The Witcher series has some insane popularity thanks to a beloved book series and a trilogy of video games by CD Projekt Red, and it will soon be receiving a Netflix show based around the plot of the books. The book series itself has become something of a Polish cultural artifact, which has led to some really bizarre racial concerns in regards to the TV show. Now, the problem of racism in The Witcher goes back beyond the Netflix series, as it was the subject of an article by Polygon culture critic Tauriq Moosa back in 2015. Moosa’s piece is a broad discussion of race issues in games, but does reference the alarming lack of characters of color in CD Projekt Red’s video games. Because of the fervor with which the series has been accepted as a Polish icon, many fans were outraged by the criticism.
The latest bit of trouble with racism in the series started when showrunner Lauren S. Hissrich posted a photo of the Witcher writers room to her Twitter earlier this week. Hissrich’s tweet was a celebration of the diversity of the group of writers who will work together to bring the beloved characters to Netflix. And while some were pleased, many fans of the series were immediately outraged.
Kotaku has a pretty solid rundown of the backlash:
Hissrich, who has previously worked on shows like The West Wing and Daredevil, posted a picture of the writers for the Witcher Netflix show on May 7th, 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 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 color, 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 recognizing the diversity in her show would be honoring his intentions as a writer.
Although she has now said that she’s not 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 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 okay 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 favorite 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.”
While The Witcher might be a Polish national icon and the cast of the games were a pretty solid representation of the racial diversity (or lack thereof) in Poland, the faces of Hissrich’s writers room is not an indication that the Netflix series will be an abrupt departure from the storyline we all know. This seems to just be a case of fanboy rampage and racial insensitivity.