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Saturday, September 10, 2022

Opinion | Karen Attiah Newsletter: Backlash against Lord of the Rings, AOC's limits, and more - The Washington Post

Opinion Breaking through the Rings of (White) Power

"Happy Friday and welcome back! Thank you for all the thoughtful comments and critiques on my last newsletter discussing Meghan Markle, colorism and historical tropes about biracial women. I know it’s a complicated and touchy subject. I appreciate the engagement.

This week brought another battle over representation, “wokeness” and pop culture. The release of the new “Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” streaming series on Amazon generated backlash over the fact that Black actors were cast as elves in the adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. Writers for conservative outlets blasted the show: “Properties are being ripped out from the past in order to be revamped and remade for modern times, and this always includes an injection of woke culture and social justice values,” said one essay in Red State. The show got bombed with bad reviews on Amazon and Rotten Tomatoes.

Even Elon Musk weighed in:

I swear, I’m lucky I don’t have more headaches with all the eye-rolling and side-eyeing I’ve been doing lately. The manufactured panic of mostly White men about characters of color and “wokeness” in today’s public discourse is just so tiring.

How many times have Black people had to endure having their music and creativity repackaged for White audiences? A few of the endless examples: The show “Friends,” with its all-White cast, was essentially a remake of “Living Single,” the ’90s sitcom with an all-Black cast. The sound of legendary singing groups like “Boyz II Men” was basically copied by all White boy bands such as ’NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees — all of whom became icons. (This is captured well in the Netflix documentary “This Is Pop.”) And for that matter, haven’t we all been subjected to White Cleopatra, White Jesus and Elvis Presley?

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I, too, do not care for diversity-washing in sectors that are still dominated by White men. And I do understand why big risk-averse, profit-hungry studios repackage familiar stories and old movies instead of taking risks on new ideas and stories. Still, I would rather Hollywood greenlight more original films made by and for non-White people that don’t center the White male gaze.

Non-White actors in fantasy roles seem to trigger the Hollywood equivalent of “white replacement theory.” As much as we eye-roll over the panic and backlash, I worry. As I write from Texas, a state that is moving to purge books from school districts that attempt to be more progressive on race and sexuality, what is to stop officials from going a step further — and banning movies they think are Trojan horses for “wokeness” and critical race theory, too?

Would these actions surprise anyone at this point? This is the tragedy of living in a world where whiteness and maleness gets centered at all times.

In such a world, elves can’t be dark-skinned. In such a world, action heroes can’t be dark-skinned Black women (more on that below). And have no doubt that this cramped vision translates to real life, too, in that it makes it harder for many people to imagine women and people of color in leadership positions, putting even more obstacles in their path (more on that below, as well).

Fantasy, science fiction and the creative retelling of history can expand our imagination about alternate worlds, scenarios, relationships. White supremacy in our storytelling deforms our collective imagination and impairs our ability to understand the past, to make change in the present and to dream of new worlds to build for the future."

Opinion | Karen Attiah Newsletter: Backlash against Lord of the Rings, AOC's limits, and more - The Washington Post

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