Amazon’s Rings of Power is a racist disgrace, and Africans are its victims


In IRL conversations and on social media I have been somewhat active in criticizing the new Amazon series ‘Rings of Power’ (RoP) the ‘modern adaptation’ of Tolkein’s LOTR mythos that focuses on the Second Age for its backdrop. 

I have many issues with this Amazon project; the fact that it’s genuinely shit in terms of quality, the fact that it tramples over Tolkein’s lore, style, and philosophy, as well as Peter Jackson’s impeccable adaptations, but I’ll focus for a moment on the most divisive issue; the disruption of Tolkein’s universe by the means of bluntly inserting actors of world-inappropriate appearances or ethnic backgrounds into the cast. This last item is something I view as an utterly atrocious crime of cinematography, and I hate it deeply.

Primarily, there are two reasons for this hatred. The first assumes that the creators genuinely care about Tolkein’s world, and that the unloreful cast backgrounds are incidental. RoP could have told a brilliant story with an ethnically diverse cast by setting the story somewhere else; Harad, Umbar, or Rhûn. Harad is where the mûmaks (oliphaunts) come from, and there is a scene in Peter Jackson’s films where Faramir and his Ithilien Rangers kill some Haradrim, before giving a sad monologue about the senseless death of a poor young Harad man, whose people have been deceived and manipulated into supporting Sauron’s cause. A TV show in these settings could be dramatically ethnically diverse, loreful, and also tell better stories, like the tragic tale of Sauron’s domination of these nations, and perhaps also highlighting the “few good men” (so to speak) who stood up to oppose him. It could have been redemptive, tragic, beautiful, compelling. 

The second reason assumes that the creators do not care about Tolkein’s world but wanted to tell a diverse story in a fantasy setting. Let’s start off by talking about diverse (in this context, meaning not ethnoculturally European) stories in such settings. Black Panther, while somewhat contrived in its plot and unnecessarily political at times, was a really great movie (final battle was shit though, who thought it was a good idea to have like a dozen actors fighting in the epic finale). I am not ashamed to say that I loved the movie overall, despite its issues. Although Black Panther was created by a white comic book artist, the film adaptation proved that there is a global audience for fantasy-type stories set in non-Western (non ethnically European or colonial) settings. And I am part of that audience. 

Even more than that, what I want to see are fantasy films that aren’t based on American comic books, but actual African lore. There is an incredibly rich and elaborate mythology in West Africa that was once the bedrock of popular tribal religion, with fantastic and intricate characters that could be utilized in film and TV. One example of a great African mythological character is Anansi. Anansi is a spider god in West African (primarily Akan) folklore and myth, who is also the god of wisdom, stories, and knowledge. He is a Loki-type character, a trickster, who through intelligence and cunning wins his victories against overwhelming odds, and I recall fondly my memories of reading a story in my English class as a child about Anansi, written by a Nigerian author.

Neither Amazon Studios, nor Netflix, nor any global film/TV producer is engaging with Anansi. Nor are they engaging even slightly with the genuinely profound and rich mythological tradition of West Africa. To satisfy audiences, both black and white (some of whom want to see themselves represented, some of whom want everything to be ethnically diverse by default) they are content to cast Africans in roles that don’t make sense for the story and world they’re trying to immerse you in, while ignoring the cultural heritage of those African actors in its entirety.

This is an atrocious crime, not only creatively, but also culturally and morally. Ethnic Sub-Saharan Africans should be able to see their heritage, their cultural mythos, on high-budget TV and cinema. They should be able to watch their own version of The Northman, a cinematic masterpiece that does for Europeans what Africans have never been able to experience or enjoy. I, as an ethnic European, should in an ideal world be able to watch an epic cinematic saga based in African mythology, and I should not have to see a single white person when doing so. Black Panther was close to greatness, but it killed my immersion when a white sidekick unnecessarily became a central character. Why was that necessary? Because forced diversity goes both ways, and it hurts both sides. Whites don’t benefit from anachronistic black cast members in fantasy European settings, and blacks don’t benefit from token whites appearing without good reason in fantasy African settings.

Lastly, I think this forced diversity situation with RoP is racist to those of African descent. Yes, I really mean that. It is flagrantly racist to enforce black cast members in inapplicable settings to grab cash from black audiences, while at the same time disregarding those audiences and ignoring the stories that their cultures have to tell. It is racist that Africans cannot have their own cultural mythologies or stories represented on TV, but instead have to settle for the ‘sloppy seconds’ of European mythologies instead. It is racist to pretend that you give a shit about black people when you are treating them as second best. As an ethnic European, I find this situation disgusting, offensive, exploitative, and cruel. If I were ethnically African, I would probably find it painful, oppressive, and depressing in addition to what it already is to me right now. 

