Multicultural Laketown

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Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Thu Mar 20, 2014 5:34 am

Hi everyone, longtime lurker here who has just decided to join the site.

So, I was having a discussion with a friend about this- did Peter Jackson make Laketown into a multicultural city because of political correctness and a desire to find somewhere, anywhere, to put non-white faces into the films, or does it have some roots in things that Tolkien actually wrote? I say that it was likely a response to the allegations of racism that he endured after the LOTR films, and the subsequent sacking of a casting director for turning away some Pakistani lady who wanted to be a hobbit. IMHO, Laketown from the books was meant to mirrior a Scandinavian or Anglo-saxon type of a village in the very far north that probably would not have had communities of Black people and Asians living there, while my friend claims that it makes sense to include them into Laketown, because Laketown is a trading city.

What say you?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Gungnir » Thu Mar 20, 2014 6:55 am

I agree with your friend. Laketown should be like pre-medieval London or Hedeby (In Denmark) which had trade links as far south as Africa. Remember the vikings regularly travelled as far south as the black sea and the Mediterranean and north African slave traders picked up slaves from northern Europe.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Thu Mar 20, 2014 7:40 am

Gungnir wrote:I agree with your friend. Laketown should be like pre-medieval London or Hedeby (In Denmark) which had trade links as far south as Africa. Remember the vikings regularly travelled as far south as the black sea and the Mediterranean and north African slave traders picked up slaves from northern Europe.


Sure there were trade links, but there were not migrant communities of Africans or Asians moving to northern Europe. The people portrayed in the films were not traders, they were residents. Besides, that isn't really how trade worked. There were visitors from the Mediterranean to these places in pre-Christian Europe, but it was rare and most trade happened along the routes, not from people travelling thousands and thousands of miles to peddle their wares. I think it would have made more sense to portray Minas Tirith in this way rather than Laketown.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:23 am

I think we can all agree that Tolkien's vision of Laketown was pretty lily-white, and that's understandable given who he was and the time he was writing, and the culture he was trying to represent in his story.

That doesn't mean that we should get too worked up if we allow modern sensibilities creep into the background casting.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby solicitr » Thu Mar 20, 2014 8:58 am

In general, with some exceptions, medieval trade routes meant the movement of the *goods* from one end to the other, but in something of a bucket-brigade fashion with regard to the merchants handling them. Europe had been receiving Chinese goods in trade for centuries before the Polos actually managed to go there, passed through any number of Central Asian, Arab and Turkish middlemen. This was reinforced by the intense protectionism of the era and the severe restrictions on foreign merchants setting up shop in one's own cities.

We can see a bit of this in Lake-town- the Wood-elves traveled downstream to buy wine and transport it home, wine which had been brought to Lake-town from Dorwinion by other, unspecified traders.

The singular exception to this would be where the "goods" were themselves people, i.e. slaves. Nonetheless, from Tolkien's essay on sigelhearwan, used in the Old English Exodus to translate "Ethiopian," it certainly seems that Anglo-Saxon at that time didn't even have a word for "black person." Remember, since both the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings were equal-opportunity enslavers, they had no particular need to look to distant continents for chattels.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Thu Mar 20, 2014 2:30 pm

Minardil wrote:I think we can all agree that Tolkien's vision of Laketown was pretty lily-white, and that's understandable given who he was and the time he was writing, and the culture he was trying to represent in his story.

That doesn't mean that we should get too worked up if we allow modern sensibilities creep into the background casting.


But that's the thing. Why is the author's vision of the culture he was trying to represent in his story considered by many to be sufficiently offensive to the point that it must be "remedied" by including people of all races, even when that doesn't really fit with the setting? Peter Jackson endured years of accusations of racism because his LOTR films were considered "too white", even though it was 100% true to the setting of the story.

You are right, a few seconds of some Black and Asian faces in Laketown is nothing to freak out over, but by the same token, would it have been something to freak out over if Jackson remained true to Tolkien's "lily-white" vision? To a lot of people, the answer to that question is yes, and I find that unfortunate.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Thu Mar 20, 2014 2:43 pm

solicitr wrote:In general, with some exceptions, medieval trade routes meant the movement of the *goods* from one end to the other, but in something of a bucket-brigade fashion with regard to the merchants handling them. Europe had been receiving Chinese goods in trade for centuries before the Polos actually managed to go there, passed through any number of Central Asian, Arab and Turkish middlemen. This was reinforced by the intense protectionism of the era and the severe restrictions on foreign merchants setting up shop in one's own cities.

We can see a bit of this in Lake-town- the Wood-elves traveled downstream to buy wine and transport it home, wine which had been brought to Lake-town from Dorwinion by other, unspecified traders.

The singular exception to this would be where the "goods" were themselves people, i.e. slaves. Nonetheless, from Tolkien's essay on sigelhearwan, used in the Old English Exodus to translate "Ethiopian," it certainly seems that Anglo-Saxon at that time didn't even have a word for "black person." Remember, since both the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings were equal-opportunity enslavers, they had no particular need to look to distant continents for chattels.


And to add to your point, Middle Earth is meant by the author to be the equivalent of a pre-medieval, pre-Roman Europe, where the likelihood of African or Asian residents would have been much smaller than it would have been in medieval, post-Roman Europe.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Samuel Vimes » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:09 am

First,
I know of a Viking tomb from about 10th century and buried in that great tomb were two women. Both were apparently very prominent women given their place in the tomb. And one of these women can apparnetly be traced to the middle east. So a woman from the middle east were taken back to Scandinavia and rose to a position of almost queen. So it seems that a great Viking leader fell in love with a women he met during his travels and brought her back.
So even back then while it was probably rare to have travelers from distant parts, it was far from impossible or un-heard of.

