Failure of Justice: The Lord of the Rings
The Lord of the
Rings” and “The Hobbit” are masterfully expansive films. The productions were led by acclaimed director Peter Jackson and written by Dir. Jackson, Fran Walsh, and Phillippa Boyens. These films have received worldwide praise, admiration, and approval of the films. With “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, each subsequent film out earned the previous film with “The Return of the King” ranking in an astounding 1.14 billion dollars worldwide. In 2003, that was enough to rank as the second highest grossing film ever and held that position until 2009’s Avatar release would supplant their position. It is clear to see and perhaps make the assertion that this film has crossed the screen of nearly every film viewer in the world as of the year 2021. Operating under these assertions based on the widespread popularity of the film, I will be making several observations based on the films themselves, linking these themes to our ‘in real life’ reality and history. “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” are fantasy adventures, however the viewer ingests the themes whether they actively try to or not. “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” on several levels display harmful racial themes through their imagery, language, and absenteeism. Whether or not these themes carry from the novels, each of the films possessed the opportunity to alter their representation for a more balanced imagery. The failure to exercise that option lies on the hands of the director, the studio, producers and writers. This begs the question were their failures to opt for proper representation intentional or an oversight. Image matters. The lack of proper representation demonstrates a lack of respect whether it is active or passive. What is an audience’s takeaway, both consciously and subconsciously? What is the remedy for the artist and what is the remedy for the audience?
When discussing imagery in “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, the discussion of race must take precedence. In the “Lord of the Ring” trilogy, the images displayed in each individual film are always of “white” or lighter skinned men of different archetypes fighting the “black” or darker skinned people of different archetypes. These darker skinned people are portrayed as animalistic, savage, subhuman beings to contrast the noble, good, civilized white counterparts. The damaging portrayal of the darker skinned beings as the enemy, reinforces the ideology propagated by contemporary European culture, black is evil/black as evil and their counterpart, white is good/white as good; tropes we see are rooted in our reality. For example, throughout the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy there is a single visage of white/caucasian faces in every humanoid race, however, there are no Black Elves, Asian Dwarfs, Indian Men/Women, or Latino Hobbits; every ‘good’ humanoid race is mono-racial as white/caucasian. On the ‘bad’ side, there are black skinned orcs and brown painted mercenaries dressed in traditional northern African style war garb. Conducting the images in such a manner, imprints racial coding onto the viewer’s mind. The viewers receive the message to associate black culture with evil and white culture with good. Within the trilogy, there is no clearer example of black as evil vs white as good than of the Uruk-Hai and Gandalf.
Saruman tells his Uruk-Hai captain, “Do you know how the orcs first came to being? They were elves once. Taken by the dark powers, tortured and mutilated. A ruined and terrible form of life. And now perfected. My fighting Uruk-Hai. Whom do you serve?” “Saruman!”, replies the Uruk-Hai. (The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring, Dir Peter Jackson) From Saruman’s own words he has directly aligned these black skinned creatures with servitude of the white hand (Saruman) in direct opposition of the forces for “good” i.e The Fellowship. Saruman also positions these creatures as a fallen race. Throughout the films we hear Gandalf on numerous occasions, mention that the Orcs, are a fallen/sub-human race. This harkens racial demonology on par with the heavily flawed European biblical interpretation of the Bible’s story of Ham. In this parable, Noah curses Cannan the son of Ham for a transgression not made clear within the Bible. In taking the European interpretation, the son’s of Ham were cursed with blackness and servitude; further interpreting this to mean that the darker skinned humans are a race who have fallen from grace making them solely suited for servitude. This Eurocentric concept of black as fallen or black akin to evil. Director Peter Jackson, draws directly from the “Lord of the Rings” books, the description of the Uruk-Hai and portrays them onscreen as they are written. The Uruk-Hai are portrayed to be black skinned, physically larger, smarter, sun tolerant, and more muscular than regular orcs, however are easily slaughtered by the dozens by often three highly skilled characters. For every Uruk-Hai down another fills the position. Positioning the Uruk-Hai as characters of which are easily disposed, majority permanent servants, and created to be evil allows the audience to not only tolerate for their destruction, but pridefully cheer for their deaths. “The Lord of the Rings”, through its imagery, pridefully encourages the deaths of darker skinned beings by the hundreds and thousands, mostly at the hands of white/caucasian persons; in turn perpetuating the sub human narrative engrained into Eurocentric ideology and history. This cannot be acceptable! Yet, it has been accepted, rather heralded for the past sixty plus (60+) years.
