Following a recent wave of backlash from fans of The Witcher, Lauren S. Hissrich, who’s showrunning Netflix’s adaptation of the novel and video game series, has announced that she will be taking a break from Twitter for a while. Details about the show remain murky, and as is often the case with popular franchises, tensions can run high when it comes to creative decisions.
Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it had cast Henry Cavill of Superman fame in the role of Geralt of Rivia, the show’s leading, monster-hunting man. Following Cavill’s casting, a casting ad surfaced for the role of Ciri, an immensely powerful young woman whom Geralt treats like a daughter. According to the ad, The Witcher is looking for a “BAME” actress to play Ciri, meaning someone who’s “Black, Asian and [or] minority ethnic.” Ciri is white in the video games, so backlash ensued, with those critical of the BAME casting preference deeming it an effort to score political points at the expense of faithfulness to the source material. A megathread on the Witcher subreddit about the controversy, meanwhile, has amassed 4,200 comments and counting.
On Monday, the Ciri casting saga took its latest step forward: Showrunner Hissrich announced on Twitter that she’d be taking a break from the platform. She explained that she has “to read less and write more,” but it’s difficult to interpret her hiatus as anything but a response to the harassment and criticism that she has received.
It is important to note that the casting ad has yet to be confirmed by Netflix or anyone attached to The Witcher. Regardless, the replies to Hissrich’s tweet have largely been attempts to justify Ciri’s whiteness. “Important to note that her entire backstory supports that she is a white character(Part Elvish). All Dwarfs and Elves should be white due to historical lack of sun,” said one user, while another urged, “don’t ‘get woke, go broke’ this.” Other responses, directed toward Hissrich personally, were more vulgar and hateful.
If this story seems familiar, that’s because it is: When The Witcher 3 released in 2015, many observers noted the lack of non-white characters in the game. Some people, in turn, pointed to the series’ Polish origins as an explanation for its racial dynamics, and others correctly noted that The Witcher has more than enough reason to feature non-white people due to both reality (cultural diffusion and migration have long been prominent) and fantasy (a fantasy world needs no excuse to create a world that’s more diverse than the real one).
Ultimately, the casting ad represents, if nothing else, an attempt to add another layer to The Witcher‘s already fascinating universe. First of all, there doesn’t need to be a reason to have a character be non-white – they can just be non-white. But beside that point, having Ciri – a young woman reckoning with her ancestry, her place in life, and her peerless power – be played by a non-white individual could provide an opportunity to explore racial issues that could complement The Witcher‘s narrative. It’s already a story about mutated, fiend-slaying outsiders – so how unbelievable would a non-white protagonist be ?