Despite only having aired over two weeks ago, Netflix’s live action adaptation of “The Witcher”surpassed “The Mandalorian” as the most in-demand TV series in the world last month. Drawing from the original book series by Andrzej Sapkowski, as well as elements of the beloved video-game franchise, the medieval fantasy series is taking off, so much so that the third Witcher video game, which came out in 2015, saw a huge jump in renewed interest and set a new record for the game with more than 100,000 concurrent players, the first time the game had garnered such numbers since its release more than four years ago. So yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.
And I’m here to tell you, it’s just fine.
In the show, Henry Cavill sheds his goody-two shoes boring persona of Superman and steps into the gruff, even-hulkier (Have you looked at his shoulders?!) character of Geralt of Rivia, a witcher, aka a monster hunter.
The story takes place in a medieval setting that’s not unlike Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or even the now-disgraced “Game of Thrones.” In fact, had it not been for the gaping cultural hole that was left by the latter, I would argue that “The Witcher” wouldn’t have come close to being this successful. But that’s another argument for another page.
Today, I’m going to argue for something different. And that’s for a change in scenery in the world of fantasy.
Sure, “The Witcher” is based on books by a Polish author and draws from a plethora of Polish folktales and mythology. That makes it slightly more interesting. But if you hadn’t known that, it wouldn’t have been that farfetched to assume that “The Witcher” is just another Euro-centric, white boy-led fantasy story. Because it is exactly that.
And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, except that at that this point, decades and arguably, hundreds of years after the birth of modern fantasy, it’s just kind of old. It’s boring. Banal even.
I mean, hear me out.
When Black Panther hit screens and broke records in 2018, it wasn’t just because it was a Marvel movie. It was because so much of the story, setting and even the jokes, revolved around a different historical and cultural context than the usual white, European or American or Canadian or whatever, superhero film. It was new (to screen at least); it was different. And that’s all I’m asking for.
The world is vast. There are more cultures, stories, myths and monsters to draw from than just dragons and elves and trolls.
Just this past week, Korean drama Parasite and rapper-turned-actress Awkwafina who starred in The Farewell, made headlines for their wins at the Golden Globes. Both related to dramatic, heart-wrenching stories. And those are important. But why can’t we — and by “we,” I mean people of color — see ourselves in a world full of magic and wonder?
One of my favorite shows growing up was “Avatar.” No, not the James Cameron colonization story with blue aliens. I’m talking about the animated show about a young boy, a monk, who has to learn to harness different elements like air, fire, water and earth to bring peace back to his world. It featured people of color and drew from Asian cultures and myths and built a world so new and interesting that even I, as a high schooler, was drawn in. But I’d like to see more live-action fantasy starring different cultures.
There’s a plethora of diverse fantasy and science-fiction stories out there. Just look to the number of winners on book lists from years past.
In 2016, black author NK Jemisin’s fantasy book The Fifth Season won a Hugo Award for best novel. This past year, Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia showed up on almost every list of best fantasy books in 2019. Right now, I’m reading The Poppy War by RF Kuang, another frequent best-of lister.
So why don’t we have more diverse depictions of fantasy on screen? The recent successes of movies led by and telling the stories of people of color show that not only are they popular, they are important.
It’s 2020; we’re more than ready.