One of the stars of Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Nazanin Boniadi, has defended the show’s diverse casting choices.
“This was not stunt casting,” she said, talking to Entertainment Weekly. “This isn’t tokenization, or a lot of the things that we’re used to in past roles. Every person has been cast because they are the best people for those roles, regardless of ethnicity and race. And I find that super empowering.”
She was adding to the comments made by costar Ismael Cruz Cordova, whose childhood fantasies about being an elf were marred by the lack of diversity in fantasy. “That was something I really dreamt about, but on the flip side, it was something that was a little painful because there weren’t elves that looked like me,” he said. Boniadi, an Iranian-born British actress, will be playing original human character Bronwyn, while Cordova, who is Puerto Rican, will be playing the elvish Arondir.
Some of the 22 regular cast members are playing younger versions of characters easily recognizable to Tolkien fans, including Morfydd Clark as Galadriel and Robert Aramayo as Elrond. Others are playing characters only known to die-hard fans who’ve read the companion book The Silmarillion, which collected Tolkien’s extensive notes on the history of Middle Earth.
The Silmarillion featured characters the series will focus heavily on, such as Míriel, queen of Númenor, and Celebrimbor, who was previously used as a significant character in the 2014 video game Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. The show has committed itself to depicting a more diverse Middle Earth — female dwarves with beards will be seen for the first time, as will female orcs, and actors of color portray several elves, dwarves and more.
The series’ creators, J. D. Payne and Patrick McKay, have been keen to reassure skeptical fans that they’re honoring Tolkein’s vision. “One, always back to Tolkien, and two, we tried to invent in as Tolkien a way as possible,” Payne said, also mentioning that the show’s new character had been developed with the help of Tolkien scholars. While the Second Age of Middle Earth was chosen as the show’s setting partly because it was the least fleshed-out in Tolkien’s work and gave them the most flexibility, it also “contains some of the greatest stories from Tolkien’s mythos” that fans have always wanted to see.