Sound the horn one last time. The Lord of the Rings has finally abandoned New Zealand, the Amazon production sailing its white ships to the Dying of Covid Lands of Britain. The news has caused great upset among fans of the original trilogy but even more so among kiwis, who credit the arrival of Middle Earth with turning their film industry, whose biggest claims to fame used to be old episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and the world’s biggest B-roll library of sheep, into one of the most coveted filming locations on the planet. 

Velley2City, Wikimedia Commons

The old Xena extras now squat in the sets -- everybody wins!

But that’s the J.R.R. Tolkien version of that story. The truth of how LotR treated New Zealand is much more G.R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, a tale filled with amoral elites, downtrodden commoners, and evil politicking. New Zealand has been colonized twice: first by the British in 1840 and again by Warner Bros. in 1999. Any NZ tourist pamphlet will inform you Hollywood chose the island for its fantasy location because of its unspoiled nature, a magical place from its submittable volcanoes to its hobbitable holes. But there was another untapped resource that had drawn the Eye of Warner: its amateurish film crews. Eager, English speaking, and completely devoid of trade unions, these dodo-like locals were the ideal workforce for a media empire to exploit as second-class cineastes or “independent contractors,” underpaid and overworked compared to their American and European union-clad counterparts. 

Having learned their lesson the hard way, the New Zealand crews were ready the second time around. By the time The Hobbit trilogy was announced, they had formed the country’s first film union, New Zealand Actors Equity, and the new fellowship was ready to face down their evil overlord with the power of friendship and collective bargaining. But the hearts of men are easily corrupted. Preying on their national identity as real-life Hobbits by threatening to move production, Warner Bros. turned the people of New Zealand against their own, an anti-union smear campaign spearheaded by their own Kiwi Wyrmtongue, Peter Jackson. 

But the real betrayal came from the New Zealand government. With a sizable portion of the country’s GDP tied to Tolkien-themed destination weddings, the conservatives in power immediately sided with their overseas paymasters. Sitting down with/bending over for the CEO of Warner Bros, Prime Minister BLA agreed that the best way forward was to revert the kiwi nation into a banana republic by overthrowing the country’s courts (which had already sided with the union) and then passing the “Hobbit Law,” a draconian anti-labor bill that not only made film unions basically illegal but eroded much of the country’s general fair trade practices.

Warner Bros.

Didn’t expect such strong anti-union exploitation on a movie called The Fellowship of the Ring.

Sadly, unlike the storybook land New Zealand pretends to be, there’s no seven-hour coda where all the brave Lord of the Rings kiwis get a happy ending and cuddle in a big bed together. Even when Warner Bros. left, anti-unionism continued to creep into the forests. Rumor grew of a billion-dollar Amazon production in the East. Then, whispers of 27 untitled Avatar sequels. The strength of politicians continued to fail, and the Hobbit Law lingers even now that the hobbits have left. And as long as its artists continue to be undervalued, New Zealand can’t have a film industry so much as a subjugated “film service,” to quote actor John Callen, who played one of the New Zealand dwarves in The Hobbit. How can you tell the New Zealand ones apart from the British? Their dreams are twice as big, and their paychecks twice as small. 

For more pro-union, anti-Sauron talk, do follow Cedric on Twitter

Top Image: Warner Bros. 

 

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