Casting: Ethnicity and Migration Patterns of the First Age

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
To be clear, the suggestion to introduce variety among the different Houses of Men was not made to fit some sort of quota, nor simply to have diversity for the sake of diversity. The goal was to start with the descriptions given by Tolkien, and then determine how to show those distinctions in the physical characteristics of the people. Now, Tolkien spends a lot more words on specifying hair and eye color than on skin tone, but there is the occasional 'swarthy' or 'ruddy' or 'brown' mixed in to suggest that there is some variety, though the extent is left up to interpretation. And, in this process, it has turned out that some people do tend to envision all of Tolkien's characters as very white, northern European in appearance....while other people do not, and tend to envision the characters with a greater variety of skin tones. No one is suggesting that either version is necessary nor correct - both are possible interpretations of the texts as written, and both are possible within our adaptation (especially for the Dwarves and the Edain). So, now it remains up to us to make choices about what to do, and that is something we will be discussing in Season 5.


I know we're just joking here, but Silm Film makes little (read: no) effort to be topical. We aren't presenting liberal or conservative ideas. We aren't commenting on current events or making references to pop culture. Now, if someone reads something about current issues into the stories presented, that's fine, as all stories are open to interpretation, especially when it comes to applicability. Obviously, our fantasy casting process has no basis in reality and isn't giving anyone a job. I personally am aware that this conversation is part of a broader conversation about the depiction of race in adaptations of Tolkien's work, though, and will remain mindful of that as we make our choices.
 

Ange1e4e5

Well-Known Member
To be clear, the suggestion to introduce variety among the different Houses of Men was not made to fit some sort of quota, nor simply to have diversity for the sake of diversity. The goal was to start with the descriptions given by Tolkien, and then determine how to show those distinctions in the physical characteristics of the people. Now, Tolkien spends a lot more words on specifying hair and eye color than on skin tone, but there is the occasional 'swarthy' or 'ruddy' or 'brown' mixed in to suggest that there is some variety, though the extent is left up to interpretation. And, in this process, it has turned out that some people do tend to envision all of Tolkien's characters as very white, northern European in appearance....while other people do not, and tend to envision the characters with a greater variety of skin tones. No one is suggesting that either version is necessary nor correct - both are possible interpretations of the texts as written, and both are possible within our adaptation (especially for the Dwarves and the Edain). So, now it remains up to us to make choices about what to do, and that is something we will be discussing in Season 5.


I know we're just joking here, but Silm Film makes little (read: no) effort to be topical. We aren't presenting liberal or conservative ideas. We aren't commenting on current events or making references to pop culture. Now, if someone reads something about current issues into the stories presented, that's fine, as all stories are open to interpretation, especially when it comes to applicability. Obviously, our fantasy casting process has no basis in reality and isn't giving anyone a job. I personally am aware that this conversation is part of a broader conversation about the depiction of race in adaptations of Tolkien's work, though, and will remain mindful of that as we make our choices.
Even with hair color there’s a lot of ambiguity. It’s an open discussion about Legolas‘ hair color and there’s precedence for both; on the one hand, as a Sinda, Legolas would most likely have dark or grey hair but on the other, since his father Thranduil is blond, Legolas being blond isn’t too much of a stretch. Also, a lot of fan art depicts Gil-Galad with dark hair when it would probably be blond, as a descendent of Finarfin, whose family was known for having blond hair amongst the Noldor.
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
It's true that Gil-galad as a descendant of Finarfin would quite likely be blond (though not necessarily). But Gil-galad as a son of Fingon would almost certainly be dark-haired :p Gil-galad's parentage is murky at best, so I think it's safe to say we don't really know what he looked like!

I'm aware the choices have already been made regarding the Elves, but a question just out of interest: Why would they have to segregate based on physical traits?
Ah, I did not speak clearly. What I meant was that it did not make sense to make a decision such as "The Vanyar are white, the Noldor are black, the Teleri are Asian, and the Avari are Native American" (or whatever other combination someone might propose) if the only way to get that was to have them start as a single group and then split, essentially segregating along racial lines. It certainly *would* have been possible to have variety at Cuivienen, and then have the divisions, which each split leaving a mix of traits on each side. The issue then was...how does that help tell our story? If we're not using the differences to help the audience tell the groups of characters apart, what are we doing with it? And so, it became a situation where some one-off anomalies could be introduced without comment, but there was a decision not to differentiate the branches of the elves from one another with skin tone.

Obviously, we do not have this problem with the Dwarves, because they are physically separated from one another from their inception, allowing each House to have its own unique traits. Similarly, the different Houses of Men could have physical differences from one another when introduced without a weird origin story for that.
 

