Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie in Star Wars: Episode VII

People can stop whining now.

Skin color isn’t important. All that matters is that the role goes to the best actor.

This is why it’s important to wait before making judgments.

Where’s the Asian Jedi. Wheelchair Jedi, Native American Jedi. This movie is going to be a mid 90’s Burger King commercial.

This feels forced.

By this point, we all know that Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years a Slave) and Gwendoline Christie (Game of Thrones) are in Star Wars: Episode VII, so this post isn’t a rehash of the official press release. The purpose of this post is to highlight the general remarks that have surfaced around the Web concerning the recent casting announcement.

People can stop whining now.

Bringing attention to the fact that there’s a lack of diversity is not “whining.” It astounds me how many people don’t bother putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Diversity is not something we beg for simply because we’re bored and have nothing else to do. We bring awareness to it because it is a real problem in society, media, and literature. According to a study conducted by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin, of 3,200 children’s books published in 2013, only 93 were about black people. 93 out of 3,200.  That is equivalent to 3 percent.

Star Wars fans are familiar with the expression “balance with the Force,” but how about balance in representation? Supporters of diversity call others to be more inclusive and to consciously incorporate diversity into the story-making process. George Lucas did it (Leia, Lando, Mace, the clones, the handmaidens). Dave Filoni did it (Ahsoka Tano, Aurra Sing, Satine Kryze, Bo-Katan, and more). Greg Weisman did it (Elisa from Gargoyles and Rain from Rain of the Ghosts). Why can’t you–the part of fandom that keeps resisting the idea of diversity–do it, as well?

As for the first casting announcement, fans had a right to voice their concerns, especially given the lack of a significant female and racial presence. Dismissing those legitimate concerns and labeling our actions as “whining” only proves how much farther we have to go before achieving equal and proper representation for all.

Skin color isn’t important. All that matters is that the role goes to the best actor.

I cringe every time I read this on Twitter or hear it in conversation. Yes, obviously, we all want the role to go to the best actor, but why does that role go to white male actors 80 percent of the time? As creators and storytellers, we should be broadening character’s backgrounds and identities in our short stories, novels, and scripts. Then, when the time comes to choose an actor of the highest caliber to portray that role, it is done fairly because the background of the character has already been pre-determined during the writing process.

Incorporating diversity for diversity’s sake is not a bad thing. Doing so allows for more groups to be represented properly. Take Lupita Nyong’o, for example. Were it not for Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple, she would not have pursued acting. Seeing a black woman actor on screen inspired her to follow her dreams. The next time you question the importance of having diverse actors, remember that representation matters because it empowers and inspires.

This is why it’s important to wait before making judgments.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited and thrilled I was to find out that Jimmy Smits, an actor who identifies as Puerto Rican, found his way as Bail Organa in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. When news broke out that more Star Wars films were being made, I immediately thought, “I really want more Hispanic/Latino actors on set.” I have waited patiently, and on the day of the first casting announcement, I was pleasantly surprised to find Oscar Isaac attached to the sequel film. Though, I was less than enthused about the issue of diversity in general. Finding out that Lupita and Gwendoline are now part of Episode VII helped ease the blow left behind by the initial casting announcement.

That said, one of the worst things you can say to someone who is underrepresented in media is “to wait.” Waiting implies that diversity is an afterthought. Don’t pat me on the head and tell me to “wait my turn.” I’m done waiting.

Where’s the Asian Jedi. Wheelchair Jedi, Native American Jedi. This movie is going to be a mid 90’s Burger King commercial.

Blatant racism. I find it beyond frustrating that someone would say this because there are only two black actors, one Guatemalan-American actor, and four women. In a cast of 15 people, that makes up 33 percent. I had someone once tell me that Star Wars shouldn’t be used as a platform for my social agendas. Star Wars, like many other things, is a reflection of our own society. It is a galaxy with unlimited and untapped potential. Why would we limit that galaxy to our own archaic standards? The Star Wars fandom itself is a worldwide community with over 100 501st garrisons established in a variety of countries. Why is diversity in the film seen as something that’s not necessary or “forced,” when our own society should be reflected on what we see on the screen? Speaking of forced

This feels forced.

Forced? Oh. You mean like being forced to watch white male actor after white male actor get the lead part in movies year after year? That kind of forced?

