Only by looking boldly ahead can we create positive change. Only by looking stubbornly behind do we allow evil to continue.
- J.R.R. Tolkien
Just wow! You guys… There is this new amazing show and I love it! It’s called the Rings of Power and my Friday evenings are officially booked for the foreseeable future. We’re only three episodes in and I am officially hooked!
How can I even begin to describe the sheer JOY of this show. It’s LITERALLY the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life, overflowing with stunning scenery and landscapes, ungodly beautiful set design, and so, so, so amazing costumes. Oh, did I mention the main character is LITERALLY an all-powerful, patriarchy-smashing elf queen? Yah. Uh-huh.
Now, I admit that before hearing about this show, I never actually read any of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, which I regarded (at the time) as silly and childish. Nor have I ever seen the oft-mentioned Peter Jackson trilogy of films, which I regarded (at the time) as scary and violent.
Yet when I heard that the producers were bravely casting Actors of Color (not sure what to capitalize, so I capitalized both Actor and Color), I instantly became a diehard fan.*
Speaking of which… Ismal Cruz Córdova… who plays the role of the biracial elf Arondir…? Oh my goodness! So, so handsome!**
I think part of my initial hesitation to embrace Tolkien was my assumption that, as a dead white male, he was likely a white supremacist and misogynist whose works promoted the myth of the “strong white man”. But as many credible film reviewers make abundantly clear, Tolkien’s writings have long been high-jacked by toxic fans who completely misrepresented his work. It’s now obvious to me – thanks to reading several online Tolkien scholars – that Tolkien always intended to create an inclusive fictional world in which ALL peoples can be represented as they truly see themselves. In so many ways, he was ahead of his time.
The show’s creative team certainly do his vision justice by boldly centering the story on Galadriel, a female elf warrior and commander of the northern armies of the elven realm. It’s just so rare and refreshing to find movies and shows these days that portray womxn as strong and independent leaders. I mean, you can count on the fingers of one hand the list of movies over the past few years that featured fierce and inspiring womxn as their protagonists. When will Hollywood finally learn that strong womxn = strong profits? But I digress.
Galadriel is searching for an unnamed enemy, who in a prior battle slew her brother and emotionally-supportive white male ally. Along the way, she must overcome many challenges, not just the physical challenges of climbing mountains and facing down monstrous ice trolls, but the intrinsic toxic patriarchy of elven culture. So many times, Galadriel must “prove herself” to arrogant white male elves, who refuse to believe in her simply because she is a woman.
This resonated so powerfully with me. It is honestly exhausting to have to explain yourself to men, whether in the workplace or at home, who never quite seem to “get it”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say upfront, “It’s not on me to explain how I feel, it’s on you to educate yourself.” Yet still… even with my own husband sometimes… They shake their heads and claim they’re not “mind readers”. As if that has anything to do with what we're actually saying!
Anyway, actress Morfydd Clark, who plays Galadriel, deftly captures the asymmetrical burden of emotional labor womxn must bear every single day of their lives. It was, at times, painful to watch, but also timeless and beautiful.
Still, not all the white male elves are bad. A little later we are introduced to the character of Elrond, another elf and clearly the show’s primary LGBTQ+ representative. I was LITERALLY buzzing in my seat from his infectious brand of amazingly positive LGBTQ+ energy! He was a delight! Elrond is, of course, Galadriel’s good friend and ally, and their relationship reminded me of the many wonderful friendships I’ve had with so many hilarious and awesome gay men – especially Rodrigo, who is sadly unwell these days with a mysterious illness.
And finally, rounding out the cast, we have the Harfoots, who I believe represent Native Americans, or possibly a portrait of a fully harmonious, socially just, and intersectional society. I’m honestly not sure which is correct.*** At any rate, two of the Harfoots, Nori and Poppy – who I also suspect/hope are LGBTQ+ representatives – stumble across a homeless immigrant and immediately care for him. I thought it was so inspiring to see that level of empathy for the disadvantaged and I hope that others can learn from this example.
I also found it so interesting (but also totally understandable) that the culture of the Harfoots is wary of outsiders and separate themselves from wider society. I think it’s so fascinating how other cultures can be different from our own, but also be equal at the same time. There really are no better or worse cultures. They’re all unique and beautiful in their own way. Well... Except those cultures that humiliate, degrade, oppress, and colonize others... Not naming names here, but I think you know which one I mean.
But of course, I should mention that the show has predictably attracted its share of detractors – the usual supply of Drumpf online trolls and Ultra MAGA racists – who only hate the show because it features AOC (Actors of Color, not Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who I also love), whom they regard as intruding on yet another one of their precious “white spaces”.
I personally wouldn’t give their so-called criticisms the time of day. Remember, there's no use arguing with or even speaking to a white supremacist or misogynist. Their opinions are automatically invalid, so there’s no point in engaging with them. Just dismiss them and move on. I personally find this to be the most mature way to deal with people who think differently than me.
But aside from that sour note, I couldn’t possibly be more excited about this show. It’s thrilling to think we’re only a handful of episodes in and there’s still four and half seasons left to go! I am as giddy as a kid in a candy store wondering what they’ll come up with next.
Peeking ahead online, I read a quote from a new character the show is going to introduce, someone called Sauron, who I’m pretty sure will be a trans ally of Galadriel in her quest to root out and destroy evil in the world. Anyway, she/they says, “You cannot stop this change. You cannot stop our movement. Your time is over and ours is beginning. I now have a power beyond your reckoning.”
Oh my God! That gave me chills! I can’t wait to see what the writers do with this new character!
So, in short, binge this show if you haven’t already. It was so heartwarming to see such gorgeous diversity and representation in a jaw-droppingly epic fantasy world. I’m sure J.R.R. Tolkien, if he were here, would be amazed by the spectacle Amazon has created. More importantly, I’m sure he would approve of the tender respect and care the creative team has taken with his central themes: That in order to grow, we have to destroy that which hinders progress. That in order to learn, we have to forget everything we were ever taught.
Or as J.R.R. Tolkien himself would put it, “We must burn away the old to make room for the new. We must shed all attachments to the past and unreservedly embrace the future.”
Watch. This. Show.
Seriously. It’s amazing. You’ll thank me.
Leslie Ann Wilkinson
* The author also wishes to make it known that she and her husband never watch anything that doesn’t at least meet the 50/50/20 rule – 50% BIPOC, 50% Womxn, 20% straight white male – and that also passes the Bechdel Test. The author encourages readers to likewise insist on these guidelines from their media. For more information on the Bechdel Test, please read here.
** The author also wishes to make clear that she finds the actor Ismal Cruz Córdova to be genuinely attractive and is not exoticizing or fetishizing his Blackness in any way. The author affirms that she sees his identity as a biracial Puerto Rican male and that she acknowledges her white privilege.
*** The author encourages readers to correct her if she has misinterpreted the identity/representation of the Harfoots. The author welcomes such correction so that she can actively do the work of dismantling whiteness within herself and her broader community. She hears you. She sees you. She is trying to be better.