Second, a point is made in the films that the city of Dale was a great city, the big trade center in the North and a very rich city. So say that some traders make the effort to go all the way up there to buy and sell goods. But suddenly the Dragon attacks and they loose everything. Some might go back but some might not be able to. So they then settled in Lake-Town. So the people we see are the decendants of those people.

Third, I have seen this issue be debated elsewhere and I have a hard time understanding why some are so worked up about it.
Tolkien did write that there were non-white people in middle earth. Did he ever say that EVERYONE in lake-town was white? Or that it was IMPOSSIBLE for any non-white to be there?

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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Fri Mar 21, 2014 10:32 am

Samuel Vimes wrote:First,
I know of a Viking tomb from about 10th century and buried in that great tomb were two women. Both were apparently very prominent women given their place in the tomb. And one of these women can apparnetly be traced to the middle east. So a woman from the middle east were taken back to Scandinavia and rose to a position of almost queen. So it seems that a great Viking leader fell in love with a women he met during his travels and brought her back.
So even back then while it was probably rare to have travelers from distant parts, it was far from impossible or un-heard of.

Second, a point is made in the films that the city of Dale was a great city, the big trade center in the North and a very rich city. So say that some traders make the effort to go all the way up there to buy and sell goods. But suddenly the Dragon attacks and they loose everything. Some might go back but some might not be able to. So they then settled in Lake-Town. So the people we see are the decendants of those people.

Third, I have seen this issue be debated elsewhere and I have a hard time understanding why some are so worked up about it.
Tolkien did write that there were non-white people in middle earth. Did he ever say that EVERYONE in lake-town was white? Or that it was IMPOSSIBLE for any non-white to be there?

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1. No one is saying that there were not visitors from these foreign lands. But there were not communities of people migrating from Africa or Asia into northern Europe at this time. Besides, as has already been stated, Middle Earth is meant to correspond to a pre-Roman Europe, MUCH earlier than the 10th century.

2. Again, this is simply not how trade worked. As has already been said, goods were passed along on the trade routes and passed from hand to hand that way. People did not travel all the way from sub-Saharan Africa or the far East to peddle their wares to people in northern Europe, so why should people from Far Harad be portryaed as travelling all the way from their distant land to peddle wares in far northern Laketown?

3. Well northern Middle Earth is supposed to correspond to northern Europe, and Laketown was obviously meant to mirror a Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon type of village. Just becuase Tolkien did not explicitly state "There were only white people in Laketown" doesn't make it any more likely that he meant for it to include Easterling and Haradrim residents.

Again, no one is worked up about it. I simply asked what people thought about it, and my own personal opinion is that they made Laketown multicultural because Peter Jackson caught so much flak for not including Black people or Asian in his LOTR movies and he didn't want to have to deal with being called a racist again, and not because Tolkien envisioned Laketown as having Black and Asian residents. What I find unfortunate is that some people get so offended by the fact that a story set in an ancient northern Europe has an all-white cast. I do not recall Ang Lee being called out as a racist for only including Asian people in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Samuel Vimes » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:25 pm

[="BobSacamano"]

1. No one is saying that there were not visitors from these foreign lands. But there were not communities of people migrating from Africa or Asia into northern Europe at this time. Besides, as has already been stated, Middle Earth is meant to correspond to a pre-Roman Europe, MUCH earlier than the 10th century.


Well you said lake-Town is meant to mirror an Anglo-saxon or Scandinavian village and those were around after the Roman times. Indeed Tolkien drew quite a bit from the Anglo-saxons and things like Beowulf and that is after Roman times, not pre.
Second, we saw what two or three people, hardly enough to be a Community. It could just be three or four people that came to Dale on a visit but after the Dragon attack they had no means to go home so they stayed.
The Vikings made it all the way to the American continent.
Going back even further, we humans move around, that is how we have spread all over this planet. We don't sit still.

2. Again, this is simply not how trade worked. As has already been said, goods were passed along on the trade routes and passed from hand to hand that way. People did not travel all the way from sub-Saharan Africa or the far East to peddle their wares to people in northern Europe, so why should people from Far Harad be portryaed as travelling all the way from their distant land to peddle wares in far northern Laketown?


Yet we have evidence of people from the middle east living in Scandinavia in 9-10th century.
If goods can travel then so can people. Perhaps it was uncommon but that is very different from impossible.

Take travel in Tolkien and even large migration. There is quite a bit of that actually. The people of Rohan all moved down from the north and settled in Rohan. A whole lot of people there. Not quite as far as to far-Harad but still.
The Elves, they moved a VERY long way. All the way from the east of ME and across the sea.
The Humans in the first age of the sun, they moved quite a ways as well.
Between Arnor and Gondor, how far was that? Quite a long way and yet there was travel between them.
Aragorn had travelled far to the east and down in the south. Sure he is a ranger but still travel was possible.

3. Well northern Middle Earth is supposed to correspond to northern Europe, and Laketown was obviously meant to mirror a Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon type of village. Just becuase Tolkien did not explicitly state "There were only white people in Laketown" doesn't make it any more likely that he meant for it to include Easterling and Haradrim residents.


And in northern Europe, in the times of the Anglo-saxons and the Vikings, there were people from far away. Not many but they existed. Vikings worked as body guards to the emperor in Constantinople. Why is it so impossible that when that Viking went home he took with him a few loyal servants and perhaps a pretty girl that caught his eye?

