Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ Team Knew They’d Face Tolkien Fan Backlash over Diverse Casting

"Who are these people that feel so threatened or disgusted by the idea that an elf is Black or Latino or Asian?"
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Amazon Prime Video
"Lord of the Rings"
Amazon Prime Video

Amazon Prime Video’s “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” premieres on the streaming platform September 2, but already J.R.R. Tolkien fans are criticizing casting choices.

Vanity Fair exclusively debuted first look images of the upcoming series, featuring 22 lead cast members and multiple storylines ranging from “deep within the dwarf mines of the Misty Mountains to the high politics of the elven kingdom of Lindon and the humans’ powerful, Atlantis-like island, Númenor.”

Showrunners Patrick McKay and JD Payne were well aware of the pressures of creating a spinoff from the iconic series.

The Amazon series features a wide range of diverse stars in Middle-earth. There’s the silvan elf Arondir, played by Ismael Cruz Córdova, the first person of color to play an elf in a Tolkien screen project. There’s Bronwyn, a human healer played by British-Iranian actor Nazanin Bonjadi; Sophia Nomvete as the first Black woman playing a dwarf in a “Lord of the Rings” project; and more.

“It felt only natural to us that an adaptation of Tolkien’s work would reflect what the world actually looks like,” said Lindsey Weber, executive producer of the series. “Tolkien is for everyone. His stories are about his fictional races doing their best work when they leave the isolation of their own cultures and come together.”

But not everyone is set on the casting of the elves. When the studio originally released a photo of its multicultural cast, Amazon was immediately met with vitriolic online trolling, as fans took to social media to slam certain roles.

“Obviously there was going to be push and backlash,” Tolkien scholar Mariana Rios Maldonado told Vanity Fair, “but the question is, from whom? Who are these people that feel so threatened or disgusted by the idea that an elf is Black or Latino or Asian?”

Director J.A. Bayona likened the plot of “Rings of Power” to that of his own cultural background growing up in Spain.

“We had a dictatorship for 40 years, so you notice the repercussions of war and the shadow of the past,” said Bayona, who directs the first two episodes. “I think this is all about the repercussions of war. There is an idea that feels very faithful to Tolkien, which is intuition. Galadriel has an intuition that things are not fixed, and there is still something lurking.”

Bayona added, “Can you imagine going back to such a beloved world and [facing] the high bar of the Peter Jackson movies? We were, all the time, very aware of the massive expectations.”

Amazon is set to release the first teaser trailer for “The Rings of Power” during Super Bowl LVI.

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