The Importance of Inclusion in the "Lord of the Rings" Franchise
My first comic book was a fantasy story featuring a Black main cast of characters. My experience engaging with the genre and its fans motivated me to weigh in on the Lord of The Rings Discourse that's been happening largely on Twitter.
The Lord of the Rings franchise is one of the most popular and well-known in the world. With a multi-billion dollar movie trilogy, a prequel trilogy, several video games, and more, the franchise has had a massive impact on popular culture. However, despite its popularity, the franchise has been criticized for lacking diversity and inclusion.
One of the most common criticisms of the Lord of the Rings is that it lacks diversity. Most main characters are white men, with few people of color or women in prominent roles. This lack of diversity is apparent in the movies, video games, and other merchandise associated with the franchise. Pause for a second and think about that. One of the most storied franchises in America has been closed off to everyone who isn't white, with fewer opportunities for white women. Despite that, "Lord of the Rings" draws a fan base that stretches across gender, race, and ethnic barriers.
Non-inclusive franchises are problematic for several reasons. First, it sends the message that people of color and women (especially of the Black variety) are not as important or valuable as white men. This leads to feelings of superiority and ownership among people who see themselves represented by the white majority in the franchise. Second, it perpetuates the false idea that fantasy worlds must be populated primarily by white people. That mindset blends into the creative process, as evidenced by Black actors being turned away from hobbit roles in the Peter Jackson Trilogy. Third, white exclusivity isn't a fantasy. It's a reality in American history. We do no favors writing love songs to the violent nature of segregation. Lastly, white homogeneity is not a foundation of the fantasy genre; however, rewriting earlier versions of fantasy stories with Black people or POCs redacted is very common.
Inclusion is essential not only for marginalized groups but for everyone. When we see ourselves reflected in the media we consume, it helps us feel like we belong. It also allows us to imagine ourselves in different roles and situations that we may not have thought possible. For these reasons, franchises like Lord of the Rings must try to be more inclusive in their storytelling. The world has embraced the story, so the story should embrace the world.
Tolkien never intended his world to be solely white men. But, if he did, what sense would there be in creating dragons and elves if a single negro nostril would undo the entire spell? The problem seems less related to whether or not Black elves or hobbits are plausible and more akin to ideologically trespassing on the whites-only neighborhood of the fantasy genre. To regressive LOTR fans, today it's a hobbit; tomorrow, T'chaka Zulu will replace Aragorn.
Inclusion is E for everyone. The Lord of the Rings franchise has been justly criticized for its lack of diversity, but strides are being made to make it more inclusive. Keep in mind that every non-white character creates opportunities for non-white people. The backlash isn't coming from a place of fandom but selfishness. Thankfully Tolkien was wise enough to make a character those types of fans could identify with too.