Again, no one is worked up about it. I simply asked what people thought about it, and my own personal opinion is that they made Laketown multicultural because Peter Jackson caught so much flak for not including Black people or Asian in his LOTR movies and he didn't want to have to deal with being called a racist again, and not because Tolkien envisioned Laketown as having Black and Asian residents. What I find unfortunate is that some people get so offended by the fact that a story set in an ancient northern Europe has an all-white cast. I do not recall Ang Lee being called out as a racist for only including Asian people in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
[/quote]

First, on some other sites there are people very worked up about this and say that PJ is destroying Tolkien by including black people in Lake Town. Second, yes Tolkien have been called racist and there were some complaints against PJ but not all that much. They did some re-design of the Haradrim when it was thought they looked too "African". And in the LotR films the "black" people were mostly the enemy. Third, I think PJ had more than just PC reasons to include them. Perhaps he wanted to show that the world in bigger than it was shown in the LotR films. That before the second rise of Sauron, there was some travel and even peace between the various peoples of ME. Or to illustrate how great a city Dale had been. That it was a city that people could travel hundreds of miles to go to.

In closing, I don't think this inclusion was simply PJ trying to avoid being called a racist. And the flak he has gotten over this seems more severe than the complaints of racism that he got last time.

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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Fri Mar 21, 2014 4:25 pm

SamuelVimes, there were no Black people in the LOTR films. There were a few Maori in the crowd scenes of Minas Tirith, barely visible. But no Black people, so how could they be portrayed as the enemy when there weren't any in the movies to begin with? As for Tolkien, he only once mentioned "Black men", when they came forth during the battle of Pelenor Fields. So, did Tolkien envision Laketown as a multicultural city with residents from Harad and Rhun? In all likelihood, no. Minas Tirith could have had some darker-skinned residents and it would have made a modicum of sense. But Laketown is really stretching it.

My major reason for believing that Jackson only did this for PC reasons is that he was interviewd after LOTR and asked why he only included white people in the films. His response was that the films were based in a fictional Europe, and so the people living there would have looked liked Europeans. But then why has Peter Jackson decided to do an about-face and then make the only major human settlement in the Hobbit movies into a multicultural city?

there were some complaints against PJ but not all that much


Are you kidding me? There were plenty of articles written about Jackson accusing him of racist casting, a simple google search will show you this. Google "Peter Jackson racist", and take a look at all of the articles and blogs accusing him of this. Major publications like the Daily Kos and Salon accused him of being a racist. There might be some chatter on message boards where people are freaking out over the Blacks and Asians in Laketown, but thats about it, definitely no mainstream publications taking up a cause over it. Come on.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Samuel Vimes » Sat Mar 22, 2014 9:37 am

[="BobSacamano"]SamuelVimes, there were no Black people in the LOTR films. There were a few Maori in the crowd scenes of Minas Tirith, barely visible. But no Black people, so how could they be portrayed as the enemy when there weren't any in the movies to begin with? As for Tolkien, he only once mentioned "Black men", when they came forth during the battle of Pelenor Fields. So, did Tolkien envision Laketown as a multicultural city with residents from Harad and Rhun? In all likelihood, no. Minas Tirith could have had some darker-skinned residents and it would have made a modicum of sense. But Laketown is really stretching it.


We also see some Easterling and Haradrim and they look not quite "white". Hence my use of the phrase "black".
The clothing style, them riding elephants, their darker eyes. All this makes them seem less "white" than the good guys.
And I also know that PJ was aware of how the book described "black" people and tried to make that less blatant.
And this was something that some articles talked about back in the day.

Second, the film makes a point to describe Dale as a great city and we see some of it. It seems rich and close to an equal to Minas Tirith. It was also called a great trade center, filled with trade from far and wide. So if Minas Tirith could have some darker skinned people, why can't Dale? It is further to the north yes but it is also far to the east and we don't know what the people that lives east of Dale looks like. The design of the helmets the guards in Dale wear look a bit "eastern" to me. And say that a handful of travelers from far away were in Dale when the Dragon attacked and they lost everything. Now they can't go back, or can't afford to. So they settle in Lake-Town instead.

My major reason for believing that Jackson only did this for PC reasons is that he was interviewd after LOTR and asked why he only included white people in the films. His response was that the films were based in a fictional Europe, and so the people living there would have looked liked Europeans. But then why has Peter Jackson decided to do an about-face and then make the only major human settlement in the Hobbit movies into a multicultural city?


Perhaps because he feels he can now show more of ME. They are in a different place than in the other films, which is something that PJ has talked about. Or it could be that he wanted to show that Dale was this big trade city, a town of wealth and commerce from far and wide. And having a slightly different look and feel than Rohan or Gondor. And a simple way to do that is to include different kinds of people or different designs.

Are you kidding me? There were plenty of articles written about Jackson accusing him of racist casting, a simple google search will show you this. Google "Peter Jackson racist", and take a look at all of the articles and blogs accusing him of this. Major publications like the Daily Kos and Salon accused him of being a racist. There might be some chatter on message boards where people are freaking out over the Blacks and Asians in Laketown, but thats about it, definitely no mainstream publications taking up a cause over it. Come on.
[/quote]

Most of the articles I can remember from that time included Tolkien himself. And Tolkien has been accused of being a racist more than once. So the comparison was often to the book as well as with the films. But then you also had people getting up in arms about the title "The Two Towers" and how that was disrespectful to the events of 9/11 and there was even a petition that some signed. somehow not realizing that the petition was a joke.

And with the current Hobbit films, I have seen a fair number of articles about animal cruelty and how 30 animals were "sacrificed" and all that. As far as I know, only three animals died and it was not directly due to the filmmakers.
I also know about the casting person and the mess that this created.

But if PJ really was all about being PC and wanted to show the world this.
First, why didn't he do something in AUJ? Like make one of the dwarfs black? If he is as uninterested in telling Tolkien's story as some here suggest, why not?
Second, these "black" people are not in the film a whole lot and they have no dialogue as far as I recall. The first time I saw the film, I didn't even notice and the only reason I noticed the second time is due to the stink that some people have raised over this. Why not make Bard black? Or some of the other speaking parts in DOS?

