The Racist Backlash to Amazon’s ‘Lord of the Rings,’ Explained

A vocal minority claims the representative casting of the Prime Video fantasy series is an affront to J.R.R. Tolkien’s source material

Prime Video

Amazon finally launched its epic TV series take on “The Lord of the Rings” last week, but the debut of the highly anticipated show was somewhat clouded by a vocal minority of fans decrying the series’ diverse casting.

“The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” is set thousands of years before the events depicted in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings,” telling a story set during what Tolkien called the Second Age – an era of prosperity and peace that is soon threatened by the re-emergence of an evil sorcerer named Sauron.

The TV series features all the various races found in Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations – humans, dwarves, elves, orcs and hobbit-like Harfoots – but there is a major difference between this series and how the world of Middle-earth has been depicted before. It’s racially diverse.

The casting of non-white actors as elves and dwarves rankled a few fans when it was first announced, and now that the show is here, Amazon has taken the step of suspending user reviews for the first 72 hours to prevent those angry about the racially diverse cast from “review bombing” the series.

But why the racist outcry over “Lord of the Rings” in the first place? Let us explain.

These Fans Claim Tolkien Never Intended Non-White Characters to Populate Middle-earth

Prime Video

The primary argument against the diverse casting of “The Rings of Power” is that J.R.R. Tolkien never intended to populate Middle-earth with actors of color, never mind the fact that Middle-earth is populated by trolls, goblins, nearly immortal elves, wizards and a disembodied eye that contains the consciousness of a dead evil sorcerer.

There is no basis of fact in this argument, and Tolkien even described Harfoots – the precursors to hobbits that are seen in “The Rings of Power” – as having “browner” skin in contrast to their descendants the hobbits.

These “fans” contend that Tolkien, who was white and lived in England, based Middle-earth on a “European” influence and thus the casting of non-white actors goes against the spirit of the books, with arguments claiming Black people didn’t exist in medieval England (this is false) or comparing the diverse cast to casting a white actor as Marvel’s Black Panther or just straight up “fuming” that Black people are in the show. Again, this is not rooted in fact and underlines the misplaced belief that Tolkien’s work was somehow deeply rooted in the white experience. Also the books are made up.

And some who defend the diverse casting of the series have been hit with racist attacks online, as laid out in Richard Newby’s personal essay for THR.

Amazon Is Combatting Potential Review Bombing

This vocal minority is making its opposition to the diverse casting of “The Rings of Power” heard by “review bombing” the show, which means giving the series the lowest possible rating on platforms like Rotten Tomatoes in order to drag down the overall user rating, regardless of whether they’ve actually watched it.

The current “Audience Score” of the series on Rotten Tomatoes is 38%, which stands in sharp contrast to the 84% average rating from critics (and even the Audience Score of another new fantasy series, HBO’s “House of the Dragon” which sits at 84%).

In order to combat review bombing on its own platform, Amazon suspended the ability for users to rate the series for 72 hours, hopefully ensuring that those who rate the show have actually watched it.

Racist Backlash Is Prevalent in Many Genre Fandoms

The race-driven outcry over the casting of “The Rings of Power” is, sadly, yet another example of racist gatekeepers in the world of genre and fandom. Just a few months ago, “Star Wars” fans began attacking actress Moses Ingram who played a key role as an Inquisitor in the Disney+ series “Obi-Wan Kenobi.” After she shared numerous death threats and racist attacks she had received over social media, co-star Ewan McGregor and Lucasfilm itself came to Ingram’s defense, saying racism has no place in “Star Wars” fandom.

These attacks came years after the casting of John Boyega as Finn, a Stormtrooper, in the highly anticipated “Star Wars” sequel “The Force Awakens” was met with backlash of its own. In that instance, Lucasfilm’s course of action was to stay quiet and ignore the vocal minority. Reflecting on how his experience contrasted with that of Ingram’s, Boyega recently said he was happy to see significant change in such a short period of time.

“Moses Ingram being protected makes me feel protected,” Boyega said on SiriusXM’s “Tell Me Everything.” “It makes me feel like, ‘OK, cool. I am not the elephant in the room.’ Because when I started, it wasn’t really a conversation you could bring up. It was kind of like, let’s just be silent. It wasn’t a conversation you could bring up. But now to see how blatant it is, to see Ewan McGregor come and support… for me, [it] fulfills my time where I didn’t get the support.”

There has also been pushback to diverse casting in franchises ranging from James Bond to “Spider-Man,” as some fans decry racially diverse casting for major franchises and IP that have been traditionally white while applauding significant story- and character-based changes to the source material.

The Diverse Cast of “The Rings of Power” Shows Strides in Representation

Prime Video

It’s true that the cast of “The Rings of Power” is significantly more diverse than Jackson’s Oscar-winning trilogy adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings,” which featured a nearly all-white cast. But the casting of actors of color like Lenny Henry, Ismael Cruz Córdova, Nazanin Boniadi, Sara Zwangobani, Maxine Cunliffe and Sophia Nomvete in “The Rings of Power” shows the strides the industry has made in representation, especially when it comes to the traditionally white-dominated genre of fantasy.

And the diverse casting of “The Rings of Power” spans all the races of Tolkien’s universe – Henry, Zwangobani and Cunliffe play Harfoots, Boniadi plays a human (and forbidden love interest of Córdova’s elf) and Nomvete plays the dwarven princess Disa.

Córdova, who is Puerto Rican, plays the first elf of color in any adaptation of Tolkien’s work and told TheWrap that the world of Middle-earth is big enough for everyone.

“For me this journey has been about my love for Tolkien, but it’s also been about surpassing so many hardships, growing up poor and even experiencing homelessness in New York City, and having this quest also for representation in fantasy,” Córdova said at the world premiere of the series. “No matter what anybody says, we all deserve to have a place in this world. And it’s beyond race, it’s also culture, it’s also gender, it’s also difference of thought. This world is expansive enough to host all of us, so I’m happy to be leading the charge. There’s many more seasons, many more people are gonna come in, many varieties of expression, so I’m happy to be the first class.”

The decision of Amazon and the showrunners and producers of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” to cast actors of color in key roles speaks to the progress that has been made, despite racial backlash still persisting.

Is the representative casting an affront to Tolkien’s works? Is it factually inaccurate? Well here’s the thing to remember about the “Lord of the Rings” source material: it’s all made up in the first place.

The first two episodes of “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” are now streaming on Prime Video.

Jolie Lash contributed reporting to this article.