Netflix Witcher Writer Tries To Smooth Unfounded Racial Fears About The Show

When Lauren S. Hissrich, the showrunner of the upcoming Witcher Netflix show, posted a picture of her writer's room to Twitter, a vocal minority took umbrage at how diverse the writers were. By engaging with these people, Hissrich gave us all an interesting look into how The Witcher is being produced.

Image: CD Projeckt Red

The Witcher is a beloved Polish video game and book series about a monster hunter, or "witcher", named Geralt, taking place in a fantasy-flavoured medieval Poland. The series is so well loved in Poland that the Polish prime minister once gifted a copy of The Witcher 2 to Barack Obama, and they have been very well received in the US as well.

In 2015, culture critic Tauriq Moosa wrote an article for Polygon discussing race issues in games, and brought up the fact that in The Witcher 3, "all humans are white and every other being is non-human".

He went on to say "That's not exactly friendly or inclusive of people of color. A game can include a diverse variety of monsters, but not a diverse variety of skin colours or races for humans?"

Witcher fans took umbrage to this criticism, as the games and books have become a symbol of Polish heritage and pride. Hissrich's recent tweet ignited a similar discussion about diversity within The Witcher because of how noticeably diverse the writer's room was.

Hissrich, who has previously worked on shows such as The West Wing and Daredevil, posted a picture of the writers for the Witcher Netflix show on May 8, saying, "The #Witcher writers' room opened today, and it was full of ideas and banter and cupcakes and creativity and darkness and champagne."

It was a moment of celebration for Hissrich, and though the majority of the response was positive, the tweet also inspired intense reactions.

The very first reply is from someone saying, "GOD NO," and then going on to explain that their problem was with two of the female writers in the picture. Another person replied, "inb4 Geralt comes out as trans."

Over time you start to see a pattern to the line of inquiries from these people trying to get a rise out of Hissrich. One person who has been tweeting at her since February put it bluntly: "[The] question is whether you would deviate from the books' races and cultures to include minorities?"

The implication is that because the writers working on the show include several women and two people of colour, they're out to make The Witcher look like Black-ish.

Rather than ignore this barrage of questions, Hissirch has been replying to fans and addressing their concerns over the past few days.

To some, she explained her hiring process, saying, "I can't speak for other showrunners, but I do blind hiring, which means before I read a submission, I take off the cover page. … I read the scripts. I put the ones I love the most in a pile."

She also made jokes to lighten the mood with other people replying to her Twitter post. To most, she was doing her best to assure fans that she wasn't on a mission to ruin The Witcher, and also demonstrate how strange their line of questioning was.

"I will not deviate from the books' races and cultures, which means I WILL include minorities," she said to one fan.

"People saw the writers' room picture I tweeted and railed 'Why so diverse?! Why no Europeans?!' … the staff includes someone who was born in Europe, someone else who's spent half her life in Central Europe, and someone whose family is Polish. But no one actually asked that - they simply took note of skin color and assumed I was filling quotas."

She went on to say that the author of the Witcher books, Andrzej Sapkowski, told her himself that recognising the diversity in her show would be honouring his intentions as a writer.

Although she has now said that she isn't going to respond to every single person trying to get a rise out of her, Hissrich is still engaging fans on Twitter and trying to assuage their fears about the upcoming Witcher Netflix show.

What's most interesting to me is how transparent she is about the business of making television in the process, going as far as to break down what actually happens in a writers' room.

She explained that while everyone on staff has read the books, they're going to be working from a collective document that outlines the themes and stories they want to cover that season, and that while they all brainstorm as a group, each writer will get to author their own episodes.

Hissrich seems to be aware that no matter what she does, there will people who aren't satisfied, but she also doesn't appear to be too bothered about that.

"I'm OK with you living out your life, and me living out mine," she wrote about one fan who sent her a random insult. "Because mine involves writing my favourite TV show, and interacting with fans who - even if they have questions or concerns - don't need to degrade or disparage others to express them. These are the people I want to win, and keep."


Comments

    Well I see your problem; you frequent Polygon.

    "This is the song that never ends
    Yes, it goes on and on my friend
    Some people started singing it not knowing what it was
    And they'll continue singing it forever just because
    This is the song that never ends"

      Hey man, sorry for being dense but, what's your point? I read polygon too.

        Polygon finds a fault in everything. While its refreshing that they don't always join the circle jerk that is games journalism they also very often make mountains out of mole hills.

