The website Film Updates and its writer Bessie Smith published an article claiming that director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy are “steeped in racist imagery.”
The article was published on November 4th, with Film Updates sharing it on Twitter writing, “When casting for the Lord of the Rings series was announced, the cast members of color were met with racism.”
They added, “Bessie Devlin asks: Did the all-white legacy of the original films breed this environment and why have the cast and creative team remained silent?”
In the article’s first paragraph, Devlin takes issue with Elijah Wood purchasing an NFT of George Trosley’s Jungle Freaks series.
Wood shared an image of the NFT in a now-deleted tweet writing, “Loving my Golden Zombie!”
He would eventually issue an apology writing, “After previously purchasing some NFTs, as well as being gifted one, I was made aware of some of the artist’s prior disturbing cartoons. Upon learning of this, I immediately sold the NFTs as I wholly denounce any form of racism.”
He added, “I have donated the funds from the sale of the NFTs to LDF and Black Lives Matter.”
While Wood would insinuate that Trosley is a racist, Trosley released his own statement saying, “I am not a racist, nor was I ever a rogue racist cartoon artist during my time at Hustler Magazine; which unfortunately is the current narrative being portrayed within the NFT community.”
In the lengthy statement, he also wrote, “We have provided a small archive of cartoons throughout this article for context that were drawn by me, at the commission of Larry Flynt and published in Hustler, to paint a clearer picture of the counterculture movement that Hustler was pushing — shining light upon all these issues by using satire in the only medium of communication available at the time that would not fall victim to the mainstream media’s politicized agendas and filters.”
Nevertheless, Smith used Wood’s purchase and subsequent apology to write, “It is still an unfortunate misstep from an actor propelled to fame by Lord of the Rings, an all-white film franchise steeped in racist imagery, whose cast and creative team have never reckoned with the racism they enabled in their fan base – while actors of colour in the new Lord of the Rings series on Amazon Prime pay the price.”
From there Smith goes on to claim that two of the show’s actors were “flooded with violent racism, degrading racist jokes, and assurances that the show would be a disaster due to going ‘woke’ and – tellingly – featuring explicit sexual content. (That the presence of Black cast led fans to believe that the show would be hyper-sexual deserves its own article.)”
First, the idea that the show would feature explicit sexual content had nothing to do with the race of the actors. That was a rumor based off a casting call on BGT that read, “BGT are currently on the search for talent who are comfortable with partial or full nudity. (Intimacy guidelines will always be followed on set) We are after all shapes, sizes and uniquely beautiful looks.”
While the casting call does not specifically mention The Lord of the Rings, TheOneRing,net’s Cliff Broadway claimed that the codeword “JAZZ” is connected to The Lord of the Rings production.
On top of this Knight Edge Media reported that the show hired New Zealand native Jennifer Ward-Lealand as an Intimacy Coordinator for Amazon’s UAP. The project is even listed on Ward-Lealand’s website.
According to The One Ring’s Cliff Broadway, the Amazon Studios UAP project “is the catch-all working title for LOTR.”
Second, Smith provides absolutely zero evidence concerning her accusations about violent racism and degrading racist jokes.
There has been plenty of legitimate criticisms that the show is taking extreme liberties with Tolkien’s writings such as the casting of Lenny Henry as a Hobbit and turning the Harfoots, a species of Hobbits, into a multicultural tribe.
Tolkien describes the Harfoots as “the most normal and representative variety of Hobbit, and far the most numerous. They were the most inclined to settle in one place, and longest preserved their ancestral habit of living in tunnels and holes.”
Smith then gets to the gist of her article writing, “the fans and cast of colour should have had the support of the cast and production team of the original film trilogy.”
She adds, “An intervention by the films’ cast and production team was sorely needed for three reasons. First, revered as they are by fans, their voices would have had a powerful impact on the conversation.”
Next she writes, “Second, it would have been an important show of solidarity with black actors in an industry where they are marginalised and mistreated.”
Then she claims the original trilogy laid the ground for racism in the fanbase. “Third – and perhaps most importantly – they should have intervened because the films that made their name laid the ground for the racism in the fanbase,” she states.
She then tries to explain how Jackson’s original trilogy laid the ground writing, “Peter Jackson’s trilogy, while spectacular and ground-breaking in many ways, is glaringly white. Worse, the human villains are all coded as non-white; “bad men” from the East and the South, complete with either veils and kohl, or bearing tribal tattooing and scarification and riding mythical elephants.”
If it’s not clear by now, Smith doesn’t appear to have actually read Tolkien’s work. Tolkien clearly details that the men from Far Harad are black.
He wrote, “He now was destroyed; but Gothmog the lieutenant of Morgul had flung them into the fray; Easterlings with axes, and Variags of Khand, Southrons in scarlet, and out of Far Harad black men like half-trolls with white eyes and red tongues.”
However, Smith didn’t stop at taking issue with characters portrayed in the film that are faithful to Tolkien’s book. She then turned to a ridiculous argument about orcs and Uruk Hai.
Smith writes, “Worst of all, the inhuman Uruk Hai – muscled and merciless – have black skin and dreadlocks. While some of this British colonial racism and eugenicist thought are a reflection of the source material itself, Jackson made a – possibly thoughtless – choice to remain ‘faithful’ to those parts of the text and even to exacerbate them.”
She uses this to then state, “As a result, racist fans were not alienated by the films but accommodated, allowed to believe that their extremely racist interpretation of Tolkein’s work was the correct one.”
It’s mind-boggling that you can describe their depictions as faithful to the source and then claim people are racist for defending the faithful adaptation. As for the source, in The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien described one orc-chieftain as “almost man-high, clad in black mail from head to foot, leaped into the chamber; behind him his followers clustered in the doorway. His broad flat face was swart, his eyes were like coals, and his tongue was red; he wielded a great spear.”
However, that was an orc from the Mines of Moria and not an Uruk-Hai. In The Two Towers, Tolkien writes, “In the twilight he saw a large black Orc, probably Uglu´k, standing facing Grishnakh, a short crook-legged creature, very broad and with long arms that hung almost to the ground. Round them were many smaller goblins. Pippin supposed that these were the ones from the North. They had drawn their knives and swords, but hesitated to attack Uglu´k.”
He further wrote, “Uglu´k shouted, and a number of other Orcs of nearly his own size ran up. Then suddenly, without warning, Uglu´k sprang forwards, and with two swift strokes swept the heads
off two of his opponents.”
Nevertheless, the race-obsessed Smith then states, “The film trilogy benefited from their racist support and everyone involved in it is therefore complicit in the abuse now raining down on series’ cast of colour (particularly the black cast, and more particularly the black women cast).”
She adds, “The comments directed at Nomvete and Cruz Cordóva are not generic racism: they are rooted in the racist lore and imagery that Jackson’s films perpetuated.”
Smith then has the gall to claim she’s not trying to cancel Jackson despite describing his work as racist.
She says, “This is not an attempt to ‘cancel’ Jackson’s trilogy. It is simply a request that Jackson and the cast use their vast wealth, platform, and white privilege to reckon with the racism they enabled and to acknowledge and celebrate the fact that, were the trilogy made today, it would not look the same.”
It’s definitely not a request, it’s an attempt to shame Jackson to adhere to her demands by insinuating that he’s a racist by claiming his work on The Lord of the Rings is racist. It’s wrong, disgusting, and sickening.
And while this entire piece by Smith is a hideous display of racial politics, it’s highly unlikely it will be the last as Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings series wildly veers from Tolkien’s writings something that we already know it will do given Lenny Henry’s comments about Hobbits.