Where Are the Black Hobbits?

The Atlantic Wire's John Hudson on the newest controversy to hit Middle-Earth:

This week, the casting director of "The Hobbit" was fired for turning away a woman of Pakistani descent for being too dark to play a hobbit. The agent also placed an advertisement in a New Zealand newspaper seeking extras with "light skin tones."

"We are looking for light-skinned people. I’m not trying to be … whatever. It’s just the brief. You’ve got to look like a Hobbit," said the agent in video footage captured during auditions. After the person in question was fired, producer and director Peter Jackson distanced himself from the casting director, who remains unnamed.

I don't actually see anything racist or prejudiced about exclusively casting light-skinned people for a fantasy series that is heavily steeped in Nordic and Anglo-Saxon lore. To draw from a brief conversation I had with Shani Hilton on the subject, with Middle-Earth, Tolkien tried to create a native mythology (of sorts) for the people of the British Isles. Given the creative vision of the films -- as close to Tolkien's depiction as possible -- I don't think it's unreasonable to restrict casting to light-skinned people, just as it wouldn't be unreasonable to only cast light-skinned people for movie adaptations of Beowulf, the Kalevala, or any one of the Celtic and Irish myths that Tolkien drew on for inspiration.

When it comes to art, especially art that draws from myth and legend, there is legitimate space for works that eschew racial and ethnic diversity. To me at least, the problem has less to do with Tolkien's lily white vision, and more to do with the fact that few people have bothered to film other mythologies for a mass audience; for my part, there should be African epics that feature African people, Japanese epics that feature Japanese people, and so on and so forth.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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