Fishburne as Regis. How does appearance influence the assessment of what we haven’t seen yet in “The Witcher”?
I was sure that we would hear a lot about the upcoming 4th season of The Witcher before anyone even sees it. The decision to “replace” Henry Cavill with Liam Hemsworth sparked a lot of discussion online. There was a lot of noise about the fact that the much-criticized Netflix film star dared to shoot the series in a non-linear way compared to the books. However, these pieces of information stopped heating up the ultra-fanatic communities in recent months, and it seemed like everyone had forgotten about Season 4 of The Witcher altogether. Then the news broke that Emiel Regis, a higher-class vampire with a “CLASSIC” appearance for our graphic standards, would finally appear in the series. Fans were excited, but then they doubted and poured out hateful comments online because Laurence Fishburne was cast as Regis. Apparently, it was supposed to be Gary Oldman, but for some unclear reasons, Oldman didn’t end up playing the role. So, is this a “brazen” cultural appropriation of our Polish national treasure? Or is it about the freedom to interpret a fictional character, ensuring that the story doesn’t suffer in any way? Or perhaps it’s about skin color or appearance in general?
In today’s times, we’ve come to realize that our Western culture is not as perfect as we once thought. Despite being touted as the most developed local civilization on Earth, it is full of deception, moral, racial, and social issues. The challenge now is to rectify these problems as quickly as possible to avoid embarrassment in front of illiterate cannibal-rapists from Africa or “dirty” individuals from the Far East. These terms may be offensive, but they reflect how we sometimes think about these nations. One advantage of our times is that we are at least becoming aware of this deception and the need for correction. However, the problem lies in wanting to fix things “as quickly as possible,” which is not feasible. Hence, the sometimes artificial creation of multiculturalism, as if we need to immediately relieve the guilt of our grandparents’ behavior, soothe its pain. Yes, we need to remove the mask of deception, but rationally, so that these movements are not hysterical or artificial, as seen recently in the case of special episodes of Doctor Who. Perhaps Laurence Fishburne’s motives for being hired were not entirely pure (aimed at profit from negative fame), but even if they were, there is currently a wave of criticism circulating on the Internet, motivated by the color of his skin.
Now, let’s talk about The Witcher. Despite frustrated fans claiming that the Netflix Witcher is long finished, the topic still stirs emotions. There wouldn’t be so many emotional reactions if the series were truly buried 10 meters deep in mud. There wouldn’t be plans for two more seasons. The bubble hasn’t burst, especially since the premiere of the 5th season, supposedly the last one, is expected to coincide with the highly anticipated release of CD Projekt’s Witcher 4 game. This could change Netflix’s plans, depending on the reception of Witcher 4 and whether it avoids being a half-baked product like Cyberpunk 2077. The hype is slowly building up, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. Ultra-fanatic and even psycho-fanatic communities are important elements in today’s advertising campaigns because they spread information. The criticism of the content doesn’t matter; what matters is that they serve as free carriers of fame.
Laurence Fishburne’s decision to play Regis contributes to the building of fame, challenging the “Slavic” vision of Andrzej Sapkowski’s prose. This is the current trend, even though it’s not a good time for The Witcher, as it’s time to finally remove the Slavic mask. The Slavic nature of The Witcher is criticized in Poland, especially the idea of Fishburne playing Regis. Viewers noticed the differences between the book description of Regis, likely heavily influenced by the image created in the Witcher 3 game, and they decided that Fishburne doesn’t fit because he looks different. It’s not questioned that he looks different; the question is, why should he look the same? If the image of Regis is not a trademark, it’s a matter of interpretation and the vision of Netflix, which chose a prominent cinema star, Fishburne. The problem is that black individuals are alien in our ethnic group, and this is the source of denial, often deeply unconscious, only masked by justifying it with the argument that the author didn’t intend it, Regis was described differently, and presented in the game, etc.
Now, about cultural appropriation – critics of Fishburne may feel some kind of more or less conscious appropriation of their piece of the world by a completely alien element. Before accusing the casting choices of The Witcher of cultural appropriation, consider how much Sapkowski’s story can influence our identity. Only when it is crucial for our identity can we speak of appropriation. Otherwise, it’s just our Polish attempt to attach ourselves to something serious to draw attention or camouflage simple animosity towards other nations. Among other critics from different geographic locations, belonging to the more “western” world, motives may be more serious, cultural, sometimes more general, sometimes local, but usually ideologically racist or seemingly ideologically racist. Even if racist behavior is a defensive reaction to the racism of the other side, blaming Laurence Fishburne is unjust.
Let’s conclude with appearance. Laurence Fishburne doesn’t fit the role for me, not because he is African-American, but because he is too old and has a too dark complexion. He also has a too ponderous acting style. Gary Oldman wouldn’t be a good choice either because he is no longer physically agile, and he wouldn’t have developed a good form for the series. The only two actors who could play Regis are Robert Carlyle and Barkhad Abdi. None of them are commercial stars, but their acting abilities are outstanding and qualify them to play the vampire’s personality and White Wolf’s friend. Appearance matters – everything matters, not just one feature.