Gandalf the Grey, whom turns into Gandalf the White in the second installment “The Two Towers”, is the obvious example for white as good. Gandalf has several proclamations where he, in all of his being, needs to prevent the second coming of darkness. “Sauron needs only this ring to cover all the lands in a second darkness.” Gandalf tells Frodo. (The LotR, Dir. Peter Jackson) In understanding that the darkness he describes is the Eurocentric belief that blackness is fallen, Gandalf is essentially proclaiming that he must prevent blackness’ return to grace. Having positioned himself directly against the films perceived evil, Gandalf proclaims that he is for all good. However, his perceived good is entirely mono-racial of white/caucasian phenotype. Not once do we see Gandalf reach out to Gollum or the coined, “Wicked men”, the North African garbed mercenaries, for assistance or at the very least to remain out of the war. (The LotR, Dir. Peter Jackson) Instead, we receive a reincarnation of Gandalf, garbed in white, portrayed as the holiest of holy beings. Gandalf returns after a millennia, portrayed as ascending his darker form into one of pure whiteness. The imagery within the film is established in the subtext, the rules of the reality. The lighter one is/closer to white, the more good they must be. The darker one is/closer to black, the more evil they must be.
The colorism within the film, replicates the colorism with in our reality. In the American media brand, it is a hardline trope that dark is bad, light is good. Police officers’ perceived threat levels are higher when dealing with darker skinned citizens vs lighter skinned citizens; the news media constantly portrays dark-skinned individuals as criminals or perpetrators, while they portray light-skinned individuals as wholesome or unfortunate. A country steeped in racism, this trope translates to all peoples as dark skinned is the bad and light skinned is the good. Throughout the “Lord of the Rings”, characters are portrayed as being of higher standard the more they illuminate whiteness. Instances like, Galadriel’s almost permanent white outline or Aragorn’s gradual transition from dark backgrounds to light backgrounds by the coronation of his kingship. Director Peter Jackson is making these thematic decisions intentionally. Whether he is fully aware of the negative implications of his portrayals or not, the intentionality to coin white as good and black as not good, is obvious.
The Artistic Intent
In the twenty years since the first installment of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Fellowship of the Ring” was released, there has been numerous publications discussing the matter of race and imagery within both trilogies. These publications typically are quite polarizing, resulting in unsubstantiated claims often encouraging a failure in decorum. However, these publications often fail to directly address the artistic error. Whether it is New Line Cinema, Dir. Peter Jackson, writers Fran Walsh, and Phillippa Boyens, or creator JR Tolkien, the artistic intent of the pieces of work matters!
In the trilogies, there are two instances where non-white actors received screen time. The first was in “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, when Faramir questions whether the enemy truly is their enemy or just a person following. The second is in “The Hobbit”, at lake town both prior to smog destroying the town and after, when they survivors gather. There are no other instances where non-white persons are casted to display their real faces. There were non-white actors cast to play orcs and Sauron. This lack of diversity with in the population of extras, proves intent of the production and failure of Dir. Peter Jackson to initiate correction. To actively make all Dwarfs, Elves, Men (except for the scene in the Hobbit previously mentioned), and Hobbits white/caucasian demonstrates the intent to characterize white/caucasian as the good guys. Their failure to realize that they portrayed the black skinned beings, the Northern African garbed, the Nazgul, and Sauron as of or actively evil in turn demonstrates their intent to infuse messaging. It is clear to see the artistic intention of Dir. Jackson as in every facet of the films there are never any redeeming qualities of the characters representing the darker skinned peoples. It is also very apparent that he recognized his trend of branding dark as not good, in the later created trilogy of “The Hobbit”, by creating the main orc antagonists of the dwarfs as light-skinned orcs. However, a pass cannot be granted for this scramble to fix past imagery. Due to never publicly addressing his errors Dir. Peter Jackson, is constantly applauded for these works, however that further exposes the illness of the societies position.
