By Michael Busse
Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher has not been without a few controversies, chief among them in the United States being the choice of casting. While some fans were hesitant about Superman actor Henry Cavill playing Geralt and others turned their noses up at Anya Chalotra portraying Yennefer of Vengerberg, perhaps the biggest backlash came from the casting of Cirilla. More accurately, the wording of the official casting call for Ciri’s actress.
The showrunners had reportedly included in the casting call that they were searching for BAME actresses (Black, Asian, and other Minority Ethnic) to play the key role of the Lion Cub of Cintra. This decision had some fans in an uproar, saying that the Eastern European origins of the source material would not have supported the idea of Ciri being anything other than a white Eastern European.
Unfortunately, this would not be the first time a race issue has been involved in The Witcher series. Upon the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, some fans accused the game of whitewashing, citing the lack of persons of color throughout the majority of the game. The setting of The Continent is not lacking in diversity, with Middle-Eastern analog countries, namely Zerrikania, being a relatively well known aspect of the setting.
The choice to include the language of searching specifically for BAME actresses had some fans accusing the show of trying to fix this previous mistake in an unhealthy way. As the origin of the author and books themselves, as well as the myths and legends presented in them, are very recognizably Polish, a sizeable sect of the fanbase believed that to change the race of any character would be disingenuous to the source material. Some of the backlash was also created by fans of the video games that had become used to seeing Ciri as the pale skinned, white-haired youth that she was in Wild Hunt.
Supporters of the decision cited the fact that The Continent is very much a fantasy-based setting and should not be held back from including diversity just to reconcile with the public’s view of the real world’s Middle Ages. This was compounded by the fact that Europe in the Middle Ages was far more diverse than many people assume it was, as evidence of people of color existing in Europe during that time has been proven time and again.
Showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich responded to some of the claims on her personal Twitter account. “I will not deviate from the books’ races and cultures, which means I WILL include minorities,” she responded to one fan on a picture of the main writer’s room for The Witcher, which included multiple people of color. Addressing the controversy further Hissrich wrote:
“Will I move through the books and start changing people’s cultural heritage or ethnic makeup or gender because I’m feeling really ‘liberal’ that day? No. That’s ridiculous and contrary to what any writer would do, because we are storytellers. Story comes first.”
As we now know, actress Freya Allan is portraying Princess Cirilla. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly Hissrich addressed the casting controversy and spoke about Freya’s portrayal: “We knew we weren’t going to make everyone happy. As you know, per the controversy, we looked at everyone possible for this role. And when we found Freya we made her an offer that day. She’s incredibly special. She’s young, yet has the soul and maturity of somebody much older. She was able to bring a depth to this character. When Freya is in a scene with Henry they really rival each other.”
Hissrich is adamant that her decisions in casting are purely based on the skill, not the races, of the actors and actresses, as can be seen with the casting decisions of not just Ciri, but also Yennefer of Vengerberg and Fringilla Vigo (played by Mimi Ndiweni). With the show releasing on Netflix on December 20th, we won’t have to wait much longer to watch these professionals in action.
Remember, no matter what, all are welcome on The Path.