The Witcher (Wiedźmin) is a fantasy series by Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski that was mostly written in the 1990s. It is set in a European-inspired continent riven between constantly feuding kingdoms, ruled behind the scenes by a cabal of mages, while monsters from Indo-European folklore reive on the hapless, mudfooted peasants. A class of specially-trained mutants were created to hunt down these monsters; these “witchers” now roam the kingdoms, taking coin for their services. The story follows the adventures of one such witcher, Geralt of Rivia.
No exaggeration, but The Witcher is probably Poland’s most successful cultural export since the end of Communism. Although the books sold well throughout East-Central Europe, what really put it on the map was the series of eponymous video games created by Polish studio CD Projekt Red. Their phenomenal success (e.g., The Witcher 3 has a 9.4/10 user rating on Metacritic) has propelled CD Projekt Red into the ranks of global leaders in their field. Their upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 is probably the single most awaited PC game in 2020.
The Witcher became such a popular phenomenon that Netflix produced a series about it, with the first season coming out last December, and a second season planned for this year.
Several days ago, I binge watched the eight episodes of the first series (naturally, not through Netflix).
Pros: Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill) was perfectly cast, and his part of the story is up to par. In fairness, I think quality did increase with each new episode, though perhaps it me getting acculturated to its slapstick format. Although I have yet to seriously play any of the Witcher games, a friend who did tells me that the things they did right are much more easily appreciated if you have previous knowledge of the Witcher universe.
Fringilla Vigo, the main antagonist by the end of the season.
Cons: Weak dialogue, with many cringe moments. But what really killed of all immersion was the gratuitous blacking.
The demographics of the Witcher world, as interpreted by Netflix’s writer Lauren Schmidt Hissrich, resembled that of the United States in 1950. Not the US today, because 90% white/10% Black. As with #OscarsSoWhite, the diversification imperative doesn’t extend to Asians.
We wuz dark mages.
So why am I writing about this particular bit of pop trivia?
To start off with, let me just note that in Poland right now, about every fifth billboard and monitor – no exaggeration! – is advertising the Netflix Witcher.
It’s on the streets…
… in the Warsaw metro …
… even visible from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science (the Stalinist skyscraper in Warsaw).
Some canvassers even handed us Witcher necklaces while we were walking about in Krakow.
Oops, not related… though come to think of it, quite fitting. Indeed, #BlackFilmsMatter.
As you can see, Netflix is evidently making a major push into the Polish market, and it is using The Witcher as its icebreaker.
But it is not just a capitalist process, but a social process. The multicultural realities of the present-day West are being projected into the past, because if the past can be made to be multicultural as well, then the diverse present and ever more diverse future can be portrayed as the world-historical norm. The BBC now uses British taxpayer funds to tell us fascinating and hitherto unknown facts about the vibrancy of Roman-era Britain. And they are gradually spreading their geographic scope, with Czech studio Warhorse Studios coming under SJW pressure for not including any Negroes in 15th century Bohemia. Their chief developer sent them packing.
But will this remain true for the new generations that grow up watching blackwashed Witchers and the other cultural products that come part and parcel with American soft power hegemony?
As I have observed on several occasions, Poland seems to be the most ripe of any of the V4 countries – if not all of the former Soviet bloc – for going into multiculturalism mode. It is the weak link in the chain. And some significant percentage of the four billion Sub-Saharan Africans projected for 2100 will be migrating somewhere; the Mediterranean Sea is much narrower than the Atlantic, or the Indian Ocean. It almost seems as if there is a kind of world-historical logic to a blacked Witcher.