September 9, 2022

The Woke Colonizers of Middle Earth

Amazon’s “Rings of Power” excels at diversity at the expense of good storytelling.

Imagine, for a moment, that one of the great works of literature in all the world was the story of African empires and wars and heroes, but that a handful of elite malcontents later insisted that white people be sufficiently represented in the cast of a made-for-TV version of the story. Such an effort would be denounced as a vile act of cultural appropriation and colonialism … by the very same people who are doing exactly that to the timeless work of J.R.R. Tolkien.

At the outset, we’ll state very clearly that our problem with Amazon’s “Rings of Power” TV series is not that there’s a black dwarf or black elf. (Excuse us — “people of color,” which we admit to finding a humorous variation on the now-verboten “colored people” moniker of yesteryear.) Diversity of skin melanin is certainly not an objectionable thing, in and of itself. God created humans in His own image, after all, and that includes people of every color.

(Author’s note: Two of my five children are black Africans.)

Our problem is that the lazy writers of the “Rings” screenplay clearly have no love for Tolkien’s source material, choosing instead to highlight diversity and other “woke” virtues at the expense of the old art of storytelling. Featuring people of color is not a substitute for good character development or telling a story that adheres to Tolkien’s source material. Predictably, after such provocation, representatives of the show had the gall to cry victimhood the second anyone objected.

Most bad reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, where the show has a 39% audience rating, don’t mention race at all, and media reports of all the supposed prejudice never seem to get around to quoting any of it. Apparently responding to whatever Twitter bots made ostensibly racist comments, the show’s official Twitter account posted a statement of denunciation and solidarity with all cast members.

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 subjected to on a daily basis. We refuse to ignore it or tolerate it. JRR Tolkien created a world which, by definition, is multi-cultural. A world in which free peoples from different races and cultures join together, in fellowship, to defeat the forces of evil. “Rings of Power” reflects that. Our world has never been all white, fantasy has never been all white, Middle-earth is not all white. BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color] belong in Middle-earth and they are here to stay.

Likewise, Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan, and Billy Boyd, who played the four hobbits Frodo, Samwise, Merry, and Pippin in the “Lord of the Rings” film adaptation more than 20 years ago, made a public display of solidarity.

This same thing happened when Disney rebuked “racist” fans for complaining about poor writing and development for a black character in “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” This sort of thing seems to be becoming habitual in Hollywood and on the Left generally, and it smacks of a publicity stunt along the lines of that Bubba Wallace noose and other fake “hate crimes.” Moreover, maybe we’re just old school, but we tend to think it’s poor marketing to trash your audience as a bunch of racists.

We knew this was coming earlier this year. “It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” explained Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series, in February. “Tolkien is for everyone.”

Indeed, his work is for everyone. Yet he also wrote it after personally serving in the trenches of World War I, and the story is based on the Caucasian people of Western Europe, set during a time of racial homogeneity. That said, racism was certainly a theme for Tolkien, as Elves, Dwarves, and Men had to learn to work together to fight evil, just as the above “Rings” statement says. It’s perfectly fine to add diversity of characters for today’s world. Just don’t pretend that’s sufficient.

The problem is deep. As political analyst John Daniel Davidson writes, “The show doesn’t just abandon Tolkien’s moral imagination, it also mangles, disregards, and needlessly changes its source material.” That too is common in Hollywood these days, even when the source material is previous Hollywood works. Retconning stories in order to destroy old heroes according to modern (im)moral sensibilities is shameful, but it happens all the time. (See, for example, “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Terminator,” “Rocky,” etc.)

Hollywood also demeans Tolkien’s characters. Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy regularly made heroes less noble than Tolkien did. Faramir, Elrond, and even Aragorn were victims of needless smears. In “Rings of Power,” it’s the main character Galadriel. In their zeal for making a Strong Female Lead™, the writers reduce her from a noble and profoundly feminine elven ruler to a mid-level military grunt whose primary virtue is that she can defeat men in brutal hand-to-hand combat. Feminism for the win?

As Davidson concludes, “Maybe we’re no longer the kind of people or society that can faithfully adapt Tolkien because, having lost our own moral imagination and sacramental understanding of creation, we can no longer comprehend the meaning of Middle Earth.” That, not nitpicking the race of characters, is what has audiences giving a hearty thumbs down for “Rings of Power.”

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