15 actors were posted on Instagram in the first round of casting announcements for The Lord of the Rings TV series, the photos of Ismael Cruz Cordova and Sophia Nomvete garnered 10 times more comments than those of their white counterparts — most of which were punishingly vitriolic. Allegedly there were comments ranging from degrading racist jokes to “assurances that the show would be a disaster due to going ‘woke’ and — tellingly — featuring explicit sexual content.” The hateful comments were written out of fear that POC actors may be cast as anything other than Easterlings, Haradrim, or Uruk Hai: the bad guys in the movies.
The bulk of the criticism that the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy received in this essay in terms of race, is that the aforementioned villains were coded as non-white. For example, Bessie says the Easterlings wore armor that covered everything except for their eyes, which could be seen through the narrow slit of their veils, depicting an Asian stereotype. She says the Haradrim wore turbans and rode elephants, stereotyping North African and Middle Eastern men. She further points to the muscular Uruk Hai depicted as having black skin and dreadlocks, representing a vicious stereotype of African Americans. The argument made by some critics says because Peter Jackson chose to make the films more faithful to those parts of the original source material, per a 2003 Chicago Tribune article, thereby perpetuating the racism towards marginalized cast members.
Although fans of color defended the Black actors against the alleged vitriol thrown at them for being chosen to be on the Lord of the Rings show, Devlin calls on Peter Jackson and the cast and crew of the film trilogy. Devlin says they should use their wealth, influence, and white privilege to reckon with and dismantle the racism their films allegedly perpetuated, along with acknowledging that the films wouldn’t be the same were they to be produced today. She says by casting POC in the show and remaking the trilogy to include them, should that happen, the creative teams would be rejecting the racist idea that every adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books must have all-white actors. If Elijah Wood can denounce all forms of racism, then Film Update seems to think it’s only fair that his fellow cast members and Jackson do the same.