Why an actor from 'Lord of the Rings' is worth hearing out on celebrities and politics.

"Lord of the Rings" actor Viggo Mortensen played the peace-seeking warrior-king Aragorn.

GIF from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."


While Mortensen's life outside Middle Earth doesn't involve wielding a sword, he is a warrior for peace.

As a publisher and activist, his weapon of choice isn't cold steel — it's words.

Words reforged from the shards of Narsil, that is. GIF from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

In an interview with "Democracy Now!" he unsheathed a response to people who have criticized him and other American celebrities for speaking out against injustices.

Mortensen doesn't think any of us, celebrity or not, should yield to the powers that be when we know what they're doing is wrong.

GIF from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

Here are a few moments from the interview that cut to the heart of the matter:

Famous people are still allowed to care about things.

GIF from "Democracy Now!"

"[T]here are people who might watch this show and just say, 'Well, there's another jerk from the entertainment business shooting his mouth off.' I'm a citizen of this country. I'm a citizen of the world. ... I have as much right as anybody else to do that. How does a democracy work? How does freedom work? It works like that. People talking about what's going on."

That said, celebrities' opinions aren't worth more than anyone else's.

GIF from "Democracy Now!"

"Being someone in the entertainment business does not give you more right than anyone else to speak, and it certainly doesn't give you less right."

At the end of the day, we just have to remind elected officials that they work for all of us.

GIF from "Democracy Now!"

"[Critics say,] 'You're a movie maker, you don't have a right to speak. Let the politicians speak about politics.' Well, I think that letting our rulers decide how to govern us is not... we haven't had a great history there."

Celebrities who are vocal about politics are some of the easiest targets for public scorn.

But whether or not I agree, I'm glad for the ones who are informed, mindful of their influence, and willing to put themselves out there for what's right. Overcoming global challenges requires a global turnout to the conversation and a lot of hope in our ability to work together.

GIF from "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

And if it takes Aragorn, High King of the Reunited Kingdom (I mean ... who better?) — or the actor and concerned citizen who portrays him, anyway — to get people talking about issues like war, imperialism, racism, and police brutality, then bring it on.

GIF from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King."

Check out part one of the interview:

For more, see parts two, three, and four.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

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Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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