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Race in TV adaptations

Adapting a popular book or comic into a TV series is always a tricky task. People become attached to the characters as they envision them to be, so when a TV show alters a character, it’ll never please everybody. 

Film companies in recent years have made efforts to diversify their productions. One way in which this is carried out is by casting BIPOC actors in traditionally White roles. The methods companies go about this can differ. Some develop scripts which alter the race of a character from the original story and then specifically cast BIPOC actors. Others, as The Witcher Executive Producer Lauren S. Hissrich puts it: “[welcome] everyone and anyone to put themselves forward to prove that they could embody the character”. She explains that, in the casting process for The Witcher: “we saw all ages, all ethnicities, all levels of talent, from movie stars to fans in Poland [where the Netflix series is set] who’d never acted professionally before. We chose the best actors.” 

The Witcher has come under scrutiny from fans for changing the supposed races of some of its characters, all of whom are meant to reside in a land based on medieval Poland. The producer explained that it was important for them to maintain the Slavic heritage of the books in the making of the show. Hissrich, in a tweet, speaks about the choice to opt for open casting: “I asked around (especially to my Polish friends): can the Slavic culture be reduced solely down to skin colour? The response was resounding: God, we hope not.”

Entities like Marvel and DC also appear to be somewhat diversifying their content, with the TV series Legends of Tomorrow casting multiracial actor Ciara Renee in the role of Hawkgirl. As Paste magazine states: “Hawkgirl is an Egyptian princess who can essentially be reborn into any host, [yet] despite that flexibility, the comics have largely kept the character White”. The TV adaptation aims to be more progressive and provide a more accurate reflection of its diverse audience in the characters on screen.

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Jake Walker-Charles

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October 2021
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