“Yet hope remains” as Tolkein’s Gandalf once said. There are signs that the industry is changing. Netflix’s Squid Game was a truly remarkable event in cinematic history; it brought its viewers a story, not in a European language, not in Europe, but one that was authentic and on top of that, genuinely good. I haven’t watched it yet myself (my subscription expired two months ago) but I trust that the reviews are somewhat accurate, and I’m happy for its success. 

Even before Squid Game, India started to receive similar treatment. In 2019, Netflix released the hit series “Delhi Crime” set entirely in India, with a cast entirely composed of Indian actors (for once, being faithful to the setting). This dark and visceral television series is set in the aftermath of the infamous Delhi Gang Rape and Murder of 2012, which most will recall from the horrific news reports produced by news outlets across the world as the full details of the case became known. I will not discuss the actual case here, as it is so utterly evil that to talk about it as a side topic would be inappropriate and disrespectful. The Netflix show is partially based on the actual true history of the Delhi Police’s attempt to find the perpetrators and bring justice to those responsible. Through deputy commissioner Vartika Chaturvedi (a composite character based on multiple actual police officers, some female) we see the outrage and horror of the crime, the frenzied attempt to catch the culprits, the trauma of grieving families, and the implicit guilt of the social milieu in which such a terrible act became possible. This is next on my watch list and from what I have seen, it looks incredible. 

Squid Game and Delhi Crime are not fantasies, and they do not delve into the lore or cultural mythologies of their respective settings, Korea and India. But they are proof that culturally authentic shows can be great. More than that, perhaps they prove that cultural authenticity itself can take a show from good, to great. What is missing in all of this, unfortunately, is Africa, and the void that exists as a result of its absence is only widened by Amazon’s Rings of Power. 

I will finish with this: it is unconscionable that black Americans be represented politically by a half-Kenyan president by the name of Barack Hussein Obama, but cannot be represented culturally by US film and TV studios, which cynically use Africans to satisfy diversity quotas while ignoring the richness of African cultural heritage.

Film review: Enemy (2013)

Enemy is one of the most stunning films I’ve seen this year. Its genius is composite and gestaltic; it lies in the mind-blowing script of Gullón, the paradisal and dystopic direction of Villeneuve, and the compelling yet disturbing acting by Gyllenhaal.

While the film has received near universal acclaim, the plot and its incomprehensibility to many viewers has presented an interpretative problem that has spawned numerous analyses online. While not intending to sound solipsistic, Enemy truly spoke to me in a way few other films did, and as such my understanding is somewhat different to the majority of these reviews. Because this is an analysis as well as a review, none of it will make sense to you if you haven’t seen the film, so I strongly recommend that you go rent it now. What follows is my own analysis of Enemy, starting with our character pairs.

  • Adam/Mary – history professor and his girlfriend.
  • Anthony/Helen – actor and his wife.

Villeneuve tells us that the film is about dictatorship, and this is true. Beginning at the very start of the film we hear a lecture about dictatorships – a subject which history professor Adam (Gyllenhaal) happens to specialize in.

What dictatorships or totalitarian systems do – and hereafter I want to use the latter – is to subjugate people. But not only do totalitarian systems oppress people – they also suppress awareness of this subjugation, which can happen in a number of ways. As the film begins, Adam tells his students that in Ancient Rome, the government sponsored bread and circuses for the people in order to reduce dissent. Bread and circuses are at their core a type of entertainment. Modern governments act similarly to limit dissent in different ways, we are told – yet the focus on ‘entertainment’ will be relevant later on.

Adam and Anthony meet in a hotel

From here onwards we’ll be jumping around a bit in our analysis, but I’ll break the news to you first: Adam and Anthony are one and the same. Bear with me for a little while longer. When Adam and Anthony meet in the hotel, Anthony explains the presence of a scar on his stomach, asking Adam if he has one too. Adam recoils in fear and horror, and flees the hotel. How might we understand this scene?

There is no scar on Adam’s stomach, because that scar appeared when Adam/Anthony (hereafter ‘AA’ to refer to both) was in a car crash – something which also resulted in Mary’s death. Mary was the girlfriend of AA, or at least his mistress, while he was already with Helen. The scene where AA gets his scar, and Mary is killed in a car crash, is marked by a spiderweb on the windshield of the car. Spiders live inside webs.

Consider spiders for a moment. The spiders in this film are not some loose analogy for dictatorships or other systems of the political kind. But they do represent a totalitarian system. They are avatars of memory, and the totalitarian control that traumatic memories of the past have over people’s minds. Consider your own memories – of trauma, of bullying, of the dissolution of a romantic relationship – and how inescapable they often feel. Having crossed this point, things are slowly beginning to come clear.

