‘The Witcher’ Casting Director Says Yennefer Casting Was To ‘Challenge Beauty Standards’ Which Is Completely Insane

Casting has become a great deal more diverse—and a great deal more controversial—when it comes to big tentpole fantasy series these days. At the center of these controversial choices are casting directors.

Sophie Holland is the casting director for a number of major TV series including Wednesday, Shadow and Bone and The Witcher on Netflix as well as The Peripheral on Amazon Prime Video.

In a recent interview with Variety, Holland revealed that her casting choices are, in many ways, a form of social justice activism. She said in the interview that during her work on The Kill Team, she realized “that casting wasn’t just about finding beautiful people who could do the American accent convincingly, but that casting could have a real, profound impact on the people watching it.”

In Holland’s mind, she can help girls and women by making specific casting choices. She couldn’t necessarily help people in real life, “But what I could do is change the way people see women through casting. I can make them powerful and empowering and then the floodgates will open to them.”

Speaking of The Witcher and the casting of Anya Chalotra as Yennefer, Holland said:

I am always the first to champion diversity in all its glory. One that springs to mind was the character of Yennefer on The Witcher. Lauren Schmidt Hissrich is the showrunner and we work so well together and she’s so open to conversations.

In the book, she’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world. This was a few years ago and I’d like to think things have changed. But when you think about people’s unconscious bias – especially in the fantasy world, it felt like these worlds were predominantly white. And I remember saying, ‘I feel like we need to challenge what people think of as the standard of beauty. And having a woman of color in this role does incredibly powerful things to the people watching.’

Now, this is not Holland saying that Chalotra is ugly, or that they cast someone ugly to play the role of the most beautiful woman in the world. (There have been other casting choices for sorceresses in Netflix’s show that I find deeply questionable and flagrantly unfaithful to the source material, which Holland’s sentiments help explain). Rather, Holland is saying that she is challenging the “standard of beauty” by casting a woman with slightly darker skin.

I do understand that traditional Western fantasy is predominantly white, but I disagree fundamentally with the notion that the “standard of beauty” for most people is being white. I don’t think anyone in the entire world outside of a tiny, tiny sliver of absolute racist scumbags would look at Anya Chalotra and think anything other than “This woman is jaw-droppingly gorgeous.” Casting Chalotra may challenge our perceptions of fantasy as white (a complicated discussion on its own) but it does nothing to challenge any standard of beauty.

That’s okay! I don’t think we should be challenging beauty standards in a fantasy show about a woman who is grotesquely disfigured and uses magic to transform herself into the most beautiful woman in the world. We should 100% lean into standard notions of beauty for such a character, and Anya Chalotra is the perfect casting choice precisely because she is so stunningly beautiful (and because she’s a great actor, of course).

If anything, the star of the show (at least through Season 3) is Henry Cavill, and he’s far, far too good-looking to play Geralt of Rivia, who is canonically not very handsome at all. Don’t get me wrong, I think Cavill is perfect in the role, and it’s fine to make your lead more attractive than his book (or real life) counterpart (see, for example, Elizabeth Olsen as Candy Montgomery in Love & Death).

In any case, it’s all a little silly to me. If you want to make the world a better place, go work at a soup kitchen. Donate clothes to the homeless. Get your hands dirty. Casting directors need to pick the best people for the job—who can act, who look the part, who help enrich the story and the world. The last thing any of these fantasy shows need is activists pushing their political agendas.

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