The Force Awakens, has been making headlines in mainstream and geek communities alike for months now, with buzz on the plot for the latest installment of the juggernaut franchise.
Just days ago a poster for the film was unveiled and plastered all over the Internet. While a good amount of the discussion on the upcoming blockbuster has been about it topping the previous film, (or if this latest movie will help us to further distance ourselves from the travesty that was JarJar Binks of Episode I…) a new controversy is spreading regarding the diversity in the casting, and director J.J. Abrams’ interviews on the subject.
It would appear that there are some who are not very happy with Abrams wanting to increase the people of color as leads in the Science Fiction odyssey. So much so that there is now a call to boycott the upcoming film.
Yes, you read that right, there are people calling to boycott the upcoming futuristic movie, featuring space aliens and other monsters, mainly because it has too many humans of color.
The hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII has burst onto the internet, filled with online users and fans of the franchise claiming that the latest film has an “anti-white propaganda promoting #whitegenocide”. This is in reference to the fact that the two main leads of Episode Seven are a woman and a man of color.
One twitter user said, “From what I’m hearing, the anti-white diversity of #StarWarsVII is quite extreme. A #BoycottStarWarsVII movement is growing”. A lot of this backlash seems to be directed towards director J.J. Abrams. Abrams has been no stranger to diversity when it has come to his directing and producing career.
In an interview in 2013 Abrams explained his stance on diversity in film with, “…having been to the Emmys a couple times – you look around that room and you see the whitest f—–g room in the history of time. It’s just unbelievably white. And I just thought… why not cast the show with actors of color?… It f—–g kills me when they call something ‘an urban movie’ like its a separate thing, like its ‘that thing’ over there.”
The #BoycottStarWarsVII hashtag comes months after a previous Hollywood controversy, when actor Michael B. Jordan was cast as the Human Torch in Marvel’s Fantastic Four film reboot. The Human Torch, a main character of the series, had, up to the time of Jordan’s casting, been played by a white actor, and portrayed as a white character in the comic books that inspired the film.
Jordan’s casting sparked a debate on representation and diversity in film and comic books. The latest Star Wars installment seems to be doing the same, as fans go back and forth online debating the validity of the claim of “anti-white propaganda” and so-called “too much political correctness.”
Although the boycott hashtag seems to be gaining a sizable amount of followers, there are plenty of online users combating it. Twitter user, Mark Burnley, noted, “If #BoycottStarWarsVII results in cinemas being free of racists, all the better.”
It would seem that some of the fanboys (and fangirls) in the Star Wars fandom (and one can argue other forms of entertainment) equate diversity with white genocide, or at the least a leaning towards being politically correct at the expense of quality story telling. We could simply dismiss the ignorance of these “purists,” but on some larger scale one could argue that deeply ingrained in the system of Hollywood are similar sentiments.
Recent Emmy winner and powerhouse actress Viola Davis remarked in her now-famous acceptance speech that, “The only thing that separates a woman of color from anything else is opportunity.” Davis was referring to the lack of diversity and employment opportunities for people of color when it came to the film and television industry.
Davis’ speech reflects the growing acknowledgement that Hollywood, and the film industry in general, is still behind when it comes to increasing true diversity on screen. A recent study by the University of Southern California noted that over the past seven years, and 700 films later, racial diversity, when it comes to screen time, has hit a stark stand still. A statistic from the study noted that in 2014 alone, nearly 75 percent of film characters were white, and only 17 percent of the top 100 films featured leads or co-stars that were of color.
The 56 page 2015 Hollywood Diversity Report noted that in 2011 people of color were underrepresented in the film industry when it came to lead roles of more than 3 to 1. Considering that people of color make up collectively 36. 3 percent of the United States’ population, the fact that they only made up 10.5 percent of the lead roles of 172 films shows that Hollywood is still not close to reflecting our current racial reality in “reel-ality”. These acknowledgements have sparked a large amount of discussion, and backlash, on social media. Star Wars Episode VII seems to be in the current crossfires of this hot topic.
From the statistics alone it would appear that even with a man of color lead for this blockbuster, Hollywood still has a long way to increasing diversity in any significant way. Yet, the recent hashtag and online controversy shows that everyone clearly isn’t on the same page when it comes to what kind of reality should be reflected on our screens. It also reflects the inherent racism still very much present in plenty of fandom, stretching across comic books, video games, and film alike. I doubt the boycott of the Star Wars film will do much to put a dent in the revenue for what is sure to be another box office success, but the fact that the race of a Storm Trooper, in a world of space aliens and other worldly monsters, is still up for heated discussion, shows that there’s still plenty of ground to cover here on earth.
Photo: Star Wars Facebook.