If you are a gamer or just have a passing interest in the medium, chances are you heard of “The Witcher 3.” It is a critically acclaimed video game and has raised the standards of what to expect in an RPG genre and has brought in tons of new fans into the world of “The Witcher,” which originates from a book series.
At this point, the characters of this fantasy series can be considered similar to superheroes. They might not yet be A-listers, the cast of “The Witcher” are certainly beyond D-list celebrities. So, when Netflix announced that they would be creating a television adaptation of the video game, fans were right to expect a degree of loyalty to the characters’ preexisting story lines. However, when news got out that the lead writer of the upcoming show was looking to cast a woman of color (WoC) to play Ciri, the response was overwhelmingly negative. And for once, the internet’s backlash is completely justified.
If you haven’t guessed, the people in the Polish fantasy are mostly white. There are some humanoids that could be excluded from the race category (dopplers come to mind), but for the most part, everyone is white. In “The Witcher 3” (“TW3”), the only brown people to note came in the expansion, “Heart of Stone,” and those people were foreigners from a distant land. All of that is perfectly fine because there are places in the real world where white people are the overwhelming majority and those populations can be depicted in media. So Ciri being anything other than white raises a few issues within the context of the world.
For one, Ciri isn’t a random person. She is like a daughter to the series’ protagonist, Geralt of Rivia and she is the actual daughter to the Emperor Emhyr var Emreis. On top of that, she carries the Elder Blood, which grants her powerful magical abilities unlike any mage or sorcerer. Ciri’s face isn’t instantly recognizable to all people and even fewer are aware of her abilities, but if she was anything but white, she would be spotted everywhere she went. How do the writers work around that?
During the time of “TW3” (and probably well before it), discrimination ran rampant. Anyone nonhuman was at risk of being burnt at the stake, and yet fans are expected to believe that a carrier of the Elder Blood, daughter of a widely feared and hated emperor, is going walk around completely unbothered when she’s the only non-white person for miles? Of course, the writers could have everyone around Ciri be conveniently “color blind” and just fully commit to this asinine decision. Even if they decide to have Ciri be a young girl who is confined to the insides of a castle throughout the entirety of the show’s run, the change just doesn’t work.
Champion for Whom?
Marvel’s “Black Panther” movie was a major hit for the studio and the black community played a large role in its success. Chadwick Boseman and Michael B. Jordan definitely made some more fans when the movie debuted, but this wasn’t Jordan’s first time in a superhero movie. A few years ago, he played the Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movie. Besides the movie being crap, why didn’t Jordan become a beloved star then? Why didn’t the black community leap with joy seeing a black superhero in a Hollywood blockbuster? If you’re writing for “The Witcher,” you might want to take note of the answer.
Turns out black people, Asians, Hispanics, the LGBTQ+ community and women don’t want popular white male characters to be changed to another race or gender. For better or for worse, people of all identities have come to love Superman and Batman and the plethora of white male heroes. They are truly beloved, and no one wants to see them drastically changed.
Sure, changing a character like Jimmy Olsen to whatever color and gender you prefer is acceptable, even if unnecessary. But changing someone like Human Torch, Iron Man or Ciri doesn’t do right by anyone; it only takes away from fans and the white audience. The goal of diversity is to add options for everyone, not to take them away from a group of people, no matter how privileged that group may be.
“What now, you piece of filth!?”
Politics and lore aside, I think this move, and others similar to it, is extremely disrespectful for the lead writer to pull. This is a prime example of treating diversity like a trend to be capitalized on with little effort. If the show goes with a Ciri that isn’t white, it won’t be considered brave by any community. The writers won’t go out of their way to make Geralt, Yennefer, Vesemir and other main characters non-white, nor do they have the guts to tell a completely original story that takes place in the “Witcher” universe, allowing them to change the racial makeup of the show however they see fit. They just want to check off the invisible diversity box that they attached to the show’s criteria and no one will commend them for it.
If a WoC is cast as Ciri, more outrage will follow. The show will practically be dead on arrival because almost no one will want to watch it. Some viewers completely unaware of the franchise might tune in and get hooked (especially if Henry Cavill’s mug is in the promo shot), but that’s about it.
Between the video game series and book series, the demand for another “Witcher” story might be a little overestimated and making unnecessary changes to lore won’t bring in established fans. Fans dislike having their favorite stories and characters altered in a poor attempt to bring in new viewers that probably won’t even appreciate the layered world that has been crafted over many years. No one likes to feel like their racial identity can be erased from, or carelessly added into, an established story just so some people in Hollywood can pat themselves on the back.
If the show won’t be made without Ciri being a non-white girl, then, in the famous words of Geralt of Rivia, “If that’s what it takes to save the world, it’s better to let that world die.”