Race row on Tolkien film after extra told: 'You've got to look like a hobbit'

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The Independent Culture

Just 5ft tall and a fan of The Lord of the Rings, Naz Humphreys believed she would make a perfect hobbit. So when the chance of a bit-part in Peter Jackson's new film project came up, she seized it. What she did not expect was to be told she was not white enough.

A British woman of Pakistani origin, Ms Humphreys – who is on a working holiday in New Zealand with her husband – had travelled 80 miles to the auditions in Hamilton. She joined a crowd of 700 and waited for three hours, only to be told she was wasting her time. "The casting manager basically said they weren't having anybody who wasn't pale-skinned," she told the Waikato Times.

The racial stipulation was swiftly disowned by Jackson, whose attempts to make The Hobbit – a two-film prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy – have been beset by controversy. The director's spokesman said yesterday that no instructions to that effect had been given, and the casting agent, an independent contractor, had been sacked. However, the incident was embarrassing for Jackson, and it dampened New Zealanders' joy at retaining The Hobbit, following threats to move the project overseas after a row with the actors' union. Jackson's spokesman described it as "an incredibly unfortunate error".

Ms Humphreys, a social policy researcher, watches The Lord of the Rings every Christmas.

"It was the opportunity of a lifetime," she said. "I would love to be an extra. But it just seemed like a shame, because obviously hobbits are not brown or black, or any other colour. They all look kind of homogenised beige, and all derived from the Caucasian gene pool."

According to JRR Tolkien, creator of the Middle Earth fantasy world, there were three races of hobbits, including harfoots, who were "browner of skin". However, the casting agent clearly had his own ideas. Video footage reportedly shows him telling the crowd of would-be extras: "We are looking for light-skinned people. I'm not trying to be ... whatever. It's just the brief. You've got to look like a hobbit."

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