At the very start of the film – and remember that it isn’t in chronological order, so this is actually the ending scene – AA is in a club [entertainment] and a beautiful attractive waitress crushes a spider. AA is crushing the pain of his own memories, by seeking entertainment. This liberates him from the totalitarian control they exert over him. What memories, you ask?

The answer is given earlier on, when Adam has a dream of walking down a hallway, passing by a woman who is at once also a spider. He wakes up, and sees a woman whose hair matches the spider pattern. This is another factual memory – it is one of the other girls that Anthony cheated on his wife with. Anthony has a serious problem with commitment and infidelity, and is repeatedly unfaithful – not just to his partner.

The spider – forever the avatar of the oppressive memories of the past – swaggers over Adam/Anthony’s hometown of Toronto

What about the giant spider walking over the entire city? This is explained by the poster for the film, which shows that same spider in the city right over Anthony (who we are able to positively identify because of his jacket) but also inside his head. This is key. The spider (the gargantuan weight of his traumatic memories) is above him, but it is also inside him; its influences on his life are pervasive and absolute like some totalitarian dictator – but these memories, like the spider, are also an integral part of his very being. His experiences are in his head to stay.

At the very end in the movie, Adam has taken the place of Anthony. He goes into the bedroom to see Helen, and is greeted by a horrifyingly giant spider. Why? Because his memories are coming back to haunt him. So what exactly does this mean?

The entire film is a story of Anthony being confronted by his past. Adam is a representative of this past, and his role as a teacher of HISTORY attests to the fact. Adam represents a past version of Anthony that was unfaithful to Helen. Now Adam was meek and quiet, even to the point that he allowed himself to be cuckolded by Anthony. How can we say that he was a representation of Anthony’s unfaithfulness?

The answer is simple; Adam is an unmanly coward, and unfaithfulness is a form of cowardice, or a lack of living up to one’s responsibilities as a man. This is attested to when Anthony is in the car with Mary who he has just tried to fuck – just before they crash, he says to her ‘You think I’m not a man?’ She DOES think he’s not a man – because she has just discovered his unfaithfulness, which precipitates their dramatic exit from the hotel. In this way, Adam’s weakness/unmanliness facilitates Anthony’s unfaithfulness – Adam does not stop Anthony from fucking his own girlfriend, because he represents Anthony’s own past weakness (and thus, his weak masculinity).

That scene where Anthony is having sex with Mary, who then freaks out when she sees the wedding ring [marks?] on his finger? This was real. Mary did not realize that Anthony was married. The freakout did indeed happen. The crash did indeed happen. And Mary died, and Anthony was injured as a result – giving us the scar from earlier.

The windshield after AA’s car crash forms a delicate spiderweb – all is connected

Why is Anthony an actor? Because he is acting out the horrors of the past in his head. The nightmares are all his. The gargantuan spider in the final scene looks poised to consume Adam, who by this point has assumed the role of Anthony before he enters the bedroom. It is memories of sinfulness, and the weight of his guilt, which seem ready to devour him.

Adam IS Anthony, so Adam allowing Anthony to fuck his girlfriend represents AA’s weak, sensitive, humanistic side failing to exert control over his brash, Dionysian side. This failure resulted in the death of Mary and nearly also the destruction of his marriage. This haunts him to this very day.

Simplified, it looks something like this:

  • AA are/is one person
  • The spiders are his memories and the weight of his guilt
  • They constitute a totalitarian system which holds him down and oppresses him, and dictates to him his actions; they force him to continuously remember the past
  • Adam, a history professor (the past) represents the past AA – he is weak and generally a shitty person. He allows himself to cheat on his own wife, because he is weak/unmanly/a coward.
  • Adam’s weakness leads to the death of Mary, his girlfriend and mistress. It gives him a scar, which stays with him.
  • AA suppresses this memory by entertainment, such as by attending clubs where the spider (his past) is crushed. But it keeps coming back to haunt him.
  • The spider is a totalitarian system above him (in terms of his control) but inside him (as it is constituted by his memories).
  • The film ends with AA having gone through all of the memories of this traumatic past. A gargantuan spider shows us how AA is confronted by his memories, and thus his own guilt and shame, when he goes into his wife’s bedroom.
  • As viewers, we are not told whether AA’s suppression of his past, his memories, and his guilt is successful or not. We do not know whether he stays with Helen, or what her transformation into his guilty conscience might entail (perhaps accusing him of another affair).
  • That is Enemy, and it is undoubtedly Villeneuve’s most impressive films to date.

5 out of 5 stars.