          No it looks at things through a distinct and modern view set. While other gaming sites are too busy being sooooo neutral and safe they are as unremarkable as white bread. I don’t always agree with Polygon but I have no problems reading things and asking tough questions, even if I don’t agree. Some gamers should learn to try that.

          Yes some times they go too far but the views of society don’t evolve if everyone plays it safe

          Gamergate has an obsession with Polygon and it is throughly moronic.

            I am not interested in having this argument with you because it is super played out and there is nothing that could be added to either side that hasn't been stated numerously. So all I will say is thanks for the downvote over a largely innocuous comment.

              While I whole-heartedly agree with your comment, I downvoted it mainly so I could accept your thanks, as I live a sad, thankless life....

                Jokes on you, the conversion rate on my thanks is pretty shit right now.

                Here, have a pity upvote little julesy. You too, Vaegrand. ;)

                Last edited 14/05/18 6:11 pm

          Can any of the writers explain as to why my comment was removed?

          It was not a personal Attack on anyone
          It was not bullying anyone
          Ive looked through the Community Guidelines and my comment did not break any of them

        Polygon, like everything else in the 24/7 content space publishes opinion as well as reviews. When the opinion pieces are cultural criticism gamers get upset about it.

        Last edited 12/05/18 3:52 pm

          huh ALL reviews are personal opinion. That is the very definition of what a review is.

          The only gamers who get upset because someone brings up cultural criticism are those who thinks games should be free of political comment, which is ridiculous, especially in games as depth and thoughtful like Witcher 3. While not political in a modern sense, every part of its quests are about people thinking they are choosing the right answer but often to find the (what they think) is the right morality has consequences.

            Op eds aren't reviews.

              it was a review they were talking about.

                Pardon me, but Moosa's article "Colorblind: On The Witcher 3, Rust, and gaming's race problem" is not a review of Witcher 3.

                  but their review also took issue with it, thats what I was referring to

                The review (which I had to search for, it is not referenced by this article) is nearly 2500 words long and 90 of them are a very casual comment on how the reviewer noticed after 70 hours that they'd not seen a black person. This aside also includes a joke about Frank Frazetta. Give me a break.

      Your take from the article isn't the bulk of its content, its topic or its intent, but that a single reference to a single Polygon article from three years ago was mentioned? Come on man. No matter your feelings on Polygon (and I have no position on them myself), that seems like going out of your way to distract from the point.

        I have no issue with the rest of the article so I didn't comment on it. I have no issue with adding diversity so long as it isn't the usual hamfisted low effort attempt that everyone seems to love to pat backs for.

          Fair enough, I got the impression you were going for that tactic of finding a single fault, no matter how minor, and dismissing the whole thing on that. I apologise for the assumption, I've seen it done by a lot of people lately and it looked the same here as well.

          “I have no issue with diversity as long as it’s not a low effort attempt.”

          What about the “low effort attempt” of having a white male writer room?

          A lot of unconscious racists get mad about hiring people of color “just for the heck of it” but they never had the slightest care in the world when teams were 100% white men “just for the heck of it”.

          Like, you’re not allowed to hire people of color unless you REALLY REALLY DO SOMETHING SPECIAL AND MAKE IT MEANINGFUL....”YOU NEED A GOOD REASON!” That’s called racism. Because that super-special standard never existed for white hires.

          It’s racist. “A black character or staff hire NEEDS A REASON TO EXIST. Oh but white people are just normal so they don’t need any special reason to exist.”

            I was talking about the characters in the story you pillock. I want to see well developed characters, not just ones there to fill a quota. Go all caps somewhere else you waste of oxygen.

            People wander why the centre and moderate groups grew so much in the last ten years and it basically boils down to stupid crap like this; where any criticism of either side is instantly blown out of proportion. If you had have taken even two minutes longer to read my other comments you would have seen that I have no issue with the rest of the article.

    in The Witcher 3, "all humans are white and every other being is non-human".

    But the 'non-humans' are white also?

      With the introduction of the Ofieri in the expansion, the range of skin colours becomes more diverse.

      Plus, despite being set in a fantasy universe, it quite clearly is based on medieval Eastern Europe - not exactly known for emigration from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, etc...

      ---

      In response to the article, for the record Polygon also criticised the Witcher 3 for the same reason when it came out.

        Parts of Eastern Europe in that period would have seen Middle-Eastern and African traders heading through their lands across the Silk Road into China, and Spain was ruled by North Africans at that point (primarily the Moors) so it's not impossible but it certainly would be uncommon.