Nicholas Palazzo

Well-Known Member
I'm aware the choices have already been made regarding the Elves, but a question just out of interest: Why would they have to segregate based on physical traits? I think it would've been enough for them to segregate by leader and interests. For example, Finwe and Ingwe could be Asian while Miriel could be white; what would be the issue with that? The look of the parents has to be taken account when casting children anyway, and at this point in time enough actors with fitting "mixed ethnicity"-look exist. Of course Tolkien describes predominant hair colours among the different groups, but it's not like literally everyone has the same hair colour in a group, and wigs/hair dye exist.
The main problem as I see it is that the majority of our main cast of Elves are all related to each other in some way. There isn't going to be a ton of racial diversity amongst the children of Finwe, for example. Nor the family of Thingol, for that matter (to whom Celeborn at least is kin). Having the main cast all one race and their people a mixture is going to read strangely. And having the kindred separate by race has its own host of problems. Not to mention the claim that Luthien is the "most beautiful Child of Iluvatar that ever was or ever will be" makes a statement about whatever race she represents. Of course, we don't have to make that claim out loud, and I'd argue that even in the text, it is from the perspective of the "author". In Tolkien's case, given that Luthien is inspired by his wife, I think we can give him a pass. He's wrong, obviously, since my wife happens to be the most beautiful child of God that ever was or ever will be, but I digress...
 

Alcarlótë

Active Member
I know we're just joking here, but Silm Film makes little (read: no) effort to be topical. We aren't presenting liberal or conservative ideas. We aren't commenting on current events or making references to pop culture. Now, if someone reads something about current issues into the stories presented, that's fine, as all stories are open to interpretation, especially when it comes to applicability. Obviously, our fantasy casting process has no basis in reality and isn't giving anyone a job. I personally am aware that this conversation is part of a broader conversation about the depiction of race in adaptations of Tolkien's work, though, and will remain mindful of that as we make our choices.
Thank you for that comment, it helped me to wrap my head around the peculiarities of this project! =)

Since this project is

- not bound to the usual modern mode of production that encourages the, under the circumstances, most profitable amount of diversity and

- won't have viewers that it could influence in terms of their perception of sexuality, gender, race, class etc.

we can really focus on the story we want to tell and how to serve it best - even with the casting choices that would normally be more strongly influenced by economic and social responsibility factors. Considering the dark times where today's norms and stereotypes originate from, more diversity and inclusion is of course a good thing, but it needs to serve a purpose; we need to think our story through first and see how it connects to our wishes.


Ah, I did not speak clearly. What I meant was that it did not make sense to make a decision such as "The Vanyar are white, the Noldor are black, the Teleri are Asian, and the Avari are Native American" (or whatever other combination someone might propose) if the only way to get that was to have them start as a single group and then split, essentially segregating along racial lines. It certainly *would* have been possible to have variety at Cuivienen, and then have the divisions, which each split leaving a mix of traits on each side. The issue then was...how does that help tell our story? If we're not using the differences to help the audience tell the groups of characters apart, what are we doing with it? And so, it became a situation where some one-off anomalies could be introduced without comment, but there was a decision not to differentiate the branches of the elves from one another with skin tone.

Obviously, we do not have this problem with the Dwarves, because they are physically separated from one another from their inception, allowing each House to have its own unique traits. Similarly, the different Houses of Men could have physical differences from one another when introduced without a weird origin story for that.

But why wouldn't we use it to help the audience tell groups of characters apart? It can help to tell us groups of characters apart without having to segregate entire peoples based on race. The different peoples/cultures of the Elves are already different because of clothing, jewelry, hairstyle etc. , they can have mixed ethnicities and still be distinct. What we really need are distinctions between ~15 young (mostly male) Noldor characters running around! Let's say Finwe has ethnicity X, Miriel Y and Indis Z. Suddenly we have a clear distinction between the (half-)brothers and depending on the spouses we bring in during the next generation, we have a lot of freedom in how we want to portray these characters in relation to their (and other characters') appearance.


The main problem as I see it is that the majority of our main cast of Elves are all related to each other in some way. There isn't going to be a ton of racial diversity amongst the children of Finwe, for example. Nor the family of Thingol, for that matter (to whom Celeborn at least is kin). Having the main cast all one race and their people a mixture is going to read strangely. And having the kindred separate by race has its own host of problems. Not to mention the claim that Luthien is the "most beautiful Child of Iluvatar that ever was or ever will be" makes a statement about whatever race she represents. Of course, we don't have to make that claim out loud, and I'd argue that even in the text, it is from the perspective of the "author". In Tolkien's case, given that Luthien is inspired by his wife, I think we can give him a pass. He's wrong, obviously, since my wife happens to be the most beautiful child of God that ever was or ever will be, but I digress...
I think the same as above applies here - considering Finwe, his two wifes and the spouses that come in during the second generation, we have potentially 6 different ethnicities and mixed people in the three sons! That's far from "having the main cast all one race."
 

MithLuin

Administrator
Staff member
Certainly, that is one possible way to approach this. We decided not to do that, and intentionally wanted to present the Elves as more homogeneous. Also, based on the knowledge base of actors and actresses that the folks making the nominations have....we do wind up with a lot of default-white casting.

When we had those discussions, we did promise to handle the Dwarves and Men differently, though. And now it's time to cast the Men, so we have some decisions to make.
 
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