Who the hell is Tauriel, you might be thinking to yourself. It’s a reasonable thought. She’s the ninja-elf-archer lady featured in the new Hobbit trailer. Played by Evangeline Lilly, she’s an addition to the Hobbit cast that doesn’t appear in the book. If you’ve read the Hobbit or if you saw part one of the movie, you can imagine why the filmmakers might have felt the need to modify Tolkien’s pristine work: it’s literally all dudes in Middle-earth, otherwise.
Seriously, it wasn’t until Galadriel appeared in her cameo during An Unexpected Journey that I realized she was the first (and ultimately the only) woman in the entire film.
I don’t care that it’s otherwise accurate to the book; it feels off. It feels weird. It reminds me how I felt the moment that I realized there are precisely four women in the Star Wars universe: exactly one badass princess, one rebel leader who doesn’t get named in the movie, and Jabba’s slave girls. And three of those women don’t appear until Return of the Jedi!
Well, I guess there’s Luke’s aunt in the first movie. So, five women total. Glee.
I’m glad there’s at least one female character in the next Hobbit movie. We can acknowledge that these books, however, wonderful they otherwise were, were written in a time and place where nobody was talking or wondering about this kind of thing. Fine. Great. I’m not proposing we rewrite the books. But that doesn’t mean we have to stick to every convention, especially not when these are the stories that are shaping the next generation.
The majority of kids growing up now are not going to be re-enacting the books. They are going to do exactly what kids have always done when they watch a movie. After the movie, they call a character when it’s time to play. “I’m Aragon!” “I’m Legolas!” “I’m Luke!” “I’m Han Solo!” I wonder how it feels when the only character that looks like you is a minor or supporting role. Or a villain. Or doesn’t exist at all. I literally can’t imagine it, because I had the privilege of being sci-fi/fantasy’s most targeted demographic. It probably doesn’t feel too good, though.
At least Star Wars had Leia and Lord of the Rings had Eowyn (although I’ll note she wasn’t part of the Fellowship a.k.a. the main characters,so . . .)
Without Tauriel, the Hobbit is a movie about fifteen dudes. I don’t mind the idea of a movie about fifteen men sharing an adventure together. What I do mind is this implied idea of a world where women don’t seem to exist. That strikes me as odd. What I do mind is that in a cast of fifteen protagonists, there are approximately zero women (although, to be fair, most of the dwarves are purely ancillary characters themselves).
I’m glad there’s someone that the younger girls get to call when it comes time to play. Until we get to the point where more inclusive sci-fi/fantasy books have been around long enough to become classics, this is the road I hope we take. I hope we continue to carve out some characters for the girls, even if they don’t exist in the original text. Frankly, I hope this goes further! Why not pull a Battlestar Galactica and change a male character into a female one? The Hobbit could have spared a dwarf or three for this purpose.
Let’s not stop with adding women, either. Let’s see some homosexual characters. Transgender characters? Sure! Some non-white characters that aren’t orcs, klingons, or any other variant of the “noble savage/barbarian hero/warrior race” archetype. Yes, please.
In short, let’s hope for sci-fi and fantasy created that cater to people of all demographics, not just mine. ‘Cause, you know what? I had plenty of heroes who looked like me growing up. I got to have Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne and quite a few other heroic characters to identify with. I was spoiled for choice. A lot of kids weren’t, though. A lot of them were ignored or marginalized.
There are enough stories and characters that everybody should have someone. And don’t tell me it’s unimportant; growing up, these are the stories that provided the lens through which I engaged the world. These are the stories that helped make me me.
My stories told me, over and over, that I looked like the hero, the protagonist, the main character, the star. If you wonder what privilege looks like, that’s it right there.