This week in ridiculous: if you search through the hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII on Twitter you’ll see a bunch of racist, anti-Semitic tweets targeting the latest Star Wars movie for doing the unthinkable: including POC characters, in particular John Boyega as former Stormtrooper Finn. Other POC actors include Lupita Nyong’o and Oscar Isaac. The movie is directed by Jewish director JJ Abrams who has also been targeted.
To repeat some of the tweets would be to give them a larger platform than they deserve, but a summation of them concludes that these racists believe that the movie is anti-white for the inclusion of these actors. Some even seem to believe that including non-white characters in the Star Wars franchise “appropriates” a “white culture” they seem to think exists—or matters, in that case. Shockingly enough, many of these people are Trump fans. Putting these unenlightened people aside, let’s talk about why this Star Wars movie is important.
The Lack of Diversity in Hollywood
According to the Bunche Center, minorities made up 16.7% lead roles of 174 films examined for 2013 which is an improvement from 15.1% in 2012 and 10.5% in 2011. Numbers are improving, but still low. The University of Southern California found that of the Top 100 films in 2014, 73.1% of all characters were white. In terms of diversity in films, there’s even a proposed test, the Shukla test, meant to resemble the Bechdel test which evaluates the conversations between two characters of color and see if their conversation revolves around race or not. And for the Top 100 films, we have a lot of failures.
Let’s not forget that the Star Wars franchise is among the highest grossing films of all-time and this film will likely be no exception. Yet, all the past Star Wars films have had mostly white casts. Whitewashing is too popular in Hollywood and we all know it.
Star Wars VII: Change for the Better
The latest Star Wars may not be world-changing. There’s still plenty to be done in terms of Hollywood diversity, but it’s a great place to start. Having characters of color (and more female characters!) in the movies shouldn’t be questioned—we live in a diverse world and always have. The world of Star Wars, which includes non-human characters as well and even robots, should not be any different. As Nikesh Shukla, creator of the Shukla test, puts it “A common complaint from producers who whitewash their films is that they don’t want to ‘seem tokenistic’ by inserting a brown character ‘just for the sake of it’. The sad thing about that type of tokenism is that it presupposes that everyone is white, so to have anyone ethnic would look out of the ordinary, deliberately tokenistic, rather than entirely normal. And what exactly is the problem with so-called conscious tokenism, if it means that we can break down the barriers of colour casting, of affording roles to people that have been specifically delineated as ‘racial’?”
There will be countless fans who will be able to see themselves in Boyega and Nyong’o’s characters. There will be countless fans going to see the movies, regardless, and if we don’t have diverse casts the default that all the characters, in particular the main character and often our hero, are white will continue and whitewashing will continue to be a reality in Hollywood.
Go and see Stars War VII this holiday season. Flood the negativity on social media out with positive hashtags that celebrate the diversity in its cast—not abhors it. Let’s show Hollywood why diversity matters and Star Wars is a great place to start.
Check out the new trailer here