[UPDATED] I’m OK with a Lord of the Rings TV Show, as Long as Middle-Earth Isn’t Entirely White This Time

The Lord of the Rings? As a television show? It could work. But can Middle-Earth not be so darn white this time?

First of all, I apologize to anyone who is wholeheartedly against this project as I’m solely responsible for it coming to fruition with this tweet:

No spoilers but if you’ve seen Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok you can probably guess why I said that.

Peter Jackson’s epics are phenomenal pieces of cinema and have been a significant part of my life. While I wasn’t actually rooting for LotR to be remade, as a fan I knew with an intellectual property like that, it was only a matter of time. The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001 which seems like eons ago now.

Sure enough, late last week Variety exclusively reported that Warner Bros. Television and Amazon Studios were working with the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien to develop a TV show based on his LotR novels. They stress that it is still very early in negotiations (and Deadline added a humongous price tag for the rights alone). They also remind us of a previous law suit between WB and the estate:

The fact that a “Lord of the Rings” series is being shopped by Warner Bros. marks a thaw in the relationship between the studio and the Tolkien estate, which in July settled a massive lawsuit that had dragged on since 2012. The dispute, with Tolkien’s heirs and publisher HarperCollins on one side and Warner Bros. — which produced director Peter Jackon’s live-action feature film adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” and its prequel, “The Hobbit” — on the other, stemmed from the use characters from the movies in online slot machines and other games.

As Variety mentioned, there’s still a ways to go before this project sees the light of day (if it ever does) but while some fans don’t want it to happen at all, the news got me thinking about the potential it could provide.

People of color certainly worked on LotR, a huge number of New Zealand’s Māori participated in production, but none had lead roles. And that’s not to downplay the role of actors like Sala Baker, who played Sauron, but visibility is important and the entire main cast was as white as they come. And they were fantastic! But perhaps next time around we can try something different?

Tolkien wrote the books in the 1930s and 40s, and many have written about Tolkien and race. But while some may prefer to keep things “the way they were,” I say it’s 2017, let’s do better. I hope the estate agrees.

The conversation about representation in media, both in front of and behind the scenes, is thankfully being taken more seriously these days (partly due to $$$). But it’s long overdue. Any LotR project that doesn’t include people of color in vital roles on camera and behind isn’t for me.

[UPDATE 11/13/2017] The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed Amazon Studios is moving ahead with a huge addition – the series will explore the time before The Fellowshiip of the Ring. THR reports:

The retail giant and streaming outlet announced Monday that it has acquired global television rights to the Lord of the Rings franchise, based on the best-selling novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Amazon has handed out a multiple-season commitment. The Amazon LOTR series will be produced in-house at Amazon Studios alongside the Tolkien Estate and Trust, publisher HarperCollins and Warner Bros. Entertainment’s New Line Cinema. Amazon’s LOTR series will be set in Middle Earth and explore new storylines preceding Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring.

“We are delighted that Amazon, with its longstanding commitment to literature, is the home of the first-ever multi-season television series for The Lord of the Rings,” Matt Galsor, a representative for the Tolkien Estate and Trust and HarperCollins said in their statement. “Sharon and the team at Amazon Studios have exceptional ideas to bring to the screen previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings.”

This news certainly puts a new angle on the trepidation some fans had at the work being adapted again. What do you think?

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  • doc

    For all of the Hobbit film trilogy’s misgivings, I do appreciate the fact that PJ diversified Laketown and included various POC extras, thereby acknowledging “hey, maybe we don’t have to make Middle-earth as white as Saruman’s dressing gown?”

  • That Which Dreams

    The question then goes to, “Do we change what the various peoples canonically looked like, or do we introduce new peoples?”

    • WheelchairNinja the SpeedDemon

      The Drúedain, who got completely left out of the Peter Jackson movies, were described as having dark skin. But the whole conceit of Middle-earth is that it’s prehistoric Europe, so them coming from “the east” means they’re more akin to a tribe you’d find in the Congo. While they’re definitely the good guys, it’s not exactly a flattering depiction. (Remember, we’re talking about an Oxford don writing in the ’50s.)

      I suspect it’s a moot point anyway. (Entmoot? ;-P) From what I remember, the Tolkien estate hated the movies and have since regained control of the rights, so the odds of this actually happening anytime soon are probably slim. I’d still rather see some kind of movie version of The Silmarillion though, if only for Howard Shore’s take on the Ainulindalë

      • That Which Dreams

        Yes, but the Drúedain featured so little in books that I only remember reading one story about one of them, and it was in a supplemental book. IIRC, they lived in a remote region of Middle-Earth, and had virtually nothing to do with anything.