In closing, I prefer to wait for the creator to say something before I ascribe motivations to their actions, esp with something as minor as this. I know that PJ has said that he was aware of the accusations of racism directed against Tolkien and he wanted to avoid doing something to make it worse. If PJ himself admits that it was just PC and nothing else, then fine.
It won't bother me and nor does the presence of a few "black" people bother me now. I am more surprised why this is so bothersome to some people.
What I can say is that these Hobbit films have more media attention than the previous three films. They were somewhat below the radar, at least at first. Now a lot of media is watching these films, ready to pounce upon any misstep. So PJ might be faced with more outside pressure here.

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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:34 am

Ok, well "non-white" doesn't automatically equal "black". Easterlings and Haradrim were never desribed as looking Black, they were described as swarthy, which generally is used to refer to mediterranean or Middle east type olive skin. Black men were mentioned a grand total of one time in Tolkien's stories, so Black people only existed in the furthest margins of Tolkien's world and did not figure in the stories at all. And I don't remember any people ever being described as looking east Asian (although that is always how i pictured the men of Khand, who were also only mentioned once).

And you know as well as I do that Jackson is not going to just come out and say "We had to get some Black and Asian faces onscreen somewhere so nobody gets offended." He's going to try and play it off like it just came about naturally. Honestly, it would have been better if they made an effort to explain that some of these non-white people were from distant lands, instead of them just kinda being there.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Gungnir » Sun Mar 23, 2014 10:49 am

BobSacamano wrote:And you know as well as I do that Jackson is not going to just come out and say "We had to get some Black and Asian faces onscreen somewhere so nobody gets offended."


What are you on about? You just said that there were no black or asian actors in LOTR, which, if memory serves, was also directed by Peter Jackson.

So he wasn't worried about people being offended at the lack of non-white actors when he made LotR but now, according to you, he's decided that he needs to include some in The Hobbit. Presumably this is due to the massive worldwide outcry which followed LOTR. :roll:
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:42 am

Gungnir wrote:
BobSacamano wrote:And you know as well as I do that Jackson is not going to just come out and say "We had to get some Black and Asian faces onscreen somewhere so nobody gets offended."


What are you on about? You just said that there were no black or asian actors in LOTR, which, if memory serves, was also directed by Peter Jackson.

So he wasn't worried about people being offended at the lack of non-white actors when he made LotR but now, according to you, he's decided that he needs to include some in The Hobbit.


What's so hard to understand? I said that Jackson did not include Black or Asian extras in LOTR, and when asked about it at the time, said that it was because Middle Earth was supposed to be a fictional representation of Europe. But now, after years and years of being accused of racism by very mainstream sources, he's decided to include Black and Asian extras in The Hobbit, which is supposed to be the same world as the one he portrayed in his own LOTR films. So why has he done an about-face and decided now that Middle Earth is a diverse place where people from the far south and far east reside?

Presumably this is due to the massive worldwide outcry which followed LOTR. :roll:


This is what I am saying. It wasn't a "worldwide outcry", but enough people raised a stink over the casting and general direction of the LOTR films that it doesn't surprise me that the only human settlement in the Hobbit films is being portrayed as some kind of multicultural city, when it was not portrayed that way at all in the book. Why is it so far out of the realm of possibility to some of you that Jackson only included a diverse group of extras simply because he was pressured to do so?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:43 am

Gungnir wrote:
BobSacamano wrote:And you know as well as I do that Jackson is not going to just come out and say "We had to get some Black and Asian faces onscreen somewhere so nobody gets offended."


What are you on about? You just said that there were no black or asian actors in LOTR, which, if memory serves, was also directed by Peter Jackson.

So he wasn't worried about people being offended at the lack of non-white actors when he made LotR but now, according to you, he's decided that he needs to include some in The Hobbit.


What's so hard to understand? I said that Jackson did not include Black or Asian extras in LOTR, and when asked about it at the time, said that it was because Middle Earth was supposed to be a fictional representation of Europe. But now, after years and years of being accused of racism by very mainstream sources, he's decided to include Black and Asian extras in The Hobbit, which is supposed to be the same world as the one he portrayed in his own LOTR films. So why has he done an about-face and decided now that Middle Earth is a diverse place where people from the far south and far east reside?

Presumably this is due to the massive worldwide outcry which followed LOTR. :roll:


This is what I am saying. It wasn't a "worldwide outcry", but enough people raised a stink over the casting and general direction of the LOTR films that it doesn't surprise me that the only human settlement in the Hobbit films is being portrayed as some kind of multicultural city, when it was not portrayed that way at all in the book. Why is it so far out of the realm of possibility to some of you that Jackson only included a diverse group of extras simply because he was pressured to do so?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Gungnir » Sun Mar 23, 2014 2:01 pm

BobSacamano wrote:But now, after years and years of being accused of racism by very mainstream sources[...]but enough people raised a stink over the casting and general direction of the LOTR films[...]


Who exactly? I can't recall any 'mainstream sources' complaining about it. Any references to support this claim?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 2:11 pm

Gungnir wrote:
BobSacamano wrote:But now, after years and years of being accused of racism by very mainstream sources[...]but enough people raised a stink over the casting and general direction of the LOTR films[...]


Who exactly? I can't recall any 'mainstream sources' complaining about it. Any references to support this claim?


Google "Peter Jackson racist" and look for yourself. People have been calling him and his films racist for years.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Frelga » Sun Mar 23, 2014 2:48 pm

Bob, why is it so important to you that there are no non-White faces in Middle-earth? Seriously?

Look at this map, for example - see where Rhun is in relation to Esgaroth. It's literally one river away, nothing like the arduous overland route from China or Arabia. We know there was extensive trade, and where trade happens also happen dalliances, cross-marriages, people get left behind being sick (like Kili) and settle down. Merchant communities form at the ends and along routes where traveling merchants deal with their scattered compatriots.

