How diverse will Netflix’s The Witcher be?
CD Projekt Red added non-white characters to ‘The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’ after an initial oversight.
In May 2017, Netflix have announced they will be collaborating with Polish production company Platige Image on an adaptation of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher short stories and novels. CD Projekt Red had previously developed a critically acclaimed trilogy of video games revolving around Sapkowski’s mutant monster exterminator.
During the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, some commentators observed there weren’t any non-white people, well, anywhere in the enormous open-world game (the sole exception I could find was Salma, a succubus). Although some leapt to the developers’ defense, noting this was a game representing Polish culture, CD Projekt Red listened, and introduced Ofieri characters (obvious stand-ins for Middle Easterners) in the Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine expansions.
As I remarked in my post speculating about a TV series based on The Lord of the Rings, there’s a misconception that pseudo-Medieval European lands like Middle-earth and Westeros would not have people of colour, due to a number of factors such as marginalisation by historians, artists or politicians or an assumption immigration was not as common. Yet since Roman times, black, Syrian and possibly even Chinese people lived in Britain, and the stories of the Knights of the Round Table reflected that with characters like Sir Morien and the Saracen Knights. Oddly, the presence of New World plants like potatoes and tomatoes never seem to be an issue in fantasy works like LOTR and Skyrim.
Granted, Britain is not Poland (though funnily enough most immigrants in the UK are Polish), and as The Witcher will likely be filmed in Poland, it will be difficult to find any coloured extras to portray even a bare minimum of non-white people who would be found in the Northern Kingdoms’ cities. Poland’s population is almost 97% Polish: the largest ethnic minority not from a European background are the Vietnamese, who number around 30,000.
Diversity would largely be an issue with speaking roles, as Platige is not telling original stories like the game developers were but dramatising the printed series, and aren’t as free to create new characters. Hopefully, the show’s casting directors would be mindful of characters who aren’t explicitly white, and won’t be so reluctant to cast black, Latino, Arab or desi actors if they feel they’re the best fit for the part.