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Pet Sins May 2004

Racial representations in The Fellowship of the Ring (film)

First, let me make it clear I'm not criticising Tolkien's work or the work of Director Jackson. It was a well-executed film and a splendid production. What got my attention was the character design of 3 out of 5 of the main villains. The unhuman characters which were evil all had flaring nostrils. There is Lurtz the Uruk-hai, played by Maori actor Lawrence Makaore. Then there are the 3-D animated characters of Gollum and the Balrog, which both have flaring nostrils.

Since this the main cast is all-European (by European I mean ethnicity, not nationality), and Tolkien's novel, though a fantasy, was clearly in an European setting, should the evil creatures not have European features like straight pointed noses too?

I think we have internalized the idea of non-European features like broad, flat noses with flaring nostrils as ugly, and therefore appropriate for creating evil-looking characters. I am sure that LOTR isn't the only film which uses this convention. It is somewhat disappointing that people of color in the movie are cast as villains. I would rather not see ANY people of color in a movie than to see them cast only as villains. LOTR was envisioned in a European setting, and it would not at all be considered "racist" if the movie had no non-white actors at all. But using non-white features to identify the evil characters is something else.