This blog might be of interest, also: People of Color in European Art History

Edited to fix the map link.
Last edited by Frelga on Sun Mar 23, 2014 3:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Rodia » Sun Mar 23, 2014 3:04 pm

So why has he done an about-face and decided now that Middle Earth is a diverse place where people from the far south and far east reside?



Maybe because he realised that when making a film about elves, hobbits, dragons, wizards, giant eagles, talking trees and orcs born from globs of goo, drawing the line at people of colour because they would supposedly make it unrealistic is, in fact, racism?

Also, Europe is not made up of only white people, so if you assume Middle Earth is supposed to be a fictional representation of Europe, then...well, once again, excluding people of colour is racist, because they do, in fact, exist in Europe, and have for many, many centuries. You've probably spoken to many non-white Europeans on this board!
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 3:43 pm

Rodia wrote:
So why has he done an about-face and decided now that Middle Earth is a diverse place where people from the far south and far east reside?



Maybe because he realised that when making a film about elves, hobbits, dragons, wizards, giant eagles, talking trees and orcs born from globs of goo, drawing the line at people of colour because they would supposedly make it unrealistic is, in fact, racism?

Also, Europe is not made up of only white people, so if you assume Middle Earth is supposed to be a fictional representation of Europe, then...well, once again, excluding people of colour is racist, because they do, in fact, exist in Europe, and have for many, many centuries. You've probably spoken to many non-white Europeans on this board!


It is a mythological world, Rodia. Elves, dwarves, giant egales, etc existed in the stories. Black and Asian people did not. Not because of racism, but because Tolkien was trying to come up with a mythology for his own people. Does Chinese mythology include white people? No. Does African mythology include white people? No.

And in ancient days, yes, northern Europe was made up of almost all white people. The majority of people in those days went their whole lives without ever seeing an African or Asian in person. There were visitors from foreign lands, sure, but there were not migrations of Black Africans and east Asians into northern Europe. Ancient England did not have communities of Blacks and Asians like today.

And I suggest you learn to use the term "racist" for things that are actually racist. Not including every race under the sun for an English mythology doesn't count.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 3:46 pm

Frelga wrote:Bob, why is it so important to you that there are no non-White faces in Middle-earth? Seriously?

Look at this map, for example - see where Rhun is in relation to Esgaroth. It's literally one river away, nothing like the arduous overland route from China or Arabia. We know there was extensive trade, and where trade happens also happen dalliances, cross-marriages, people get left behind being sick (like Kili) and settle down. Merchant communities form at the ends and along routes where traveling merchants deal with their scattered compatriots.

This blog might be of interest, also: People of Color in European Art History

Edited to fix the map link.


Because I do not like political correctness. And that is what this is.

Ok, I see the relation of Rhun from Esgaroth. What about Harad? Where do the Black people in Esgaroth come from? They travelled all the way up from Harad?

Here is a map of Middle Earth (sory, couldn't open the link you sent). http://blog.lefigaro.fr/hightech/middle-earth-map.jpg Note the distance from Laketown to Harad. AND the distance from Rhun to Laketown (much more than just a river separating them).
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Rodia » Sun Mar 23, 2014 4:12 pm

You don't like 'political correctness'…that's two words that can mean absolutely anything or nothing. But clearly you think PC is something bad. And you're using it to answer the question 'why is it so important to you that there are no non-white faces in Middle Earth'....which kind of implies you think that representation of people of colour in films is a bad thing.

That's a pretty racist thing to say, you know.

But anyway 'I don't like PC' is no argument. Neither is 'there were no Asians in Tolkien's books'. Because there were no White Europeans, either. There were fictional races. And depending on how we interpret Tolkien's descriptions, many of the characters in the books could be portrayed by people with darker skin. He never said 'everyone in my books is very white, absolutely no people who might look like they're from Asia or Africa'.

And even if he had…is that REALLY the one thing we'd want to make sure we got right?

Look, I get where you're coming from, and you're not the first person to follow this flawed path. But think about why you believe people of colour don't belong in these films. Are you quite sure there's a real reason, and you're not just unaccustomed to seeing non-white faces in your fantasy films?

Because that isn't a good enough reason to deny these people participation and representation.

The reason there are so few people of colour in fantasy films is not that they don't belong in the genre- it's that director after director after director decided not to put them there.

If PJ decided to make his film more diverse…that is a GOOD thing, and the pressure and criticism he received was valid. It's not really good enough, and disappointing that it hadn't occurred to him before, and that it still doesn't occur to many directors that it's ok to cast people who aren't white more, but it's a small step in the right direction.

There's nothing about black or indian or asian hobbits that doesn't "fit the setting", because the setting is fictional, and takes so many liberties with the elements it borrows from real human history that it can't be taken as a representation of European past.

And even if you insist on interpreting it that way, why exactly is some people's skin colour the deal-breaker? Why does THAT pull you out of the setting, of all things that could? Of all the things Peter Jackson changed in the films, of all the things he did differently from Tolkien…why does this one attract your focus?

Think about it. Why is skin colour so important...

Even if you want the setting to remind you of the English countryside, then these people belong there- as anyone who's ever been to England will know, English people come in all colours.
And in ancient days, yes, northern Europe was made up of almost all white people.


Which ancient days would those be? Maybe...I'll shoot at random, maybe the ancient days when the Roman empire spread all over the place, including Britain? If you think all Roman soldiers and settlers were white, think again.

The point is, there WERE quite a lot of people of colour in Europe in the past. More than you think. More than enough to make the claim that they don't belong in a fictional film loosely based on European mythologies a very silly statement.

And one that, once again, shows a strange obsession with skin colour.

