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'Star Wars' Still Has Room To Go In Terms of Representation

By Rebecca Pahle | Star Wars | January 5, 2017 |

By Rebecca Pahle | Star Wars | January 5, 2017 |

If you’re one of those people who has a—crap, whassat thing called?—a life, you may have missed a minor Twitter kerfuffle that went down Monday evening. Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson, possibly feeling a bit defensive over the (justified) criticism of Doctor Strange’s whitewashing, fired off the following nugget of rock salt regarding Rogue One: A Star Wars Story:


Twitter, exhibiting its tendency to remain calm and level-headed in the aftermath of someone saying something dumb, pelted Derrickson with assurances that, in fact, Rogue One garnered quite a lot of praise for its diverse cast, and maybe chill with the intimation that people should be 24-7 happy slappy fun times in their media consumption instead of being upset about the lack of representation.

Like so much else on Twitter—every drummed-up “controversy” that’s just five Twitter eggs saying something purposely incendiary, every tantrum Max Landis rainbow farts into the wind, hoping desperately that someone will pay attention him—the Scott Derrickson #RogueOneGate turned into not much at all. He deleted the Tweet and replaced it with one saying Rogue One’s “diverse/outsider cast gave palpable integrated meaning to the idea of rebellious hope.” (Derrick’s genial, expletive-filled conversation with Kumail Nanjiani about the tweet is still up.) As far as diversity’s concerned, Derrickson still needs to pair walking the walk with talking the talk—not whitewashing would be a great start—but. Y’know. People learn. People grow. Let he who has never let fly some stupid shit on Twitter cast the first stone. Scott Derrickson’s not our #unwoke Boogeyman. (That’s still James Woods.)

But the here-and-gone nontroversy did get me thinking about the Rogue One’s diversity issues, which is something I’d been meaning to write about before completely valid reason for writing this post weeks after everyone’s already read all the Rogue One #hottakes they care to stuffing my face with food during the holidays. (No, you know what? That is a completely valid reason.)

So far, the Disney-era Star Wars movies have done a pretty damn good job in terms of revising the heavily, heavily white male-centric status quo of the original trilogy. Of The Force Awakens’ “new trio,” not a single one is a white guy, and it features—pause for a wave of love to overwhelm my shriveled, crusted soul—multiple female characters. Episode VIII adds another with Kelly Marie Tran, who joins the Wars cinematic universe as only its second prominent WOC actress, after TFA’s Lupita Nyong’o. (There have been a handful of others sprinkled around in small parts, notably Femi Taylor as Oola in Return of the Jedi, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as a senator in Rogue One, and Ayesha Dharker and Keisha Castle-Hughes as post-Padme Naboo queens in the prequels.)

And Rogue One is a certifiable cornucopia of racial diversity. It’s rad as hell, honestly. You have Riz Ahmed and Jiang Wen and certifiable badass Donnie Yen being a certifiable badass in space. Diego Luna is not only there, being dreamy, he’s there being dreamy with his Mexican accent, which according to Luna there was never a question about keeping. And Forest Whitaker and Jimmy Smits: don’t think I don’t see you. With Rogue One, Stat Wars takes a step in the right direction in terms of reflecting the world as it actually is. That’s intentional on the part of director Gareth Edwards, who said in an interview with Vulture that:

Star Wars is so rich and it seems crazy that everyone’s, like, a white male guy. That’s due to the 1970s and the fact that it was shot in Britain, but I was very lucky: I’m British, I grew up in England, and I got to see myself represented in a film. I think it’s about time that we represented the rest of the world. We were all in agreement that not just because of the story, but because it’s 2016, it’s great to have such a diverse cast.”

In the same interview, Edwards discusses the issue of female representation… which, unfortunately, is where Rogue One falls on its ass a bit. Don’t get me wrong: It’s great that Rogue One has a female protagonist, in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso. I’m not looking that gift bantha in the mouth. But look at the entire main cast, excepting minor characters like Mon Mothma, Lyra Erso, and the aforementioned Senator Pamlo, and the picture presented is striking: A ton of guys… one woman.

Can we just not with this? Can the trope of “one Strong Female Character surrounded by a crew of dudes” Smurfette nonsense please just stay in the 20th century? It’s troublesome in multiple ways: It presents women as the “exception,” someone who has to earn her place through extraordinary competence, while men are just… the default. They’re allowed to be there, because of course they’d be there, because they’re dudes. Even if unintentionally, surrounding Jyn with such an out-of-balance cohort of co-stars puts forth an image of her as the exception, rather than the rule, someone who’s Not Like the Other Girls. Edwards argues that Jyn, like Ripley from Aliens, was written as “neither male nor female, as just a person. Obviously, she’s female, but even with the clothing, my goal with the costume department was to design clothes that I would wear as a guy on Halloween. She wouldn’t look feminine, and she wouldn’t look masculine — she’d be neutral. Jyn is a person who just happens to be a girl.” Well, fine. But why is she the only one? Why does the entire burden of representation fall on her? We need our Ripleys and Jyns, but we also need our Cassians, our Galens, our Bodhi’s, and we didn’t get them here.

But hey, at least they figure out women will buy toys.

Incidentally, while we’re on the subject, we could use some female leads in Star Wars who aren’t brunette white women, FYI JUST AN INNOCENT SUGGESTION.

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