There is no such thing as “forcing” diversity. It’s called being inclusive and open minded. Take the Fantastic Four reboot, for example. Michael B. Jordan was selected to play Johnny Storm. Woah. A black actor chosen to play a traditionally white character? They’re clearly forcing diversity. Wrong. Again, that is called being inclusive and taking creative liberties. Johnny Storm is not defined by his “whiteness.” Johnny Storm is defined by the fact that he’s a hothead with an eye for women. That’s Johnny Storm. Changing his appearance shouldn’t cause an uproar, but it did because Heaven forbid a colored actor replace a role that could easily be played by anyone.

Now, take Tiger Lily from the upcoming live-action Peter Pan origin film, Pan. Rooney Mara, a white American actor, was chosen to play a Native American role. To reiterate, Tiger Lily is Native American. Rooney Mara is not. Whitewashing a character is forcing diversity OUT.

floral-divider

Lupita and Gwendoline’s addition to the cast is not something that should be taken lightly. It’s a necessary step towards change. A franchise that previously included two main women and two black actors has now increased those numbers. Diversity and representation are important because, as Star Wars fans, these movies are our legacy. We want future generations to look back and see the differences made for the better.

20 responses to “Lupita Nyong’o and Gwendoline Christie in Star Wars: Episode VII

  1. I really appreciate this post. I came on here expecting an announcement, and instead, I think you did a great post on diversity and how it’s needed in Star Wars.

    One of my back up blogs is to actually explore diversity and race in fantasy/sci-fi, with the emphasis on Star Wars (obviously, because my blog is about Star Wars lol). I was going to look at it within context of the actual universe, but I really appreciate this post for the reality of our world and the lack of diversity in the first cast announcement. I’m pleased that they cast two great actresses and hopefully they’ll play large roles.

    There have been rumors of Lupita forever and the rumors centered around her being Obi-Wan’s daughter. That could be interesting! I’m actually against it because I believe Obi-Wan followed the Jedi way and did not take a lover/wife. TCW showed us Satine and how he turned away from that path to stay true to the Jedi Order. So if Lupita does play his long lost daughter or something, I feel it may not be too consistent with the Prequels and TCW.

    • I’m so glad I was able to voice this topic properly. I tend to get very personal and passionate about it, so I tried to tone it down. I’d love to follow your second blog!

      Ooh yes, the rumors. She’s also rumored to be Ventress, which also negates the development she underwent throughout the series. Also, making her an alien would be absolutely ridiculous. A good friend of mine brought that to my attention because I thought the rumor was great, and then I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t see that before–a colored actress disguised as an alien. Nope.” Sometimes we need other people to tell us what we need to hear. That’s why I wrote this post for whomever was interested and open minded.

      But yeah, in terms of the Obi-Wan rumor. I’ve heard that it’s false. Also, she couldn’t be Obi-Wan’s daughter because she’s much too young. If anything, she would be a granddaughter. I do, however, like the idea of Obi-Wan looking after someone in an adopted sort of way. Maybe that person felt strongly about Obi-Wan as a child would with a parent. Then that person went off to carry his name and passed it down to his daughter aka Lupita. This is all conjecture, of course.

      We shall see soon! I highly doubt they will undermine Obi-Wan’s character. I’m sure there’s a much bigger plan in play and we just don’t see it right now. :)

      • Yeah, I definitely thought that she might be cast as an alien. Actually, I first thought that because of her facial bone structure. And then I remembered how when I saw Femi Taylor (Oola) at a convention she said the casting call was for an African American dancer because she said facial features are usually more pronounced on African Americans…so I guess my thoughts kind of were cyclical there. I hope she’s not an alien, for the reasons you said.

        I heard the Ventress rumor yesterday too, which I actually think would be super fun (besides the afore mentioned fact) because Ventress was one of my favorite TCW characters. I would love anyone to play Ventress…do you think they’ll actually pull in TCW or even Rebels characters? That would be reallllly interesting because that means that they really are tying continuity between TV and film in an unprecedented way.

        Oh, and I wasn’t clear – I don’t have a second blog (actually, I have my business page which has a blog but that doesn’t count), I meant race in Star Wars was a backup blog post that I still need to write. I have an ongoing list of possible posts that I write when the mood strikes.