Ok, so I'll put on my Master of the Cinematic Arts hat on and I'll tell you why skin colour seems so important, and why people of colour in fantasy seem 'off' to a lot of white people. This idea that fantasies that allude to European past in some way must only use white people is actually a leftover from the very racist beginnings of cinema- remember where cinema first flourished, where the basics of the cinematic language, the very code we still draw on today were established? In the USA, a country born from European colonies which were founded on the massacre and dehumanisation of local people of colour, a country with, if I recall correctly, nearly 250 years of chattel slavery, another 100 years of people of colour having no civil rights and being considered inferior in every way to whites, and a measly 50 years of recovery from these incredibly racist foundations- and I don't think I have to point out that the participation in this recovery was not unanimous. There are still plenty of very vocal people out there who think only white-skinned people are important.

And cinema is born in this atmosphere, evolves in it, absorbs it, and feeds it back to us, the viewers. Over the years, it references itself, it draws inspiration from itself. It draws inspiration from other art which was also created in a world where only white people mattered, where the world was conveniently divided between the 'civilised' and the 'savages', and of course the savages were the ones who needed to be exploited without causing too much guilt.

Erasure of people of colour from the so-called Western history, books, photographs, paintings, film and other media is a long-standing tradition… which really needs to end. It's a lie, and contributing to it by refusing to cast people of colour in a film when there's absolutely no reason they shouldn't play the parts is a racist act that too many directors still perform without thinking.

And THAT is why I used the word 'racism'. It's nothing else. It may not even be conscious, but that's what it is.

Now, if you want to get annoyed by people of the wrong skin colour being cast in a film and making it look unrealistic and historically inaccurate, how about Noah?
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Frelga » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:03 pm

Oh, good grief, yes, Noah.

Ok, I see the relation of Rhun from Esgaroth. What about Harad? Where do the Black people in Esgaroth come from? They travelled all the way up from Harad?


Probably not the specific individuals shown on film, but it is not that much of a stretch to imagine people of Rhun and Harad mixing and percolating. They were Sauron's allies, which suggest both trade ties and possibly military units moving around, mercenaries (think Nubians), guards, adventurers... You get the picture.
Wars, also, have a tendency to mix people together, sometimes in not-so-nice ways. From Rhun, these could easily have filtered into Laketown.

Note the distance from Laketown to Harad. AND the distance from Rhun to Laketown (much more than just a river separating them).


Distances don't matter as much with water travel. Compare with the distance that Thor's company covered from the Shire. On that map, it looks much longer than the length of the River Running (assuming it's to scale, which may not be the case). They had to cross forests, mountains, monster-infested, inhospitable terrain. Rivers just carry you along, at least in one direction.

And yet we know that there was a lively trade between Dale and Shire by the time of FOTR.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:06 pm

Rodia wrote:You don't like 'political correctness'…that's two words that can mean absolutely anything or nothing. But clearly you think PC is something bad. And you're using it to answer the question 'why is it so important to you that there are no non-white faces in Middle Earth'....which kind of implies you think that representation of people of colour in films is a bad thing.

That's a pretty racist thing to say, you know.


I think portrayals of "people of colour" are just fine, as long as they fit in with the setting of the story. Showing a multiracial crowd in a film set in 1990s New York makes absolute sense. Showing a multiracial crowd in a film set in 500 AD England does not. Were there "people of colour" present in England in 500 AD? Sure. Not many though. Not many at all. It would have been an extremely rare sight.

But anyway 'I don't like PC' is no argument. Neither is 'there were no Asians in Tolkien's books'. Because there were no White Europeans, either. There were fictional races. And depending on how we interpret Tolkien's descriptions, many of the characters in the books could be portrayed by people with darker skin. He never said 'everyone in my books is very white, absolutely no people who might look like they're from Asia or Africa'.


Correct, he never explicitly said that Laketown was not a mutliracial city, but think about when he wrote his stories, and what he was basing them on. Just because he didn't say something doesn't mean that it was what he intended. He has gone on record as saying that he wanted his stories to serve as a mythology for England.

Tolkien never explicitly uses the words "white Europeans", but his descriptions of most of the denizens of his stories are pretty clear. And he chronicled in great detail the languages of these denizens, to the point that we know that the people of Dale and Laketown were kin of the men of Rohan, who were all distant kin of the men of Gondor and the Dunedain, etc. And again, just because Tolkien didn't say that there were not a group of Easterling or Hardrim residents living in Laketown doesn't mean that he intended it that way.

And even if he had…is that REALLY the one thing we'd want to make sure we got right?


Why is a movie with only white people considered offensive? Were you offended by the all-Asian cast of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon? I'd expect for a story based on Chinese mytholgy to have a Chinese cast, or at least a cast that could pass for Chinese. It makes the setting feel plausible. I'm not at all offended by the fact that no white extras were included in the film, and the all-Asian cast did not make it any less enjoyable for me. If I were offended by the lack of characters who looked like me, I would have simply avoided watching it.

Look, I get where you're coming from, and you're not the first person to follow this flawed path. But think about why you believe people of colour don't belong in these films. Are you quite sure there's a real reason, and you're not just unaccustomed to seeing non-white faces in your fantasy films?


I'm fine with "non-white faces" existing in fantasy, just so long as they are meant to be there and not simply shoe-horned in for the sake of diversity. There are Black people in Game of Thrones, and it doesn't bother me one bit because there are Black people (they are called Summer Islanders in the series) have active roles in the story. Black people weren't inserted into Game of Thrones just for the sake of having some Black people onscreen, they ware part of the story. This is not the case with Tolkien.


The reason there are so few people of colour in fantasy films is not that they don't belong in the genre- it's that director after director after director decided not to put them there.

If PJ decided to make his film more diverse…that is a GOOD thing, and the pressure and criticism he received was valid. It's not really good enough, and disappointing that it hadn't occurred to him before, and that it still doesn't occur to many directors that it's ok to cast people who aren't white more, but it's a small step in the right direction.

There's nothing about black or indian or asian hobbits that doesn't "fit the setting", because the setting is fictional, and takes so many liberties with the elements it borrows from real human history that it can't be taken as a representation of European past.