Both film trilogies had the opportunity to cast a racially diverse set of actors in both the lead roles and to serve as background. Both trilogies opted to minimize or remove the image of racial diversity from the side of good, instead choosing to reinforce the continued perpetuation of black as bad/white is good. It is my researched assumption that Dir. Peter Jackson knew and possibly thought about how these casting decisions would play out over time, but rather decided to continue with the casting decisions because he wanted to be true to the JR Tolkien versions. However, if that assumption is correct, then he suffers from the disease of racism. Dir. Jackson, as the director of the film and the producers/studios, had the final say on the casting choices and yet they decided that it was ok to promote the imagery of white is good, black is bad. In this case, Dir. Jackson knows what is right and intentionally chooses to do wrong. These decision makers in the films, actively decide to produce a grand form of propaganda, with the intent to demonize the black race and pedestalize the white race, actively programming millions to further racial tensions, exploitations, and subjugations, promoting incohesiveness. That is an illness injected into the society.
If we take the position that these decision makers did not see an issue proceeding with the cast that was chosen, then that signals a great, astounding ignorance. Suffering from massive passive bias, they have the power to produce grand forms of propaganda, furthering subjugation and exploitation. Yet, they will see no issues with their works or rather believe they should be celebrated for having done right! That is an illness as well. Eurocentrism has proclaimed “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” as masterful productions. A heralded film review platform Rotten Tomatoes gives “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy an average 93% out of a 100 rating and “The Hobbit” a 66.5% rating. These films are considered positive with “The Lord of the Rings” being considered a masterpiece. These films can only be considered as programing of black destruction and white elevation. Dir. Jackson has done a masterful job of hiding the terrible imagery within narrative and film technique.
The remedy is simple. To cure the illness, those who reject the propaganda must continue to challenge the promotion of these images. We need to hold the creators of the images accountable for what they create. The Black race needs to continue to ascend to these decision making places and then hold true to the integrity of the race. Mega black owned, operated, funded and responsible media companies must be established to combat the negative imagery populated by other companies. Every culture should have their own media to promote proper imagery. The discussion is better when groups are able to speak for themselves. A requirement of the honest representation and honest truth.
Words of Wisdom
The sad result is that the majority of the viewers are not aware of the racial undertones, nor overtones. They do not value ethnic image or are unaware in how much of a role it plays in society. This majority will consume the media unaware of the programming they are receiving and even position themselves to defend or promote the works, further spreading the illness. Films, television, and news (all media) has developed their blueprint for programming. They hide their messaging with in the narratives and their techniques.
Any one of darker skin should take the trilogies “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” as propaganda designed to wage war against people of the darker skin. The film literally links our histories with evil and their genocide as a crusade for good. Nearly every description of an orc or Uruk-Hai are also used to describe darker skinned people in our reality and can be found in eugenic texts, European history, contemporary politics, museums, modern media… it is everywhere! We must be aware of how our ethnic image is represented and disrespected. For this plays a major factor in our dealings on the world stage.
Any one who considers themselves a respectable human being, a valuer of culture, a valuer of social and racial justice should rewatch the trilogies with a clearer understanding of who the artists intend the orcs or the people of Mordor to be. JR Tolkien and Peter Jackson, both have taken their true intents of furthering racial demonization/elimination and masked them with fantasy. Do not continue to be fooled. Join us as we move to return respect to all of our ethnic images.
My Grade for “The Lord of the Rings” = F Film fails in all areas of honest representation and honest truth.
My Grade for “The Hobbit” = F+ Film attempted to have diversity, however still fails in all areas of honest representation and honest truth.
The Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring, Directed by Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, 2001.
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Directed by Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema, 2002.