          Not really. Silk Road was a fair bit further south and once you reach the eastern Mediterranean it is much better to travel by sea than by land, so it would be very rare in the fantasy Poland analogue, but easily found in the fantasy Italy analogue.

            South of Poland sure (though Krakow was a major trading port) but "Eastern Europe" is bigger than just Poland, it stretches right down to the Black Sea. Eastern European countries like Armenia and Georgia are right by those trade routes.

    I like how people here 'read' the article and start posting about Polygon.

    SPOILER ALERT

    The actual article is NOT about that Polygon story from 3 years ago.

    But given Polygon is the sloppy SJW soup to the hard edge alt right of Kotaku, sorry I meant reasonable Centrists, I guess it's not that surprising.

      "Alt right of Kotaku"

      Ayeeee my gaming website bingo card is full. I knew it wouldn't be too long before someone played the "anyone that criticises anything that I like is alt right card".

        Actually, it's more like 'I remember what people here posted during Gamergate even if they desperately try and pretend now that they didn't' ;)

          What I love about this call out is knowing that if I reply my post will get moderated, proving what it was really about was right.

          So sure keep being smarmy, buddy. ;D

      Haha, alt-right of Kotaku ;)

      I'd put Kotaku pretty close to Polygon. The difference is that comments section is far more central (Australian Kotaku - not US).

    Bloody hell, you just can win in a world of stupid.

    Should've just posted a photo of various kitchen appliances.....actually scratch that, somebody would get upset that machines are taking our jobs.
    Just let people do their fucking jobs!!

      And kitchen appliances are predominantly white ;)

        the irony of your username and all Smeg products being stainless or refreshingly colourful.

          Ha. I apropriated it from Red Dwarf, tbh. Should I change my name to Westinghousew0lf or something? I don't feel like I'm doing enough to represent appliances of colour to keep Smeg in my name.

        I don't think any of my kitchen appliances are white, mine are predominantly stainless steel. No, scratch that, the microwave is white. But it was a hand me down so not sure I'd count it anyway. The one it replaced wasn't white.

        Washing machine is white though. That's about the only appliance I can think of that I've bought that's white.

          I have a 1950's era HMV fridge thats spray painted matte black. Does that count?

    Stopped reading at "worked on daredevil"

    This is positive news and I am here for it and like it.

    Some people are pricks. Sorry these writers have to suffer it and I hope the show is awesome because I fucking love The Witcher.

    Well, there are two points worth looking at here. However, before I share some of my thoughts on them, it is worth noting that regardless of what I am writing below I am and always have been against the kind of internet “activism” some of those disgruntle parties are employing.

    The first one is the present use of race/gender performers in established stories,
    The second one is some reasoning behind some of the concerns,

    To set the scene it is worth noting that I am a white male in my forties who is originally from Poland (and read Witcher in original Polish before it was cool). I was raised in a house hold where science fiction was popular and where men and women were equal. I grew up on heroes like Ellen Ripley and Sarah Connor.

    In the first case, I find it curious that the society will complain of white washing in films like The Great Wall for casting a white guy as a mercenary fighting a horde of dragons at the Great Wall alongside of Asian characters. Yet that very society will remain silent where both Heimdall and Valkyrie from Nordic mythology are portrait by people of colour (for the record I think Idris Elba is an awesome actor). Naturally, people are quick to defend the later with a comment suggesting that since this is an adaptation of the mythology into modern super hero genre it is fine. Conveniently they forget that the first one could fall into that category as well (my history of Asia is lacking but I am pretty sure the Great Wall was not build to stop hordes of dragons). Sure white washing exists (see John Wayne as Genghis Khan) but like with most things in life the statement should not be applied just because someone white is playing in film set in a location where white race was a minority. We should also remember that cases can be made for (insert colour)-washing as well. Just like with feminism, if you are truly committed to the concept (and this is not my attempt at a summary of feminism) you should be accepting the good with the bad, as this type of thing does not work half way. Let us remember that we live in a society that argues/defends casting women in a new Ghostbusters film while completely ignoring the outstanding performance of female leads in Annihilation (where we have five lead female characters that do actual science). Sometimes the balance of things as seen in real life can be better reflected by a use of metronome… it is what it is.

