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As anyone who's watched Netflix's adaptation of Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher will know, that story has a lot going on. Along with it shifting back and forth through different timelines and points of view for each of the three main characters, there's a lot of lore, world-building, monsters and species to keep track of, and one kick ass sorta theme song to hum to yourself as you watch. But, even though humans are the main focus of the series, something that doesn't come up at all is race. Now, we know why.
The Witcher showrunner Lauren Schmidt Hissrich recently did an Ask Me Anything on reddit and was questioned about how the show handles, or rather, doesn't handle, race among humans. When asked why the show can be found "randomly throwing around [people of color] here and there with no origins or background," here's what she had to say:
The discussions about race in the writers room, with the producers, and with Andrzej himself were long and varied. We talked about the history of the Conjunction of the Spheres (are all humans out in the ether the same color? Did the Conjunction drop certain races in certain areas?), we talked about the Continent being a huge place (are we to believe that people don't migrate?), and we talked the most about how racism was presented in the books. Like all readers, we always came down on the side that racism in the books is represented by species-ism -- humans vs. elves vs. dwarves vs. gnomes vs. halflings vs. monsters and so forth. It's not about skin color at all. You don't notice skin color when instead you're looking at the shape of ears, or the size of torsos, or the length of teeth.
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich gave quite the thorough answer to the person who posed the question about race, and it makes a lot of sense. The biggest points she makes basically come from the source material, and conversations that she and her writers had with Andrzej Sapkowski himself. In his novels and short stories, apparently, race actually isn't an issue. What's much more important there is the species of characters, because that's where many of the overarching conflicts lie.
Hissrich also noted that, if you're out and about and there are giant spiders rampaging about, or you're confronted by something with scary-big teeth or see someone with extra big and pointy ears, are you really going to care about whether or not the person next to you is Black or Asian or what-have-you? Are you going to be trying to figure out the race of the being coming toward you, or are you just going to decide whether or not you need to get out of the way?
Another point that Lauren Schmidt Hissrich makes is actually a way simpler method of explaining why several different races would be on The Continent. This may be a totally made up world, but, just like in real life, people move. And, sometimes, they move from an area populated mostly with their same race to one that has far fewer people who look like them. So, they might stand out more than they did in their previous environment, but that doesn't mean they don't belong where we see them. We don't need complicated reasons that explain why humans of different races live in the same area, work together or fraternize.
In addition, Hissrich explained that there's a good reason Sapkowski didn't really talk about race in his books:
Furthermore, in the books, there are a few mentions of skin color, usually "pale" or "wind-chapped." Andrzej very specifically didn't add in many details of skin color, he told me himself. Readers generally make assumptions (typically, unless otherwise noted, believe characters to be the same color as themselves). That said, the general assumption is that everyone in The Witcher is the same color, which is why all the focus is on species.
This, also, makes a lot of sense. Andrzej Sapkowski wasn't writing with an eye toward making sure there were different races present in his books, but he also figured his readers would do what lots of readers do, and just mentally make the characters look like themselves to further become immersed in the world he created. As Hissrich said, this is also why Sapkowski focused so much on species in his stories. If a reader's instinct is to imagine the characters as people who look like them, then race is more of a moot point.
Lauren Schmidt Hissrich didn't stop there, either. She went on to explain that as writers and producers, when they were developing the series, they had a different goal in mind than Sapkowski did when he was writing his books:
Because it's 2020, and because the real world is a very big and diverse place, we made a different assumption on the show. That people don't pay attention to skin color -- not because they're all the same color, but because the bigger differences are about species, not skin. If you went to your local supermarket and there were people with horns and tails, do you really think you'd be paying attention to how much melanin is in their skin?
I like that Lauren Schmidt Hissrich and her team made a clear decision to include people of different races on the series, and used the fact that it isn't brought up by any of the characters to show how much more important it is that the world of The Witcher is comprised of many different species. I really liked seeing a Black elf, and, as mentioned earlier, most of us really wouldn't be paying attention to race when there are a bunch of human-like, non-humans roaming around...not to mention outright monsters.