To be honest, I’m tired of the same old conversation about race and racism in popular culture—especially as it relates to film. Some people get where I’m coming from, but far too many don’t, and that’s where the heated debate begins. One of the most insidious things about racism (and sexism) is the seemingly innocuous way it makes its way into popular culture simply through omission. All too often works of pop culture like movies and television shows take place in worlds populated without a single person of color, and it is presented as perfectly normal. This is in fact a manifestation of racial ideology that places white people in a role of superiority, while diminishing and dehumanizing people of color by making them non-existent within the framework of cinematic reality. In turn, this sends an unconscious message to an audience, which feeds into pre-existing ideological constructs. It happens all the time, many people are unaware of it, and even when it is pointed out, it is easily dismissed as being unintentional or innocent. But it is still damaging to those left out, and in time creates a lingering sense of alienation that manifests itself on a subconscious level. That said, rather then going any deeper into this topic, I’m simply going to prove my point with a little project I’m calling White One Hundred: 100 Great Films Starring Only White People. The entire purpose of this project is not to condemn the films and the filmmakers as being racist, but merely to point out the incredible extent of omission that goes on in film, and is accepted as being perfectly normal.
White One Hundred, #1 – The Lord of the Rings. Technically, this is three films, and there is not a single person of color to be found in all three. Yes, I know the films are based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkein—a man not known for his embracing of diversity—but in Peter Jackson’s cinematic adaptation, there is not one person of color. It’s not like they needed to cast Chiwetel Ejiofor as Boromir (though that would have been awesome). You’re telling me that we couldn’t get just one token black or Asian hobbit as an extra? In all of Middle Earth, there’s not one hobbit with the swarthy complexion of Harry Belafonte? That’s ridiculous. Maybe all the black extras in New Zealand and Australia were busy working on The Matrix movies, but somehow I doubt it. The closest thing to black people in all of Middle Earth are the orcs, and that’s not something I want to even come close to addressing.