    The second case is simple, at some point during my early adult life, I have learned that Polish soccer team (Soccer, or rather football is a national sport in Poland) have had a black striker. Until that time, I have never ever seen a black person in Poland. Better yet, recently I have asked my family (who often travels to Poland) how often do they encounter people from “exotic” locations… the response was that outside of places popular with tourists, Poland remains white, catholic country of forty plus million people. With that in mind I have no issues seeing people of colour in the Witcher TV series (or video games), but perhaps my fear here is that the Witcher TV series will be more like the Asgard of Avengers Universe, where people of colour will be inserted with an excuse that, after all, this is a fantasy world that is being interpreted and therefore excessive artistic freedom is permitted. Now I am not the person who refused to watch LOTR because it MIGHT ruin the books for me, but I am a person who grew up on certain stories, stories I value. Witcher is among those stories and I am keen to see a TV series that is done in a way that allows me to reconnect with those stories and remember them for what they were and not to be force feed the modern re-interpretation of those stories. I don’t necessary want the Witcher with wide audience appeal, because that wide audience will watch it and then move on to the next best thing with little care for it all. I want Witcher that I can enjoy again and treasure for years to come.

      You must live in a bubble to not hear/see whining about Heimdall/Valkyrie being made black.

      https://www.salon.com/2011/04/20/thor_casting_viking_movies_open2011/
      https://fr-film.net/v-tessa-thompson-talks-backlash-from-racists-over-valkyrie-role-6sjGp1OeL2o.html

      I'm sorry if I'm misconstruing the meaning of your post, but it seems to me you're using a lot of words to basically disguise Get them blacks away from my Witchers.

        He's not saying a diversity is a bad thing. just that the world of the witcher is based on poland and the vast majority as in apparently over %90 of the population is white. It would be strange for the casting to be all that diverse in that light. now the fear was treating it like they did with avengers is a legitmate point. Heimdall is literally known as the whitest of the gods. no offence to idris but, it felt awkward knowing the source of the characters and seeing something that would not have been reflected there.

        Remember this is supposed to be based on Poland so yeah I think people do have a right to be annoyed if suddenly there was a bunch of black people or asians running around like it's no big deal.

          I agree with Blazenite honestly, witcher is not just set in poland but medieval poland, you know back then it wasn't just the 90% white, you had more chance of finding a two headed donkey than you did of finding a person of colour.

            It's not as simple as that. Cracow was a major trading center; people came from all over Europe and Asia for the markets. The earliest recording of the name "Cracow" comes from a description from a sephardic Jewish merchant. Then there's the Mongols to take into account. They sacked the city twice. Modern Poland might be predominantly white, for certain definitions of white, but in the past there was a lot more through traffic.

          And the only way to rectify that would be to either change the land it's set in (which will really piss off the fanbase), or to announce, like in Game of Thrones for example, that other cultures when seen, are from 'a different land', which is entirely doable given that they were known to traverse Europe into the far north on the odd occasion in those times (but not generally in large numbers).

          Heimdall was translated by one scholar from the poetic edda as the whitest of gods, most translations from the 13th century have him as the brightest or most radiant of gods. He is also known as the father of humanity, and I'm pretty sure that includes non whites. He was also considered the most powerful of gods, as a manifestation of Yggdrasil. Since some other members of the Aesir could shapeshift at will I'm pretty sure Heimdall appeared as he pleases at the time.

          It's a fantasy setting, hey? Might be inspired by Polish history and folklore, and European geography, but the continent is not an accurate facsimile of Europe.

          All this barreling about modern Polish populations, or even historical populations, has been and continues to be a veiled way of saying people (specifically Caucasian people) just don't want to see POC in what they presume to be their fantasy worlds.

          Non-human hominid species in fantasy are routinely racially coded and, in the case of the continent in The Witcher, have histories and politics that emulate the challenges of real-world POC.

          What that amounts to is people are okay with spectre of POC, just so long as they don't have to actually see them or openly acknowledge them. Which is an appropriately conducive detachment from reality for a population of people whose defence is that the world of The Witcher is Poland.

      It was the same with the dark tower and surprisingly Edris again, it's nothing to do with who he is as a person but rather the character that's being portrayed and the lore behind that character

        The hysteria over that was hilarious. I have read all the books a few times. Sure there was some reference about looking like Clint Eastwood but they never said he WAS Clint. It had zero bearing on the journey or the outcome so therefore he could have been played by an alien and it not ruined the ‘vision’.

        As an actor he IS a Clint Eastwood. Almost everything about him is how Clint used to be. I had zero problems with the casting, I had heaps of problems with people lying to themselves that the colour of his skin could be anything else but racially based. It is by textbook definition. Even if the intent behind wasn’t.

          This. The Dark Tower had a ton of problems as a film, but Idris Elba was definitely not one of them.

