Article by: Carlos Po
When Star Wars: The Force Awakens was announced in October 2012, fans across the globe waited with baited breath, hoping that director J.J. Abrams would learn from the mistakes of the past. The first trailer generated massive hype for the movie, featuring an adorable, ball-shaped droid rolling across a desert landscape, an ominous dropship filled with the series’ iconic stormtroopers, and a ridiculous lightsaber designed by a five year-old.
But not all were content. With the release of the full cast list, a fraction of fans took offense to the fact that out of the three actors who were cast as protagonists (John Boyega, Daisy Ridley, and Oscar Isaac), none of them were white males . In protest, closeted internet white supremacists organized the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII on 4chan, a popular image-based forum. “J.J. Abrams…chose to create and cast non-white characters [in leading roles] exclusively. This is racism.” one Reddit user lamented. “What happened with the predominantly Caucasian galaxy of my childhood? Trying really hard not to sound racist and likely failing, but what’s wrong with having a bunch of white guys be the main characters?” angrily typed another. You can feel the hate flowing through these comments.
The leads of the original trilogy (Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher) were all Caucasian. The same goes for the prequel trilogy (Hayden Christensen, Ewan McGregor, and Natalie Portman). While there were black supporting characters (Billy Dee Williams, Samuel L. Jackson), none of them ever spent an entire film in the spotlight. The same goes for the female leads. Abrams’ casting decision was a simple choice to create diverse characters for diverse audiences, a decision that has been perplexingly ignored by Hollywood at large, with some exceptions. With the majority of the world not fitting in the straight white male mold, it’s about time directors caught up, despite what sections of the internet may want.
Unlike the main cast members of of the two previous trilogies, Boyega and Ridley are not white males. However, neither their gender nor race are important to the story. In fact, the Telegraph call both actors “brave, charming and funny.” Rolling Stone magazine even calls Boyega “bracingly comic and charming” and Ridley “a star in the making.” Previous characters in the series such as Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker never garnered as much unanimous praise (“They’re dead. Every last one of them. I slaughtered them like animals,” anyone?)
For every given positive social change, there will always be a reactionary group that protests against it. Civil rights campaigns have dealt with this kind of response, who may number in a small yet vocal minority to the majority of the country. While it’s usually a long, protracted struggle, social progress always triumphs in the end. I’d like to end by asking if you remember any examples of discrimination in the movie. A woman being a good mechanic or pilot is not seen as unusual by anyone. The First Order, while looking more than a little bit like Nazis, are inclusive enough to include a black man among their ranks. It seems that in a galaxy far, far away, where soldiers in body armor massacre entire villages for no reason, and secret cabals of evil space wizards conspire to create a galactic empire, we can still find more tolerance among humans than our planet in 2016. Step it up, people.