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As discussed in this question, there are a number of elements in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies that could be construed as racist against Muslim and non-Caucasian people, for example the fact Mordor is in the East and has the 'black' gate, whereas Gondor is the 'white' city, the men from the East who came to serve Sauron are dark skinned with face coverings, whereas all the good guys are explicitly described as fair.

The consensus of opinion seems to be that Tolkien wasn't being explicitly racist but my question relates to the films. It certainly seems that Peter Jackson could have done something about these (perceived) problems, but he chose not to.

Is this because the movies, or Jackson himself are intentionally racist?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Chris B. Behrens, JohnP, Null, The Fallen, Shevliaskovic Feb 13 '15 at 22:49

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15

As you've noted in your question, there are certainly a number of elements from the original source material that could be construed as being at least unconsciously racist but as with most things in life, the bigger answer is rarely black and white.

Yes

  • This news article strongly suggests that the people in charge of casting for The Hobbit sequels were intentionally screening for certain racial characteristics in the cast of extras. It's reasonable to assume that this was also the case in LOTR given that they used the same casting company and many of the same staff;

    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.

  • You'll note that there are precisely no black or asian characters in the cast of the LOTR trilogy, nor are there any people of colour in any of the crowd scenes, excepting those characters wearing heavy makeup (orcs and Uruk-Hai). In a country where nearly 20% of the population are non-white, it was either an astounding coincidence or more likely an intentional choice to exclude people from ethnic minorities from the films.

No

  • Jackson has spoken on the subject of racism. His contention seems to be that he is merely telling a story and that he, as Director is free to stick to Tolkien's intention (regarding casting) even if that leads to unfounded allegations of racism:

    Q. In Tolkien's work, Middle-earth is almost exclusively occupied by white-skinned people with the notable exceptions, the Haradrum, being allies of the enemy. How will you escape the almost certain protest this might cause if put on film? ... It seems that this could easily be misinterpreted as racism on Tolkien's part instead of the function of geography that it is. Will the dark-skinned men who only appear in battle scenes be replaced by orcs in the movie in order to be PC or will you stay true to the book?

    "Well this is obviously a very difficult question, and a contentious one, and let me just say that I think that one of the things that's important is that we have to realise that Tolkien himself was horrified at modern analogies being placed on his work, I mean he always rejected the notion that the stories were based on World War II and the rise of Hitler and all that. He was working in a mythic realm of storytelling, and I think to apply modern political thinking on a story that is essentially 50 years old is a little bit inappropriate, and I think people have to be careful....I don't think Tolkien was a racist at all, and therefore that is not where he was coming from, and it's just not where criticism of these stories should lie. I think if you talk about the Haradrum, as an example - whatever the colour of their skin is described as, Tolkien has a wonderful passage in the books where one of the Haradrum falls dead in front of Sam, and he has a wonderful passage where Sam looks at this dead body in front of him and he says, I can't remember the exact words, but it's like 'I wonder where he came from, I wonder if he really wanted to come and fight here, I wonder whether he would have rather stayed at home in peace', and that, there's nothing racist about that, it's humanity. And so I think this is a story where its mythic qualities and its humanity shines through beyond any political beliefs that could be assigned to it."

  • Following the casting incident noted above, Jackson's production company sought to mediate the damage by firing the staff member and issuing these statements:

    “The crew member in question has been dismissed from the show,” and "No such instructions were given," and "The crew member in question took it upon themselves to do that and it's not something we instructed or condoned".

    and

    "It is not something the producers or the director of The Hobbit were aware of; they would never issue instructions of this kind to the casting crew. All people meeting the age and height requirements are welcome to audition for The Hobbit.".

  • They also pointed out that in the films there are a solid number of black and Asian extras, as well as several prominent (albeit still makeup covered) named characters who come from ethnic minorities. Ironically, this has lead to allegations that they are engaged in tokenism and BLONCing (e.g. placing "BLacks ON Camera") to avoid the suggestion of racism, itself a form of racist conduct.

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  • There are several un-named actors in the Lord of the Rings who seem to be of Middle-eastern descent: The Haradrim warrior who falls from the oliphant in Ithilien, as well as the two soldiers of Rhun who leave the rest of the army to investigate falling rocks by the Black Gate, although with the latter you can only see their eyes. – maguirenumber6 Jan 1 '16 at 7:57

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