Hobbit hopeful pulled up short over skin colour

TOM CARDY
Last updated 05:00 29/11/2010
Naz Humphreys
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WOULD-BE HOBBIT: Naz Humphreys

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At 1.5 metres (5ft), Naz Humphreys has the essential requirement to be a hobbit extra, but the British Pakistani has been told she's not white enough.

"It's 2010 and I still can't believe I'm being discriminated against because I have brown skin," Ms Humphreys said.

She travelled from Auckland to Hamilton last Tuesday to an extras audition for The Hobbit. "The casting manager basically said they weren't having anybody who wasn't pale-skinned."

A Waikato Times video of the auditions shows a film company representative telling the crowd: "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."

A spokesman for Sir Peter Jackson said the film-maker was unaware of the casting restriction and described it as "an incredibly unfortunate error".

The Hamilton auditions attracted 700 people wanting to play hobbits in the two-part film. Ms Humphreys said she waited for three hours, only to be told there was little point.

The social policy researcher, here on a working holiday with her husband, said it was a Christmas ritual for the couple to watch The Lord of the Rings films. "It was the opportunity of a lifetime. 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."

Writer JRR Tolkien had not specified that all hobbits were pale-skinned. According to The Complete Guide to Middle-earth "Harfoots" are the most common hobbit and "browner" than other types. "Fallohides", who settled the Shire, which included Hobbiton, had "fairer skin".

"In 2010, a movie company should be representing all its viewers," Ms Humphreys said. "It's not just going to be white people seeing The Hobbit, but people from all over the world."

Sir Peter's spokesman said: "It is not something the producers or the director of The Hobbit were aware of; they would never issue instructions of this kind to the casting crew. All people meeting the age and height requirements are welcome to audition for The Hobbit."

Ms Humphreyshas set up a Facebook page entitled "Hire Hobbits of all colours! Say No to Hobbit racism!"

Human Rights Commission spokesman Gilbert Wong said it was unlawful to discriminate against someone over their ethnicity or national origin. But a complaint would have to be received before the commission could act.

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Meanwhile, Sir Ian McKellen has posted information on his website that makes it appear as if he will reprise his Rings role of Gandalf.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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