HBO’s House of the Dragon (2022 – ) has sparked controversy over its casting choices. The show, which is a prequel to the outrageously popular Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019), follows the history of the Targaryen family and their rule over Westeros. Despite the immense hype around the show, it has come under fire for its lack of diversity and representation in the cast.
In recent years, the importance of diversity and representation in media has been widely discussed. It is essential to have accurate and positive portrayals of marginalized groups in the media to balance harmful stereotypes and provide a platform for underrepresented communities. Therefore, it is crucial to examine the casting choices of House of the Dragon and its impact on representation.
The Targaryen family is of Valyrian descent, a race of people with a distinct appearance, including silver hair and purple eyes. However, in the casting of House of the Dragon, characters who are supposed to be of Valyrian descent have been cast with actors who do not share those physical traits. This casting choice has been seen as a form of whitewashing, where characters of color are replaced with white actors.
Moreover, characters of color in the original source material have been erased entirely from the show’s adaptation. For example, Princess Rhaenys Targaryen, who is described in the books as having a “dusky” complexion, has been cast with a white actor. In Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison says, “The subject of the signature is American literature and how racial meanings and language have been constructed within it. Race has become metaphorical, a way of referring to and disguising forces, events, classes, and expressions of social decay and economic division far more threatening to the body politic than biological ‘race’ ever was.” This erasure of characters of color reinforces the idea that whiteness is the default, and people of color are not integral to the story.
The lack of representation of people of color and other marginalized groups in House of the Dragon’s casting choices is upsetting. The few diverse characters in the show’s cast have been tokenized, meaning they are included to check off a box rather than being given meaningful storylines or character development. In the words of Kristen Warner, House of the Dragon’s casting employs “plastic representation.” Additionally, the casting choices perpetuate harmful stereotypes, such as the association of darker skin with villainy.
I ask why can’t black representation just be black representation? Not a whitewashed piece of the project. I’m interested in an everything everywhere all at once type of representation. Everything black, every space black and occurring all at the same time. There’s no space for tokenized casting or positive or negative representations when the starting point is inclusion. Is that too much to ask for?
The controversy surrounding House of the Dragon’s casting choices is not just about the show itself but reflects a broader issue in the entertainment industry. It is time for media producers to prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in their casting choices. This means not just tokenizing diverse characters but providing them with meaningful storylines and character development. The hope is that, in the future, the media will reflect the diverse world we live in and provide accurate portrayals of marginalized communities.
“Game of Thrones.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 17 Apr. 2011, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_1_tt_4_nm_3_q_Game%2520.
“House of the Dragon.” IMDb, IMDb.com, 21 Aug. 2022, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11198330/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_0_tt_8_nm_0_q_House%2520of%2520the%2520.
Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015.
Warner, Kristen J. The Cultural Politics of Colorblind TV Casting. New York; London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2015.