I completely disagree. "Diversity" in and of itself does not automatically make something better. And the setting is fictional, but for it to work, it has to follow some internal logic. Tolkien himself went to great pains to make sure his world had an internal logic. Sure, Black people exist in the margins of Tolkien's world, but they didn't figure in the stories. So why cant it be that way in the film portrayal? Why is it offensive if not every race is represented in the adaptation when they are not represented in the source material?

And even if you insist on interpreting it that way, why exactly is some people's skin colour the deal-breaker? Why does THAT pull you out of the setting, of all things that could? Of all the things Peter Jackson changed in the films, of all the things he did differently from Tolkien…why does this one attract your focus?

Think about it. Why is skin colour so important...

Even if you want the setting to remind you of the English countryside, then these people belong there- as anyone who's ever been to England will know, English people come in all colours.


You are using modern-day examples to support your argument. These films are not based on modern-day England. And just because someone lives in England, that doesn't automatically make him an English person. You can be from England without being English.

Which ancient days would those be? Maybe...I'll shoot at random, maybe the ancient days when the Roman empire spread all over the place, including Britain? If you think all Roman soldiers and settlers were white, think again.

The point is, there WERE quite a lot of people of colour in Europe in the past. More than you think. More than enough to make the claim that they don't belong in a fictional film loosely based on European mythologies a very silly statement.


What percentage of people throughout history that have lived in Britain would you say have been non-white? I do not expect you to have any exact number, but I'd think even you would know that the VAST majority of them have been white. In recent years, more and more non-white folk have moved there. And even in ancient days, sure, there were some. But it wasn't some multicultural "rainbow" society like you are trying to portray it as. In ancient days, "people of colour" were a rarity in England, and much more so in the English countryside.

And one that, once again, shows a strange obsession with skin colour.

Ok, so I'll put on my Master of the Cinematic Arts hat on and I'll tell you why skin colour seems so important, and why people of colour in fantasy seem 'off' to a lot of white people. This idea that fantasies that allude to European past in some way must only use white people is actually a leftover from the very racist beginnings of cinema- remember where cinema first flourished, where the basics of the cinematic language, the very code we still draw on today were established? In the USA, a country born from European colonies which were founded on the massacre and dehumanisation of local people of colour, a country with, if I recall correctly, nearly 250 years of chattel slavery, another 100 years of people of colour having no civil rights and being considered inferior in every way to whites, and a measly 50 years of recovery from these incredibly racist foundations- and I don't think I have to point out that the participation in this recovery was not unanimous. There are still plenty of very vocal people out there who think only white-skinned people are important.

And cinema is born in this atmosphere, evolves in it, absorbs it, and feeds it back to us, the viewers. Over the years, it references itself, it draws inspiration from itself. It draws inspiration from other art which was also created in a world where only white people mattered, where the world was conveniently divided between the 'civilised' and the 'savages', and of course the savages were the ones who needed to be exploited without causing too much guilt.

Erasure of people of colour from the so-called Western history, books, photographs, paintings, film and other media is a long-standing tradition… which really needs to end. It's a lie, and contributing to it by refusing to cast people of colour in a film when there's absolutely no reason they shouldn't play the parts is a racist act that too many directors still perform without thinking.

And THAT is why I used the word 'racism'. It's nothing else. It may not even be conscious, but that's what it is.

Now, if you want to get annoyed by people of the wrong skin colour being cast in a film and making it look unrealistic and historically inaccurate, how about Noah?


The vast majority of what is considered "western culture" has been that of the nations of Europe, and mostly Western Europe to be precise. Have "people of colour" contributed to western culture? Sure, in the same way that some white people have contributed to the cultures of "people of colour" like those in the Middle East, Africa, India and so forth. But by and large, Western culture is defined as of the cultures of Europe. The various "people of colour" that you insist on lumping under one banner have their own distinct cultures and histories that they should be proud of.

And as for Noah, I agree (I will also add 47 Ronin to that). One thing, I am consistent on this :wink:
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Frelga » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:30 pm

Sooo people of color are fine in fantasy as long as they are kept separate from "Western" White people? :P

As far as 500 AD - post-Roman, as Ro pointed out - England...

First, Middle-earth is NOT England. It is not a few isolated islands. It's much bigger. It doesn't parallel either English history or geography and must be studied on its own terms, while accounting for the influences that shaped its creation.

Second, I just remember something - from Kipling, of the White Man's Burden fame, among many less dated writings.

From Puck of Pook's Hill
'Ye-es and no. I'm one of a good few thousands who have never seen Rome except in a picture. My people have lived at Vectis for generations. Vectis—that island West yonder that you can see from so far in clear weather.'

'Do you mean the Isle of Wight? It lifts up just before rain, and you see it from the Downs.'

'Very likely. Our villa's on the south edge of the Island, by the Broken Cliffs. Most of it is three hundred years old, but the cow-stables, where our first ancestor lived, must be a hundred years older. Oh, quite that, because the founder of our family had his land given him by Agricola at the Settlement. It's not a bad little place for its size. In springtime violets grow down to the very beach. I've gathered sea-weeds for myself and violets for my Mother many a time with our old nurse.'

'Was your nurse a—a Romaness too?'

'No, a Numidian. Gods be good to her! A dear, fat, brown thing with a tongue like a cowbell. She was a free woman. By the way, are you free, maiden?'

'Oh, quite,' said Una. 'At least, till tea-time; and in summer our governess doesn't say much if we're late.'


Here, Kipling writes about a Roman family which settled in Britain, and which had a Numidian (African, somewhere around Tunisia) nurse. Note that this is a fantasy story meant to instruct children in the glorious history of England, or its particular corner, and Kipling certainly can't be accused of political correctness, and yet he mentions a black woman.

