September 9, 2022

Representation Matters—Yes, Even in a Fantasy World of Dragons & Elves.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been geeking out in fantasy TV heaven for the past few weeks.

August brought us the long-awaited “Game of Thrones” prequel, “House of the Dragon,” while September ushered in the stunning (and pricey) “Lord of the Rings” prequel, “Rings of Power.”

As someone who stayed wholly committed to “Game of Thrones” for all eight seasons (yes, even the last one), and remembers waiting in hours-long lines to see all three “Lord of the Rings” movies in theatres, I’ve been loving revisiting these worlds and meeting new characters in the Seven Kingdoms and Middle Earth.

But as is the case with most things that bring about joy in our world, the racist trolls have entered the conversation.

If you’re not caught up on the drama, here’s a quick breakdown. Showrunners for both prequels cast diverse actors in major and minor roles, including Steve Toussaint, a Black man, as Lord Corlys (aka The Sea Snake) in “House of the Dragon” and Ismael Cruz Córdova, an Afro-Latino man, as the elf Arondir.

There was almost immediate backlash from so-called “fans,” who were quick to let their racism show:

‘House of the Dragon’ Star Steve Toussaint Slams Racist Viewers: ‘They’re Happy With a Dragon Flying’ but Not a ‘Rich Black Guy’

‘Rings of Power’ calls out racism against cast members of color

Toussaint gave a poignant response to the criticism: “I kind of thought: ‘Oh, I get it.’ When we were criminals and pirates and slaves in the other show, you were OK with that. But as this guy is the richest [character] in the show and he’s a nobleman, now you have a problem with it.”

We could dig in deeper to what fuels this racist backlash, but I’m not interested in giving trolls more of my time today. Instead, I want to share what representation in entertainment, in these huge global spheres, in these beautiful, powerful fantasy worlds truly means to people of color—people like me.

This Instagram post from Cruz Córdova left me sobbing in tears of pride:

“I had a dream once – a dream of being an Elf.

I wasn’t a privileged or popular kid by any means. I grew up poor in a mountain town in Puerto Rico, fighting to find my voice. Dreaming of one day existing in places from which myself and my people had been shut out. This Elven dream of mine seemed like an impossibility, as I was laughed at and told ‘You can’t be an Elf. There are no Black Elves. There are no Latino Elves.’

I was told it was a ridiculous pursuit, almost convinced. So I buried it deep, to the place where I hid most of the dreams I was forced to give up, by virtue of all the ruthless oppression that crushed me and those like me. It was reinforced that outside of striving to have the bare minimum and having to be okay with being silent and invisible, people like me couldn’t partake in that world -or most of the world, for that matter.

Although I kept that dream quite hidden, I dedicated my life to finding that voice that was taken away from me and mine. I continued to fight against every single odd, and there were many. It seemed like an impossibility, many times, but I believed in my right, and our right, to exist. Just like the rest. To see ourselves, to imagine ourselves, and to occupy the spaces that we rightfully deserved; to claim our humanity, to be seen as subjects and treated as participants.

Every day, for decades, tirelessly, sacrificing everything and more – family, friends, country, relationships, you name it – I’ve continued this quest in the hope that I would make it at least a little bit easier for someone else. And perhaps inspire at least one person to do the same. In there I kept my Elven dream alive. And here I am. Black, Latino, Puerto Rican, proud, and Elven AF. You better catch that arrow and aim it as high as you can.”

And thankfully, because the world is never all bad or all good, the allies are showing up stronger than the trolls:

As Whoopi Goldberg stated on a recent episode of “The View”:

“I want to start by saying these are not real. OK? The new Lord of the Rings series, The Rings of Power and Game of Thrones prequel House of the Dragon are both massive hits, but they don’t exist in the real world. OK? There are no dragons, there are no hobbits you know, you know that…Are you telling me Black people can’t be fake people too? I don’t know if there’s a hobbit club, I don’t know if they’re going to protest. But people, what is wrong with y’all?

We would like to see as many people represented in fantasy. So all of y’all who have problems because there are Black hobbits, get a job! Go find yourself because you are focused on the wrong stuff.”

 

And in another show of support that brought me to tears, the original hobbits from Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy posted this:

 

The “Rings of Power” cast and crew also released this joint statement:

Here’s what it all boils down to: if you can believe fully in fantasy world, a world of make-believe, a world of dragons and elves and hobbits and dwarves and magic, but you can’t believe or accept that people of color exist in that world, you are the problem. Plain and simple.

~

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