Like so many before him who have defaulted to the same tired excuse in order to defend any number of live-action Hollywood adaptations from criticisms against a given project’s bastardization of its source material, series star Lenny Henry has dismissed critics of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Powers’ race-swapping of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original creations as nothing more than racists who can’t handle the idea that “a Black person could be a member of the court, or a hobbit, or an elf.”
The comedian, who portrays the ‘non-Hobbit Hobbit‘ Sadoc Burrows in Amazon’s multi-million-dollar swing-and-a-miss, offered his thoughts on critics of the series’ changes to Tolkien’s dutifully and explicitly crafted world during a recent interview given to GQ.
Prompted to address the subject by GQ associate digital editor Ben Allen’s inquiry of, “What made you want to get involved in The Rings of Power?”, Henry bluntly began, “I love fantasy.”
“I’ve been reading comics since I was nine,” he recalled. “Tolkien was from Birmingham, and the Shire is based on the Lickey hills in Birmingham. It all very much feels like something to me.”
However, despite feeling this connection to The Lord of the Rings, Henry then noted that “Often when you’re watching these things, you don’t see yourself as a Black person. But what’s interesting about this being told from a 21st-century perspective, things are being reconfigured. And I liked that.”
“[I agreed to be in the show] because maybe some kid will be watching this one day and they’ll see [co-stars] Ismael Cruz Cordova and Sophie Nomvete and they’ll see me and go, ‘Yeah, I can wield a sword. Yeah, I can rock a bow and arrow’,” the actor explained. “This is a groundbreaking moment.”
Met in turn with the assertion from Allen that “it feels like the big new fantasy franchises are finally diversifying” – a presumed reference to the similar race-swappings seen in such series as HBO’s House of the Dragon and Netflix’s The Witcher – Henry affirmed, “There’s a real sense of trying to be more inclusive than we were in this world” before turning to address those who disagreed with the pair’s belief that this post-2014 screenwriting trope was anything but trite and lazy.
“[House of the Dragon star] Steve Toussaint keeps saying…The purists were saying things about [his casting in the show] god bless them,” he said. “They have no trouble believing in a dragon, but they do have trouble believing that a Black person could be a member of the court. Or that a Black person could be a hobbit or an elf.”
He then declared, “And actually, storytellers can do what they want, because they’re storytellers. In the reimagining of these stories from 1000 years ago, they are not part of the canon that everybody knows, this is a re-imagining and re-weaving of the story.”
“And [Rings of Power showrunners] JD Payne and Patrick McKay have just gone, ‘What if?’” he added. “The greatest two words in storytelling: What if.”
To this end, when asked by Allen if he would’ve been interested in being a part of Peter Jackson’s cinematic The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Henry lamented, “I would have loved to have been involved in it. But change takes a long time.”
“Slavery lasted for 400 years, for god’s sake,” he said, pulling out the most easily bombastic rhetoric he possibly could in support of his defense. “In the middle of slavery, we were all going ‘Damn, this has taken a long time. When is the abolishment again?’”
Pulling out yet another pandering comparison, Lenny continued, “Women getting the vote, women are in the middle of that looking at their watches going, ‘When is this going to change?’
“Change is long, but then [*claps hands*] it happens,” he concluded. “And you’ve got to catch up. And I think that’s great.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is now available for streaming on Amazon Prime.