Audiences are staunchly divided on Amazon’s fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. The show’s diversity and female lead spawned furious online debate. Some critics say it disrespects established lore and pushes a political agenda.
After its September 2nd release on Amazon’s streaming service Prime Video, the prequel series to J.R.R. Tolkien’s celebrated trilogy of fantasy novels was met with considerable backlash.
The show introduces a female lead in the elven warrior Galadriel, as well as several characters of color. As Tolkien’s universe is believed to be largely white, the internet was set ablaze and stars of the series were subsequently bombarded with online vitriol and harassment, Reuters reports.
“Shoehorning a message into a work where it did not exist previously”
Some argue that the show neglects existing lore by virtue of its inclusive casting. “[Tolkien’s universe] has representation already built into it, every race we have on Earth is accounted for in Tolkien’s work,” says Bobbie Williams, moderator of Facebook group ‘Rings of Power Show Haters’.
The inclusion of black elves is seen as an unnecessary, politically motivated byproduct of Amazon’s leftist agenda. Williams argues Rings of Power is “shoehorning a message into a work where it did not exist previously”, painting both our world and Tolkien’s as racist.
When asserting elves are fair-skinned in the lore, many claim their argument is immediately dismissed as bigotry. As a result, Williams was initially hesitant to speak on the matter as his “complaints have been misrepresented as racist beliefs by reductionists far too often.”
Fan expectations and reaction
Rings of Power had a significant amount of hype to live up to. Ahead of its debut, reports cited the show had the largest budget of any television series in history, exceeding $465 million according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Additionally, the show succeeds Peter Jackson’s widely beloved trilogy of Lord of the Rings films, which earned 17 wins at the Academy Awards. The franchise has since built a substantial and dedicated fanbase.
Audience scores indicate a mixed to poor reaction, as the Prime Video series currently sits at 39% on review website Rotten Tomatoes.
Defenders of Rings of Power
However, Rings of Power fans combat its bad reception, specifically when it comes to its diversity. Longtime Tolkien-enthusiast Fred Sheedy counts himself a proponent of the diverse cast. He feels it is necessary in this day and age and believes Tolkien’s writings “lean toward a diverse world full of creatures of all sorts.”
Supporters of the show believe Tolkien’s work can be understood in different ways. Sheedy says “physical descriptions of certain characters or races can be very widely interpreted.” Concerning elves, he says “fair-skinned can mean lots of things and the same descriptors shouldn’t be used for a mythological world and creatures as we apply to our own.”
Supportive comments are frequently met with racist trolling, Sheedy says. And yet, he maintains that “fair, equal, and visible representation in all forms of media is so important in our world currently.” The stars of Jackson’s trilogy echoed this sentiment, standing in solidarity with Amazon’s cast against the racist backlash saying “You Are All Welcome Here”, the BBC reports.