Were there "people of colour" present in England in 500 AD? Sure. Not many though. Not many at all. It would have been an extremely rare sight.

Were there great trade towns in England in 500AD that served as a hub rather than a terminus of cross-continent trade? If there had been, they would have a great mix of people and races as well.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BobSacamano » Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:39 pm

Frelga wrote:Sooo people of color are fine in fantasy as long as they are kept separate from "Western" White people? :P

As far as 500 AD - post-Roman, as Ro pointed out - England...

First, Middle-earth is NOT England. It is not a few isolated islands. It's much bigger. It doesn't parallel either English history or geography and must be studied on its own terms, while accounting for the influences that shaped its creation.


When did I say that "people of color are fine in fantasy as long as they are kept separate from "Western" White people"? If a culture mirroring the Arab culture (as an example) is written into the story, then by all means they belong there. If they are being shoe-horned in simply to fill up a "diversity" quota because people will otherwise get offended, then it is nonsense.

And what about post-Roman 500 AD England?I admitted that there were a small number of non-white folk present, but as I have said, over and over again, there were, but NOT MANY. NOT MANY AT ALL. England in 500 AD is not comparable to England today, not even close. Stop pretending that is the case.

Here, Kipling writes about a Roman family which settled in Britain, and which had a Numidian (African, somewhere around Tunisia) nurse. Note that this is a fantasy story meant to instruct children in the glorious history of England, or its particular corner, and Kipling certainly can't be accused of political correctness, and yet he mentions a black woman.


No, I won't accuse Kipling of political correctness, but you have to remeber that this is a fiction story that he wrote in the late 1800s. It's not an historical account of anything. Plus, Numidians were not "Black". They were northern African "Berber" types.

Were there great trade towns in England in 500AD that served as a hub rather than a terminus of cross-continent trade? If there had been, they would have a great mix of people and races as well.


No, it wouldn't have been a "great mix" of races. There might have been some people from the Mediterranean or northern Africa, maybe even a small amount Black Africans who came with the Romans, but not a "great mix" of races.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby siddharth » Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:44 am

Alright, I thought I did but now I don't understand your view at all.
First you said there were NO blacks, absolutely none in ancient Europe so it is wrong to show Black people in Laketown.
Now you agree that there were blacks in Ancient Europe, a very miniscule population. But that is what they showed in Laketwon. There was one black woman I recall, perhaps at the most two. They are not showing as if the entire Laketown denizens are blacks> Just two. And that matches with your latest reasoning!

Also, so what is wrong if (and I am saying IF as I don't believe he did that to avoid racism only) PJ included coloured people just to avoid racism sentiments? That's what is called 'modernisation' of a book. I don't know if you have seen the BBC Sherlock but why do you think they changed Holmes' addiction from cocaine to smoking? Because no matter how truly they portray the series, it will always be seen unfit and as a negative influence on the modern society.
If PJ included blacks only to avoid racism, then that's fine. Because blacks need more exposure in art and films and in the current society not giving them a chance does not only diminish their visibility in modern soceity but also inherently leads to racism-accusations. And we are speaking of just ONE black woman here. Not a hoard. It neither destroys any themes by Tolkien, nor makes it any less of an adaptation than it already is(well ,what little it is). If you are concerned about how the film was a laughable adaptation, there are better points to nit-pick than the ethnicity of Laketown-dennyzens.

I wish PJ had included a more variety of ethnic people in these ME films than just Caucasians. ;)
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby Minardil » Mon Mar 24, 2014 6:04 am

BobSacamano wrote:
Minardil wrote:I think we can all agree that Tolkien's vision of Laketown was pretty lily-white, and that's understandable given who he was and the time he was writing, and the culture he was trying to represent in his story.

That doesn't mean that we should get too worked up if we allow modern sensibilities creep into the background casting.


But that's the thing. Why is the author's vision of the culture he was trying to represent in his story considered by many to be sufficiently offensive to the point that it must be "remedied" by including people of all races, even when that doesn't really fit with the setting? Peter Jackson endured years of accusations of racism because his LOTR films were considered "too white", even though it was 100% true to the setting of the story.

You are right, a few seconds of some Black and Asian faces in Laketown is nothing to freak out over, but by the same token, would it have been something to freak out over if Jackson remained true to Tolkien's "lily-white" vision? To a lot of people, the answer to that question is yes, and I find that unfortunate.


I believe my point was that we should look at both Tolkien and Jackson as men of their times.

Tolkien probably never game much thought to ethnic diversity, so there isn't much in his novels. And we shouldn't judge him or get upset by that.

On the other hand, in our contemporary world, Ethnic Diversity IS something that lots of people think about, and in the acting world (of which I am a part, btw) so-called "color blind casting" is becoming very common. So when you're PJ and you're hiring hundreds of actors for background extras, and you have a cattle call and hundreds of people show up, and when you are filming in a modern, ethnically diverse community and people of color show up to that cattle call, you can't really hire ONLY the White folks and send everyone else home.

Tolkien wasn't a racist because he DIDN'T think to write an ethnically diverse cast into his story, and PJ isn't one either because he didn't think not to.
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Re: Multicultural Laketown

Postby BagginsGirl » Mon Mar 24, 2014 10:28 am

I admit I haven't read every individual post here,but this is just becoming ridiculous. So what if there are black or Asian people in Laketown? I noticed the black faces right away, and I was happy to see a different ethnic group. Sure ME represents ancient Europe but even then people could travel great distances. The Native Americans are actually of Asian descent. And at some point Jews traveled to ancient Scotland and intermarried with them. Its not impossible for there to be different ethnic groups in a place, no matter the time period. I liked seeing some different faces. And, in my opinion, he can keep including non-white people in the movies. Its not an insult to Tolkien, and it makes perfect sense to include them no matter how you look at it, in my opinion. :)
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