        I think you did a great job with this post and it was very carefully written. I understand when you have to tone things down. Funnily, when I tone things down on my posts, no one comments haha!

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  3. One thing about your Johnny Storm comment… People (well, the majority of people I’ve spoken to about it) aren’t mad that he’s black out of nowhere, they’re mad that he’s black but his sister is white. Barring adoption or step-sibling, /that doesn’t happen/. THAT’S why it’s forced.

    • But having a black and white child is normal. My aunt has three boys and one of them is black–all from the same father. Our great-grandmother was black, but we’re all pale and will burn under the sun. It’s genetics, and I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that that is common.

    • I’m multiracial and so is my younger brother-he came out pale with blue eyes, I came out olive-skinned with brown eyes. It’s people like you that approach us in stores or on the street questioning our ‘plausibility’ when we are right the fuck in front of you.

      Genetics could care less about your racism. This not only happens, but happens quite frequently if you leave your cave once in a while.

      Shit, even a Google search would dispel this myth. You really didn’t try.

  4. There’s a story that Whoopi Goldberg tells about seeing Nichelle Nichols on television for the first time, and she started yelling out “There’s a black woman on television and she ain’t no maid!” I had a similar experience in the 80s the first time I saw Professor X on television. (I have a neuromotor disability.) To me, that’s what makes representation important, but I don’t want to see people in token roles either. THAT’s when it does feel forced to me.

    • Ah yes, Whoopi Goldberg’s story! I remember that!

      I think token roles happen because diversity was something thought of afterward. “Oh, we need to grab this particular population. Let’s add this guy/girl.” At that point, diversity is not the problem, it’s the creative team and the lack of effort/thought during the writing process.

      I’m currently writing my own novel. If I wanted to go with the standard mold, my two female characters would have been white. Instead, my two leads are Puerto Rican and Maori descendants. I made the conscious decision of incorporating diversity because anyone could be the lead to a story. The fact that she’s Puerto Rican has nothing to do with the novel. That’s just her identity and background, but I felt the need to give my heritage the proper representation in the science fiction genre.

      • I agree with you about token roles.

        Now, I am a cisgendered white woman, but like I said I have a neuromotor disability and I identify as part of some other minorities. I try to incorporate ethnic/racial diversity into my stories as well, because I feel like the world is just full of various ethnicities and people from different backgrounds. I have a protagonist whose background is Mexican/Peruvian in one story, and she’s a vampire — so traditionally she would have been white (and probably male) I don’t know that I made a conscious decision to make her Mexican, and her ethnicity is not really a factor in the story other than that she has some knowledge of South America. She could have easily been a white woman, but there was no reason to that her ethnicity mattered so I thought, “Okay, I could make her hispanic and it would work, so why not?” She later marries a white guy, and I wonder if sometime I’ll get flack that her husband is white or something, but to me it was the same thing–there’s no REASON they have to be the same ethnicity, so why not?

  5. I can’t pretend to agree with everything said, although I 100% support building diversity into story telling. As a writer you should want more people to enjoy your content, and thus should think about how representative and inclusive your story is to appeal to people from all walks of life and background.

    The real issue preventing true diversity is not the casting agents, it is the Hollywood agencies. If they won’t rep a diverse range of actors (and lets be frank they do not) then they are not put forward for the roles. This is the real hidden racism and prejudice of Hollywood. If you do not get put forward, you will not be cast. Sadly addressing the issue in one movie does not open the doors for everyone, although it can pick away at the lock. Maybe Star Wars can make a difference, sadly I think the obstacle is much larger and efforts can be wrongly focussed. We have to start somewhere though right? Perhaps Star Wars changed things slightly with literal open door auctions – for once everyone had the chance.

    I think some of the general remarks can be said in true correct spirit by people, but i think you expertly and plainly spelt out why they can in fact fall short and be seen as wrong. The point of Oprah Winfrey in The Color Purple is a powerful one, and explains so clearly why representation is so important.

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  8. Great post. I have never watched a Star Wars movie before but will definitely be watching this one just because of Lupita. Diversity matters. That’s why some people are so against it. There is nothing wrong with people of color wanting to see themselves reflected in popular culture. There is nothing fascinating about White actors dominating movies and television shows when we live in a very diverse world.

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