Entertainment

A Clear Majority of Book Readers Support Casting Actors of Color in ‘House of the Dragon’ and ‘The Rings of Power’

The survey results follow some racist backlash against the casting of Black actors in the two hit fantasy TV series

Image of Lord Corlys played by Steve Toussaint in
Steve Toussaint (center) plays Lord Corlys Velaryon in HBO's “House of the Dragon." About half (49%) of U.S. adults said they support casting actors of color in TV and film adaptations of other media when the source material explicitly states the race of characters as white, per Morning Consult data. (Ollie Upton/HBO)

Prime Video’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” and HBO’s “House of the Dragon” have much in common: They are both sweeping new fantasy series based on the works of beloved authors. They are both huge hits. And they have both been forced to deal with racism within segments of their fan bases. 

“The Rings of Power” features Black actors playing elves, dwarves and hobbits in roles created for the series. “The House of the Dragon” cast Black actor Steve Toussaint to play Lord Corlys Velaryon, a character who is assumed to have pale skin in the story on which the HBO show is based. Both decisions have elicited racist backlash — including harassment toward the performers themselves — from some fans who claim those roles should be played by white actors.

It turns out those fans are part of a noisy, but very clear minority. A new Morning Consult survey shows that most U.S. adults (62%) support casting actors of color in TV and film adaptations regardless of whether the source material explicitly states the race or skin color of characters. What’s more, majorities of self-identified readers of “The Lord of the Rings” and “A Song of Ice and Fire” support diverse casting even when that source material explicitly states the characters as white.

Fantasy Readers Support TV Adaptations Casting Actors of Color to Play Characters Described as White in Books

Respondents were asked if they support or oppose casting actors of color in Hollywood TV and film adaptations of other media when the source material explicitly states the race of characters as white

Survey conducted Sept. 14-16, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

‘The Rings of Power,’ ‘House of the Dragon’ fans support diverse casting

  • About half (49%) of U.S. adults said they support casting actors of color in TV and film adaptations of other media when the source material does explicitly state the race of characters as white. About one-quarter (27%) said they do not support it. 
  • More than half of “The Lord of the Rings” readers (55%) and “A Song of Ice and Fire” readers (58%) said they support casting actors of color when the source material does explicitly state the race of characters as white. Amid the “Rings of Power” backlash, many fans have pointed out that J.R.R. Tolkien’s work does, in fact, refer to some characters as having dark skin.
  • Only 20% of U.S. adults have seen, read or heard about the racist backlash against the casting of Black actors in “The Rings of Power,” while 17% have seen, read or heard about the racist backlash against “House of the Dragon.” 
Most Americans Think Diverse Casts in TV Shows and Films Are Important

Respondents were asked how important it is for Hollywood TV and film productions to have casts that are diverse and representative of multiple races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and sexual/gender identities

Survey conducted Sept. 14-16, 2022, among a representative sample of roughly 2,200 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of +/-2 percentage points. Figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Americans believe diversity in Hollywood casts matters

  • The majority of U.S. adults (66%) said it is important for Hollywood TV and film productions to have casts that are diverse and representative of multiple races, ethnicities, religious beliefs and sexual/gender identities. 
  • About 7 in 10 Black adults (71%) said it is important, compared with 65% of white adults. Black fantasy fans have long discussed why it’s important to see more characters who look like them on screen.
  • Whitewashing,” when characters of color are replaced with white actors, has been long criticized in Hollywood by audiences — and the industry has been making efforts to feature more diverse casts. While some recent studies have shown that representation in TV shows and films have increased, there’s still room for improvement.

Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” faces similarly racist backlash

What the racist detractors conveniently ignore, of course, is Hollywood’s long history of “whitewashing,” or when characters described as nonwhite are played by white actors in TV and film adaptations. There is little backlash when that occurs, but when it’s the other way around, some apparently see it as unacceptable. The data makes clear that these views represent only a minority of fans who have managed to make headlines by harassing actors and posting to social media.

The backlash goes beyond the realms of “The Rings of Power” and “House of the Dragon.” When Walt Disney Co. released the Star Wars spinoff series “Obi-Wan Kenobi” in May, Black actress Moses Ingram received racist messages. John Boyega and Asian-American actress Kelly Marie Tran, who co-starred in the Star Wars sequel film trilogy, also faced similar treatment. More recently, Halle Bailey, the Black actress and singer cast as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid” live-action film adaptation, faced some racist backlash when the casting was first announced and again this month after the movie’s official trailer debuted. 

Despite attacks against the casts of these productions, Morning Consult data shows that most Americans support seeing diverse actors on screen — and it serves as a reminder that backlash against diverse casting choices often represents only a small corner of the fandom. A 2019 Morning Consult poll revealed that 60% of Americans supported Bailey’s casting as Ariel.

The Sept. 14-16, 2022, survey was conducted among a representative sample of 2,210 U.S. adults, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

Morning Consult