Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hobbits Are (White) People Too

I was avoiding my midterm the other day, absently reading over the boyfriend's shoulder as he avoided his final, when we came across the following headline: Race row erupts over 'Hobbit' casting. I made him back up and let me re-read the article, and there truly was a row, or fight as we say here in the Colonies, over the race of hobbits.  Apparently, a (former, cuz that bitch was sacked) casting director turned a Pakistani-heritage actor away at the door, telling her that she was too dark-skinned to be a Hobbit extra.

Yes, you read that right. Too dark-skinned. To play a hobbit.  Which, yes I know, is a creature that does not exist.

Did J.R.R. Tolkien wax poetic about the creamy complexion every hobbit has in common? Even if he did (he didn't), is that really integral to the story that Peter Jackson is trying to tell? Somehow I highly doubt it. Somehow I think Peter Jackson is more concerned with slow motion 360-degree pans than with creating a sea of miniature, furry Aryans.

This is just another situation in a long, long list of situations in which a person associated "neutral" or "regular" or "without a message" with "white." I could have said white person, but I think the social brainwashing goes deeper and has a farther reach even than that.  Even my generation, twenty-somethings born in the 1980s, grew up coloring with light tan crayons called "flesh." When I type the word nude right now, you think of a color, and it is not dark.

The film industry is notorious for perpetuating this stereotype.  Granted, we do not live in a color-blind world, and for some reality-based films to reflect anything otherwise could be a great disservice to the viewing public, and the characters whose stories do revolve around race.  But that is not always, or even often, the case.  And let's be honest; The Hobbit is not going to be a reality-based film.  The Hobbit does not even take place on Earth as we know it.  So why does it matter what color skin these creatures have? It's all in how this casting director, and many, many other people, see the world.  Hobbits are white. Why? Because they are. Because they always have been. They're just white; white is what they look like.

The casting director said it herself, in her own so-called defense, "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."

I'm not trying to be... whatever.  Just because you don't say it loud doesn't mean you aren't.  Racist. 

Sent a shiver up your spine, didn't it? That word; scary word. True word.  Be aware of the world around you, lady, how small it is or isn't, and why that might be.  That's the first step. The second step is don't put your foot in your mouth like a doofus.  The third step is don't get fired from Peter Jackson's The Hobbit because you are that unaware of your own ignorance.


Jackie said...

This doesn't exactly have to do what you're talking about but its in a similar ball park. I caught a snippet of the Apprentice the other night and the competition was to sell an item on QVC. The women's team had to choose between putting the white woman or the black woman on QVC to sell their product. The black woman, who was the team leader, chose to put the white woman as the presenter because something like 75% of QVC buyers are white. She stated that business wise it makes more sense to put a presenter on the tv that their target audience is more "comfortable" with.
My stomach gets all twisted in knots thinking about this because on the one hand this shouldn't make a difference. It shouldn't be an issue. But on the other hand, as much as I hate it, she has a point. Just because I am comfortable with it and wouldn't even notice who was presenting something, doesn't mean the target demographic wouldn't.
This same issue comes up in a lot of things though. Would Tyler Perry be as popular if he had a jewish character in his movies? Would Bollywood be as popular if someone with Icelandic characteristics played the lead? Would people still watch Amor Real if some of the characters were Asian? Of course we'd all like to say that it wouldn't matter but I don't know. Some people wouldn't care, of course, but would most people not care?

Jade Carver said...


David Pratt said...

On the other side of this spectrum, you have Blaxploitation. Because whenever Hollywood tries to make an effort towards non-white casting, it typically does so in only the most stereotyped and offensive ways possible.

Cody G. said...

Correct me if I'm wrong. But isn't the Hobbit kind of like a part of the Lord of the Rings series? If so, for continuity's sake, the Hobbit's in the movies are, in fact, white. I'm by no means trying to defend Hollywood as many films are, in fact, racial ignorant (talking to you, Indian director M. Night and your racially retarded Airbender). However, to be fair, I personally would detect a note of discontinuity if the Hobbits that were white in the past three Lord of the Rings movies were suddenly middle eastern. Then again, I guess it was really just the four Hobbits anyway, so there's no why of saying their entire race was like that.

Either way, I don't know if this movie is meant to be a prequel to the trilogy or not, in which case it may not make a difference at all. But it seems that Hollywood has already defined what Hobbits look like after the first three films, and changing them at this particular time for this particular film may not be in everyone's best interest afterall. Be it all that is fair and just or not.