      Certainly get where your coming from but it seems like it's a bit of a non issue though with Sapkowski having weighed in on the matter and Hissrich making her position quite clear.
      In short, diversity reflects the world he invisioned and she has no intention of making, (as an extreme example for my own enjoyment), Vesemir a black lesbian.

      I mean sure, worst case scenario we get an awful Witcher series floating in the muddy pool of American entertainment production and consumption, but maybe if done right we might get something that actually builds on the Witcher overall.
      The best part of Sapowski confining the majority of the Witcher to only a few continents is it leaves a lot of world building possible.
      To put it another way, Poland shares the world with a lot of other places and have no issue with expanding on that.

      Time will tell I guess.

        Let's be honest, the Witcher series will not likely be a brilliant representation of the books, at best, it'll be a shrunk down, decent retelling that hits some of the plotbeats, does an ok job and 'Game of Thrones' it. i.e. Changes a lot of stuff, delivers a streamlined version and upends what people know in favour of 'making stuff exciting'. Not a bad way to do things, but we're gonna hear about it... boy are we gonna hear about it...

          God I hope we are looking at GoT as an example and not Hercules/Xena Warrior Princess.

          I would be interested to know what kinda budget this is getting actually.

            It would be. Apparently Netflix are looking at The Witcher as their new 'premium show'. They're trying to angle more towards Scifi and Fantasy to bring in the audiences, as their attempts towards more 'real' shows i.e. Everything Sucks, The Getdown and a range of others, didn't make it past season 1 or in some cases season 2. In contrast, shows like Stranger Things, Lost in Space and other scifi oriented ones have been drawing in crowds.

            So here's hoping they knock it out of the park with The Witcher.

      Yet that very society will remain silent where both Heimdall and Valkyrie from Nordic mythology are portrait by people of colour (for the record I think Idris Elba is an awesome actor). Naturally, people are quick to defend the later with a comment suggesting that since this is an adaptation of the mythology into modern super hero genre it is fine.

      It would be helpful if you outlined why casting Tessa Thompson and Idris Elba as Valkyrie and Heimdall, respectively, is/was a problem. Aside from a vague nod to the characters' Nordic folklore origins.

      If the explanation reiterates the comparison between The Great Wall, a fictitious story staged at a real setting, and Thor 3, where every bone is a fiction, then could you please reconcile that disparity?

      Lastly, you're really going to have to touch upon both the balance and flow of power of race in how media is constructed and interpreted. Maybe then we can hop back to The Witcher as a TV series.

      Wrong. It WAS built to keep out dragons.

        Judging by the number of dragons you see in China today, either the dragons evolved into being made of paper, or the wall did its job extremely well.

    Heimdall and Valkyrie are black? Holy shit

    I'm excited to hear that Netflix are doing the Witcher.

    Well, I really don't have any issue with the injection of 'non-whites' into a medieval fantasy world, just so long as they are specifically strong in portraying the persecution of non-humans and religious deviants...that said though, based on Geralt's persona, each 1 hour show will have about 30 mins of Geralt attempting (and succeeding) in pantsing any wench within cooee.

    If you want to add minorities don't give them unquestioned positions of status or floating in the background like some utopia.

    The Witcher is a world where there are people being crapped on by others. Power is segregated by class, races, culture and species.

    If one of geralts companions is coloured show the amount of hostility and racism he encounters.

      “Don’t have them be in unquestioned positions of status or floating in the background”

      Like....all the white characters?

      The white characters exist. A noble’s status is unquestioned. And so forth. Many people are floating in the background.

      It’s racist to suddenly create a whole new set of rules for black characters (or whoever) when no such rules existed for the stock default white characters. Like they have to justify their existence, when no one else did before.

    “Hey, wait a minute. I HAVE AN OPINION if you hire women or people of color, or you use them as fictional characters, BECAUSE YOU NEED A SPECIAL reason to do that. But I never had an opinion about all white/man casts or dev teams or writing teams...those don’t need a reason to exist, those are normal.”

    -Internet Racists (who have no idea they are being racist)

    Good on the leader here for doing the blind hiring process.

      Like you should, you should be hired based on the quality of your work, all hiring when possible should be done blind

      Do these alt right cunts want them to hire worse people just because they are white? Is that it? do they not want a good show?

    What people who arent white and happen to be women cant write a story based in european fantasy land?

    FUCK OFF YOU TRIGGERED LITTLE RIGHT WING BABIES, YOU SEE A PHOTO OF SOME WRITERS AND THROW A BIG BABY TANTRUM

    ***MOD EDIT*** (sorry, the rest of this was a bit far -Alex)

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