Naz Humphreys stood in a line for three hours in Hamilton, New Zealand, hoping to be in the new Hobbit movie. When she finally got to the casting director, he basically told her that her skin was the wrong color.
According to reports, Humphreys, a Brit with Pakistani heritage, is fairly short — under five feet tall. She thought she'd make the perfect extra. Instead, someone in the casting department of the film told people at the audition: "We are looking for light-skinned people. I'm not trying to be... whatever. It's just the brief. You've got to look like a hobbit."
In a way, it seems fairly silly to have strict rules about depicting imaginary beings — especially in a story that includes orcs, elves and dragons. If your world is an unreal fantasy, why not make it inclusive instead of exclusionary?
One Facebook group has an answer for that. The folks behind Hobbits are based on English countryfolk ,keep it that way [sic] say:
For years J.R.R Tolkien has been called a Racist, because he created his books for mainly European children and created a mythology for English people. The Hobbits are based on White people, keep it that way and have some respect for Tolkien.
There's also a group called "Lay off the Hobbit! Ethnically specific casting is NOT racism."
(Humphreys had her own Facebook page, called "Hire hobbits of all colours! Say no to Hobbit racism!" — but unlike the other groups, her page has been taken down.)
A spokesperson for director Peter Jackson calls the incident "an incredibly unfortunate error," adding "It is not something the producers or the director of The Hobbit were aware of," and "they would never issue instructions of this kind to the casting crew."
Though it should be noted: In Lord Of The Rings, the good guys — especially the elves — are pale, ethereal, light-skinned creatures, while the bad guys are dark-skinned.
Still, when it comes to race and casting, Hollywood has some bizarre ideas about what's appropriate: From Robert Downey, Jr. in black face for Tropic Thunder to Angelina Jolie as Marianne Pearl to Mena Suvari in cornrows to Johnny Depp as Tonto in the new Lone Ranger. But you'd think a modern interpretation of a made-up story — one that generates millions of dollars, world-wide — would have no problem with modern (i.e. diverse) ideas about casting.