Nathalie Emmanuel: Game of Thrones “could have done better” with representation

Image: Game of Thrones/HBO
Image: Game of Thrones/HBO /

Over its years on the air, Game of Thrones received criticism from a lot of quarters, including from those who argued it should have done a better job of casting actors with racially diverse backgrounds. Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), one of the few actors of color actually on the show, sees where they’re coming from. “I think [the criticism] was fair.”

Lest anybody get unduly upset, Emmanuel is proud to be a part of the show and mindful of all it did for her career; she’s just taking aim at one aspect of the series and hoping other shows can follow its lead and go further. “They really gave the characters of colour they did have some great stories and scenes to play,” Emmanuel said at the British Film Institute BFI Luminous event in London. “In the books, my character isn’t really prominent. They really gave me some beautiful things to do and portray with my amazing friend and colleague Jacob [Anderson, who played Grey Worm]. I felt really supported and looked after in that respect.”

"But I think it’s important to note that they could have done better there. Hopefully that criticism will be heeded for future shows of that magnitude. That’s only a positive thing, so I’m excited to see what those conversations have started."

Obviously, the cast of Game of Thrones was primarily white. Casting director Nina Gold explained her choices by saying they were trying to stay true to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, wherein the denizens of Westeros are by and large racially homogenous. “Westeros around 300 A.C. is nowhere near as diverse as 21st century America, of course,” Martin once wrote on his blog.

The counter to that, of course, is that Game of Thrones takes place in a fantasy world and that the showrunners can cast whomever they want in a role — it’s just a matter of whether they think it’s a priority. Writing on his blog in 2013, Martin even said that he’d thought it might have been a good idea to make the Targaryen family black, although he had that thought well after he’d started writing and thinks it could have raised a whole other set of issues. But in any case, real-life history doesn’t really bind these casting choices.

At least one major fantasy series I can think of, Amazon’s The Wheel of Time, seems to be going in the direction Emmanuel is talking about and keeping an open mind when it comes to color-blind casting of characters in its made-up world. We won’t see the show onscreen for a while yet, but I’d say it’s very much part of the conversation Game of Thrones started, about diversity and more.

Moving on, Emmanuel also touched on how she feels now that Game of Thrones is receding in the rearview mirror. “It will always be bittersweet because we had such an amazing time and amazing experience with one another,” she said of her experience with her costars. “We bonded for life.

"But I’m excited. I feel really happy to see what other opportunities are out there. Game Of Thrones changed my life, I was working in retail when I got that job. It’s always going to be sad not going to work with my friends."

Emmanuel recently headlined Hulu’s Four Weddings and a Funeral series, had a role in Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Innocence, and can be seen in the upcoming Fast & Furious 9. There’s nothing wrong with working retail, of course, but that’s still quite an impressive jump.

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