A New Robin Hood is coming to Hollywood

The stories of Robin Hood, both in their written and their later movie franchises, have traditionally been the province of White-defined characters for almost one hundred and fifty years.  Since Sir Walter Scott added Robin Hood to the cast of characters in his 1819 novel Ivanhoe, Robin Hood has been associated primarily with the Anglo-Saxons.  However, in the oldest ballads, the ethnic aspects of Saxon vs. Norman are barely mentioned.

Robin is traditionally the hero of the poor and downtrodden, and his opponents are not so much the Norman invaders of Britain, but the wealthy and powerful, especially those who abuse their power to prey upon the weak.  As such, Robin and his Merry Men are generally depicted as blond-haired and blue-eyed.  At least until writer/producer/directors, Mel Brooks and Richard Carpenter amended the legends a bit.

In When Things Were Rotten (1975), Mel Brooks added Renaldo played by Richard Dimitri to the Merry Men. Renaldo was born a Norman, but was kidnapped and raised by Gypsies, and spoke like a stereotypical Chicano. Think Chico and the Man and you have it just about right.  Richard Dmitri played both the foppish Norman Bertram, and his twin brother Renaldo. Wikipedia credits Richard Carpenter’s Robin of Sherwood (1986) for beginning the trend of adding a Saracen or a Moor but it was Brooks’ Renaldo that was the first Merry Man who wasn’t a Saxon peasant before turning outlaw. You’re forgiven for not knowing either of these productions because both were relatively short lived.

Wikipedia reminds us:

Several modern adaptations add a member to the group who is a Moor or Saracen:

This began with the 1984–86 television series Robin of Sherwood, which included the character Nasir (portrayed by Mark Ryan), a former hashshashin who joins the Merry Men. The character influenced the writers of the 1989–94 BBC TV children’s series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men, which featured the black character Barrington (played by Danny John Jules).

The 1993 Mel Brooks comedy Robin Hood: Men in Tights featured Dave Chappelle as Achoo, a parody of Freeman’s Azeem comically depicted with modern African American mannerisms and speech.

The 1997–99 television series The New Adventures of Robin Hood featured Kemal (played by Hakim Alston), a Saracen who was a professional assassin in Palestine.

The 2006 series Robin Hood introduced Djaq (Anjali Jay), a Saracen ex-slave. A twist in Djaq’s description is that Djaq is actually a girl disguised as a boy.

In a 2012 episode of Once Upon a Time, Robin Hood (played by Sean Maguire) asked Mulan (played by Jamie Chung) to be a part of the Merry Men. She accepted the offer and became, on the show, the first female member of the band.

Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman as Robin of Locksley and Azeem the Moor {Image by Warner Bro}

Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman {Image by Warner Bro}

One of the more memorable and profitable depictions of a diverse group of Merry Men was the Academy Award-nominated Prince of Thieves (1991) which featured Kevin Costner as Robin of Locksley and Morgan Freeman as Azeem, a Moor who joins Robin after the two engineer their escape from the holy city of Jerusalem. Azeem accompanies Robin back to England due to a life-debt and refuses to leave him until that debt is repaid.

A Return to a Working Formula

From Renaldo to Nasir to Barrington to Azeem to Achoo to Kemal to Djaq to Mulan; the conceptual aspect of the Merry Men has slowly changed to reflect widening audience diversity. The trend continues the working formula from Prince of Thieves  into the latest reboot of the legend. Jamie Foxx stars as Little John, a Moor, and Robin Hood’s most trusted friend and second-in-command in the Lionsgate production, Robin Hood (2018).

Jamie Foxx as Little John and Taron Egerton as Robin Hood {image via Lionsgate}

Jamie Foxx as Little John and Taron Egerton as Robin Hood {image via Lionsgate}

Lionsgate has released a brand new clip from their upcoming action film Robin Hood, featuring Jamie Foxx’s Little John testing our titular hero’s archery skills. It would seem Robin is an adequate archer but not quite up to the standards Little John thinks he should be. To be fair, in preparation for his role, Taron Egerton had undergone intensive archery training with Danish modern archer Lars Andersen, who is controversially known for being one of the world’s fastest archers. He is also known for adding more than a bit of athleticism to archery, which this movie intends to highlight.

It seems Foxx will be using the archetypal staff associated with Little John and has more than a little disdain for Robin’s haughty belief in his archery skills. He calls him, “English” and boasted he could once fire two arrows a second. Robin mocks him pointing at his hand and then the two engage in a bit of macho posturing in which Robin discovers there is more to be learned.

We are promised a dark and gritty depiction of this new band of Merry Men and if this clip is any indication, it’s worth looking forward to. Jamie Foxx is intense!

Robin Hood (2018) – In theaters, November 21, 2018. Starring Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Tim Minchin, Scot Greenan and Jamie Dornan.

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